Monday demonstrations in East Germany
The Monday demonstrations in East Germany (German: Montagsdemonstrationen) were a series of peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that took place in towns and cities all around the country on various days of the week. The Leipzig demonstrations, which are the most well known, took place on Mondays. The protests that occurred between 1989 and 1991 can be separated into five cycles.
In Leipzig the demonstrations began on 4 September 1989 after the weekly Friedensgebet (prayer for peace) in the St. Nicholas Church with parson Christian Führer, and eventually filled the nearby Karl Marx Square (today known again as Augustusplatz). Safe in the knowledge that the Lutheran Church supported their resistance, many dissatisfied East German citizens gathered in the court of the church, and non-violent demonstrations began in order to demand rights such as the freedom to travel to foreign countries and to elect a democratic government. The location of the demonstration contributed to the success of the protests.
Informed by West German television and friends about the events, people in other East German cities began replicating the Leipzig demonstrations, meeting at city squares in the evenings. A major turning point was precipitated by the events in the West German Embassy of Prague at the time. Thousands of East Germans had fled there in September, living in conditions reminiscent of the Third World. Hans-Dietrich Genscher had negotiated an agreement that allowed them to travel to the West, using trains that had to first pass through the GDR. Genscher's speech from the balcony was interrupted by a very emotional reaction to his announcement. When the trains passed Dresden's central station in early October, police had to stop people from trying to jump on.
Protests around the 40th anniversary celebrations of the GDR on October 7 were met with a forceful response by the state. Despite of the increased foreign attention around this date, there were around 3,500 arrests and many injured throughout East Germany.
Following the events of the weekend attention turned to Leipzig on Monday October 9. Seeing it as decision day, the State amassed 8000 police and armed military units with the intent of preventing any demonstrations. Fears of a "Chinese Solution" grew as rumours about hospitals stocking extra blood transfusions circulated. A message recorded by six prominent citizens was broadcast throughout the city, urging both sides to remain calm and strive for peaceful dialogue. Initiated by the respected conductor Kurt Masur the group also included local members of the communist party.
Expectations and preparations of the state were greatly exceeded as more than 70,000 protesters (out of the city's population of 500,000) assembled. The most famous chant became "Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people!"), reminding the leaders of the GDR that a democratic republic has to be ruled by the people, not by an undemocratic party claiming to represent them. Protesters remained completely peaceful as they reached the Stasi Headquarters, avoiding any escalation of the delicate situation.
Although some demonstrators were arrested, the threat of large-scale intervention by security forces never materialised as local leaders (SED party leader Helmut Hackenberg and Generalmajor Gerhard Straßenburg of the armed police), without precise orders from East Berlin and surprised by the unexpectedly high number of citizens, shied away from causing a possible massacre, ordering the retreat of their forces. Later, Egon Krenz claimed it was he who gave the order not to intervene.
October 9 is often seen as the "beginning of the end" of the GDR and one of the early signs of the state bowing to pressure. Since 2009 the date is commemorated and celebrated with the Festival of Lights drawing up to 200,000 people tracing the steps of the protest. Attendees include dignitaries like Kurt Masur, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Joachim Gauck as well as Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, Czech heads of state.
The next week, in Leipzig on 16 October 1989, 120,000 demonstrators turned up, with military units again being held on stand-by in the vicinity. (Two days after the rally, Erich Honecker, the leader of the SED, was forced to resign.) The week after, the number more than doubled to 320,000. This pressure and other key events eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, marking the imminent end of the socialist GDR regime.
The demonstrations eventually ended in March 1990, around the time of the first free multi-party elections for the Volkskammer parliament across the entire GDR. This paved the way to German reunification.
Cycles of the Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig
- First Cycle (25 September 1989 to 18 December 1989) Total of 13 protests.
- Second Cycle (8 January 1990 to 12 March 1990) Total of 10 protests.
- Third Cycle (10 September 1990 to 22 October 1990) Total of 7 protests.
- Fourth Cycle (21 January 1991 to 18 February 1991) Total of 5 protests.
- Fifth Cycle (4 March 1991 to 22 April 1991) Total of 7 protests.
Role of the church
During the rule of the GDR the church was one of the only institutions that could retain their own autonomy and organize a group of people. However, it is important to note that the church did not organize or encourage the demonstrations, even though the demonstrations stemmed from the regular peace prayers held there. The Church simply acted on their ideology of "work against injustice and oppression." As a result, the church offered sanctuary to alternative political groups, the victims of the GDR rule. The church also offered them financial aid, support from the congregation and a place to communicate.
Initially, the church did not make statements about the GDR or anything politically related. However, by the middle of 1989 there was a "politicization of the church." Politics started to appear in the sermon of the preachers. Because the church was the only place to get political information, more and more people started to gather. This helped spread information about the injustices that were occurring in the state. The gathering of people after the peace prayers, and the spread of information, spurred the formation of spontaneous demonstrations.
- Uprising of 1953 in East Germany
- Alexanderplatz demonstration
- Revolutions of 1989
- Peaceful Revolution
- History of the German Democratic Republic
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