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5 - The fall

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  The role of the USSR

Sculpture on the WallThe Wall fell as the combined result of both internal and external pressures. The evolution of the USSR played a crucial role in this process.

On his first official visit to West Germany in May 1989, Mikhaïl Gorbachev, whose ambition was to save his country from decline and ruin through an innovative policy based on restructuring (perestroïka) and openness (glasnost), informed Chancellor Kohl that the Brezhnev doctrine had been abandoned ; Moscow was no longer willing to use force to prevent democratic transformation of its satellite states. This was the kiss of death for East Germany in the short-term, for her very existence had no justification apart from ideology.

Immediately, on 2nd May, Hungary decided to pull down the iron curtain and on 11th September she opened up her border with Austria. These measures led Germans to pour out of East Germany. Others sought refuge in the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw. Within six months, over 220 000 East Germans had passed over to the West.

Meanwhile, opposition groups (New Forum, Democracy Now, Democratic Renewal), wishing to change East Germany from within, grew up in the shelter of the churches and protested against the authorities in power in East Berlin.

In Leipzig, the Peace Prayers and Monday demonstrations drew more and more non violent protesters, despite brutal police intervention : 1 000 demonstrators on 4th September, 120 000 on 16th October, chanting political slogans : " Free elections ", " We are staying here ", " We are the People "...

On 7th October East Germany celebrated its fortieth anniversary, but the celebrating turned into protest against the régime which made over 1 000 arrests. As guest of honour, Gorbachev was welcomed in front of the Palace of the Republic by demonstrators’ pleas of " Gorbi, help us! ". He then announced that " whoever comes too late is punished by life " (Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben). This warning was for the benefit of the SED leaders who immediately ousted Honecker, to be replaced on 18th October by the apparatchik Egon Krenz, in turn forced to resign, on 3rd December.

 

Leipzig demonstrations
Leipzig demonstrations

guest of honour Gorbatchev
Guest of honour, Gorbachev

 

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