Initiative Freiheit und Menschenrechte (Initiative for Peace and Human Rights)
Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1930-)
Lothar de Maziére, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic (1940-)
Neues Deutschland, official newspaper of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Neues Forum (New Forum)
Sozialdemokratische Partei (Social Democratic Party)
Volkskammer of the German Democratic Republic, 1989-1990 session, Günther Maleuda presiding
The German Democratic Republic was founded on October 7,1949, carved out of the Russian Occupation Zone. (The other portions were ceded to Poland, except for Kaliningrad, which remains part of Russia proper to this day.) The nation gained full sovereignty from the USSR in 1954.
Official executive powers were divided between head of state (Chairman of the Council of State) and the Prime Minister (presided over the Council of Ministers, as in any parliamentary government). The GDR had a unicameral legislature (Volkskammer, represented by the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands - SED) and eight other official parties and special interests - collectively, the National Front. The other parties were ruled by the SED, which was ruled by its Central Committee (aka Politburo), which was ruled by its General Secretary.
More than any other Warsaw Pact nation, defection was a serious issue. Between 1949 and 19612, 3.5 million East Germans - one sixth of the populatio - fled to the West.
(Maddrell, Paul (2006) Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945-1961. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 54, 56.)
Republikflucht ("flight from the republic") prompted the GDR to build a heavily-fortified physical barrier along its entire border with West Germany. Work on the Inner German Border began in 1952; some sections were still being built as late as the 1980s.
One escape route removed: West Berlin. In 1962 the GDR began filling in this gap with construction of the Cold War's most visible artifact - the Berlin Wall. Overseeing the project was the Politburo's secretary for security affairs, Erich Honecker.
In 1971 Honecker rose to General Secretary. Predecessor Walter Ulbricht had abandoned the Five Year Plans in 1963 in favor of his New Economic System. The policy allowed some degree of local authority within East Germany's centrally-planned economy. This was more than the German Stalinists - or the Soviets - could tolerate. Honecker led the domestic opposition. Ulbricht was deposed as party chairman, but stayed on as Prime Minister until his death in 1976; Honecker assumed that office as well.
The May local elections signaled the first tremors of the 1989 revolution. While the public vastly supported opposition candidates, the National Front won 98.5% of the vote. The blatant election rigging added to the growing fury against the government, provoking a wave of defections and protests.
On August 23, the border fence between Hungary and East Germany was dismantled under the direction of Hungarian Prime Minister and Henderson Prize laureate Miklós Németh. Until the GDR managed to close the border from its side, 13,000 East Germans fled through Hungary to the West.
Unrest eventually manifested itself in organized protests. Since 1982 Lutheran pastor Christian Führer had led "peace prayers" directed at Communist oppression, held every monday at Lepizig's St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche). On September 4, attendeed staged a nonviolent protest. The tradition stuck, repeating and growing every following Monday.
(Note that St. Nicholas is regarded as patron saint for various groups including merchants and the falsely accused - two common victims of Communism.)
West German broadcasts alerted East Germans to the protests, spurring Monday Demonstrations in many other cities.
September also witnessed the founding of Neues Forum (New Forum), which would become the largest of East German dissident groups. It was not the oldest opposition group; that distinction belonged to Initiative Freiheit und Menschenrechte (Initiative for Peace and Human Rights), which dates back to 1986.
Meanwhile, thousands of East Germans had been fleeing to Prague. Czechoslovakia was the only Warsaw Pact nation where legal travel without visa was possible. A shanty town of refugees grew around the West German embassy.
Ramshackle living conditions caught Western attention. West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher negotiated with the two countries an agreement to transport the refugees to West Germany by train. Honecker's government, wishing a domestic setting for a ceremonial formal expulsion of the refugees, insisted that the trains travel through the GDR.
A total of 12,000 refugees were transported by train. A convoy of 7,600 arrived in Dresden on October 3. Thousands flooded the terminal, seeking to board the trains. Protesters delayed the convoy for several days.
In early October a much smaller group of East Germans was shuttled by train from Warsaw to the West.
The 40th anniversary of the GDR fell on October 7. Among the scheduled visiting dignitaries was Mikhail Gorbachev. Many had hopes that the Soviet premier's glasnost and perestroika would come in some form to East Germany. Gorbachev addressed those principles publicly during the celebrations, but Honecker would tolerate no dilution of Stalinist policy. Gorbachev had also stated that the USSR would not intervene in East German domestic policy, so Honecker had nothing to fear from the Soviets.
Civil unrest continued to rise. Two days after the anniversary, Nikolai Church's weekly demonstration attracted 70,000 - 14 percent of Leipzig's population - and 120,000 a week later. Monday Demonstrations had saturated the nation by then.
On October 18, the Politburo met in a special session and ousted Honecker from both his offices. Egon Krenz succeeded the architect of the Berlin Wall as head of party and head of state. Also ousted were several key officials, including Honecker's wife Margo who had served as education minister.
Krenz opened talks with opposition leaders on October 26, and declared amnesty for all demonstrators the next day.
On the day of Honecker's ouster, the GDR opened its Czech border. The Czechs in turn announced on November 3 that it would allow East-West passage through its territory.
Any flocking to the Czech border didn't stem the flocking to protests. The Monday Demonstrations continued to surge. New Forum organized a November 4 demonstration in East Berlin, attracting at least half a million. This was the first such protest televised in East Germany.
Prime Minister Willi Stoph and the entire 44-member Council of Ministers resigned three days later. Hans Modrow succeeded Stoph.
On November 9, the Politburo decided to lift all travel restrictions across the Berlin Wall and the Inner German Border, effective the next day. Public announcement was delegated to Propaganda Minister Günter Schabowski. Not informed of the effective date, he stated that the order was effective immediately.
Tens of thousands of East Berliners flocked to the wall, before the government had a chance to inform the security guards. After frantic telephone calls to superiors, the guards relented, opening all checkpoints. The wall did not come down physically, but it could no longer contain.
The next blow against the regime was delivered by the SED's own state newspaper. Neues Deutschland reported scores of accounts of officials using public monies for personal use. In The Fal of the Berlin Wall, William F. Buckley wrote:
The discrepancies the paper disclosed between the lifestyles of the rulers and the ruled in the Workers' and Peasants' State were not so large as in Romania, but they stirred great and righteous anger. Apart from descriptions of the luxurious houses in the Wandlitz compound, there were auxiliary revelations. Harry Tisch, head of the Free German Trade Union Federation, kept a huge estate on the Baltic coast with a full complement of servants. Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski had been using public money to make private deals in the international arms market. Honecker and his colleagues collectively had billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts.
The Volkskammer would no longer serve as a rubber stamp for the party. On December 1 it rescinded the SED's monopoly on power. On December 2 a special committee confirmed Neues Deutschland's allegations.On December 3 the Volkskammer expelled 12 top party officials, prompting the entire Politburo to resign - including Krenz, who formally left his posts on the 6th, and Modrow, who continued as Prime Minister.
Some officials, including Honecker, fled the country. Many eventually were tried and imprisoned for various crimes. Honecker himself had fled to the Soviet Union. He sought asylum with the Chilean embassy there when Yeltsin came to power, but was shortly extradited. He was to be tried in 1993, but was released due to ill health. He lived in Chile until his death a year later.
Hans Modrow began reunification negotiations with Helmut Kohl. NATO was a chief sticking point; Kohl wanted reunified Germany's continued membership, while Modrow objected (as did Gorbachev). This stalemate became moot on March 18, as the GDR's first and last free elections replaced Modrow with Lothar de Maziére.
In the Volkskammer elections, 48 percent of the vote was won by the Alliance for Germany. Allianz was a bloc dominated by an old National Front party, the Christian Democratic Union, and joined by two small parties: Democratic Awakening, an October 1989 opposition group, and the incipient German Social Union. A much larger October 1989 opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, won almost 22 percent; after reunification it merged with the identically-named West German SPD. The third-place Party of Democratic Socialism was the old SED under new management. New Forum, prominent in the revolution, faded fast in politics; its Alliance 90 bloc formed with two new opposition parties garnered just under three percent of the vote.
On May 18 the Germanies signed an economic/monetary treaty. As a result, the West German mark officially displaced its East German counterpart on June 1.
Kohl and Maziére negotiated a reunification treaty that the Volkskammer and the West German legislature on September 20. At midnight Central European Time on October 3, 1990, the provisions of the treaty became official; the two Germanies were now one. This day is celebrated as German Unity Day.
Regarding the absence of Mikhail Gorbachev's name from the list of awardees: the Henderson Prize chooses to postpone his formal honors to a future date. This occasion will be shared by individuals outside the Warsaw Pact (and outside West Germany) who contributed to the liberation of Eastern Europe from Communism.
Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal
beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests. The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists
to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to
pursue common peaceable interests. Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of
violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade,
coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs
and to pursue undesired interests. Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society,
with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of
tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of
grievances against the crimes of the State. -- A Statement of Individual Rights, finalized version July 9, 2003