The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Posts Tagged ‘Chronik der Mauer’

“Life punishes those who come too late!”: East Germany’s 40th and Last Anniversary Celebration (7 October 1989)

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 7, 2014

Mark Kramer of Harvard University’s Cold War Studies Center highlighted the centrality of East Germany to the region-wide collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 as follows  in “The Demise of the Soviet Bloc” (see pages 235-241 here, :

The crucial test case in all this, at least for Soviet policy, was the GDR, which for historical, geographic and strategic reasons was the keystone of the Warsaw Pact. [p. 236]




The following timetable/chronicle of daily events is from this highly useful site:

October 6: In the newspaper “Leipziger Volkszeitung,” under the headline “No more tolerance for subversion,” an article published under the name of the commander of the combat group contingent “Hans Geiffert,” Günter Lutz, says that, with regard to the forthcoming “Monday demonstration,” the combat groups are ready and willing “to protect what we have created with the work of our own hands and to put an end to these counter-revolutionary actions. If necessary, with weapon in hand.”
Mikhail Gorbachev arrives to take part in celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the GDR in Berlin on 6 November 1989

October 6/7: State ceremonies for the 40th anniversary of the GDR, attended by Mikhail Gorbachev, who is greeted with calls of “Gorbi, help us”. The West German TV programmes “Tageschau” and “Tagesthemen” report on the events of the day.

Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary

In a tête-à-tête between the two general secretaries, Honecker boasts about the GDR’s successes, especially praising the SED’S housing programme and East Germany allegedly leading worldwide position in the field of micro-electronics. Gorbachev, who is well aware that the GDR is really nearly insolvent, feels that he is being made a fool of.
40th anniversary of the GDR: Military parade of the National People’s Army, 7 October 1989

“I was horrified. I talked with him for three hours. … And he kept on wanting to convince me about the wonderful achievements of the GDR.”

In a spontaneous interview at the Neue Wache in East Berlin, Mikhail Gorbachev says the sentence “Danger only lies in wait for those who do not react to life!” Speaking to the SED Politburo, he modifies this sentence: “If we lag behind, life will punish us straight away.”
40th anniversary of the GDR: Gorbachev next to Honecker in the VIP stand

It is not Gorbachev, but his press secretary Gennadi Gerassimov, who in the evening turns this into the saying, “Life punishes those who come too late!”

On the evening of 7 October, young people demonstrate in front of the Palace of the Republic. On this evening and the next, the Volkspolizei carry out attacks and make mass arrests in East Berlin and other cities.

On the evening of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, thousands of people in the centre of East Berlin demonstrate for political reform

October 8: Erich Honecker tells the First Secretaries of the SED district leaderships that demonstrations of the day before “were directed against the constitutional basis of our socialist state.” He says that further “riots” are to be expected. He gives the command that, if such protests occur, “they are to be put down immediately.” Honecker instructs the district operation commands to meet without delay and discuss “measures”; the First Secretaries are told to report back to the Department of Party Organs of the Central Committee about the way the situation was developing.

Stasi chief Mielke also describes the domestic situation “as considerably more critical”. He orders all members of the Ministry of Security to be on “full standby duty” in order to effectively repress or stop all “mobs” and for enough reserve forces to be at the ready, “whose quick deployment to undertake , if needs be, offensive measures to stop and disperse mobs is to be ensured.” Stasi members are to keep their service weapons with them at all time until further notice. Reports by Western journalists on demonstrations are to be rigorously prevented. – Notwithstanding this, the dialogue between the opposition (“Gruppe der 202) and the district SED leadership begins in Dresden.

The GDR government deploys uniformed and civilian

October 9: “Tag der Entscheidung” (Decision Day) in Leipzig: 70,000 people demonstrate peacefully for reforms. Although the East German security authorities plan to prevent the demonstration and its staff have practised dispersing it and arresting the “ringleaders,” the state does not intervene. The unexpectedly large number of demonstrators breaks the security organs’ will to act. – In Halle and in Magdeburg, several thousand people also take part in demonstrations.

October 10: Talks between the mayor of Dresden, Wolfgang Berghofer, and the opposition awaken hopes that a dialogue may begin.

October 10/11: At the end of an unusually heated two-day crisis meeting, the SED Politburo announces that the party is ready to enter into a dialogue with the people. For the first time, the Politburo admits that the reasons why people are trying to flee are to be found in the GDR itself as well. It also puts forward its concept for the dialogue that is being demanded by so many people: “Together, we want to discuss all the fundamental questions of our society that are to be solved today and in the future. (…) These concern the continuation of the unity of economic and social policies. They concern economic efficiency and its benefit to all, a democratic coexistence and committed involvement, a good supply of commodities and adequate pay, realistic media, possibilities for travel and a healthy environment.” – Egon Krenz has pushed through this declaration against the bitter resistance of Honecker in the Politburo.

October 16: More than 100,000 people demonstrate in Leipzig. They demand that Neues Forum be permitted, free elections and freedom to travel, a free press and freedom of expression. Demonstrations with around 10,000 participants in Dresden and Magdeburg, 5,000 in Halle and 3,000 in Berlin also take place peacefully.

October 17/18: A fierce power struggle in the SED Politburo ends with the downfall of Erich Honecker, who is forced to cite health reasons as being behind his resignation from the SED Central Committee. Egon Krenz becomes the new SED general secretary. Krenz announces the credo for his policy of reform: “We are guided by the firm conviction that all the problems in our society can be solved politically.” In his inaugural address, Egon Krenz also promises “to prepare a draft bill regarding travel abroad for GDR citizens. We believe that this draft should be discussed and resolved upon in the People’s Parliament (Volkskammer) after being publicly announced. In connection with this, the temporary restrictions on travel to fellow socialist countries could also be lifted or modified.”

October 21: At a meeting of the extended leadership of the Ministry of Security, Stasi chief Mielke leaves little room for doubt that the party’s strategy of solving political problems with political means goes against his fundamental chekist convictions. It meant, Mielke says, not reacting to the “anti-socialist gatherings” in the way “these forces really deserve.” The fact that Mielke, even though he was not in agreement, categorically ruled out any independent policy of the ministry over the party’s head, had all the more decisive an effect on the behaviour of the Ministry of Security up to the time the Wall came down and even later. “In everything that we do,” he admonishes his top staff, “we must be absolutely clear that all measures undertaken by the Ministry of State Security, by every department, must be in accordance with the general strategy, the decisions of the Central Committee and its Politburo, and have to be directed at their strict implementation.” Force, he says, could only be used “if there is direct danger to people or objects that cannot be averted in any other way.” In the next few days, Mielke announces, central decisions would be made about how to proceed against opposition movements in future.

October 23: Three hundred thousand people demonstrate in Leipzig, tens of thousands in Magdeburg, Dresden, Schwerin, Zwickau, Halle, Stralsund and Berlin, as well as in Plauen and Rostock during the previous days.

October 24: The SED Politburo passes a resolution on “Trips by GDR citizens abroad”: “1. A draft bill on travel abroad by GDR citizens and proposals for financing this travel are to be presented to the Politburo soon. (…) 2. An argumentation is to be worked out [as a basis for] a broad discussion of the draft bill.”

October 26: On this day alone, the Ministry of Security counts 160,000 citizens who, at demonstrations in the districts Rostock, Erfurt, Gera, Schwerin, Chemnitz, Neubrandenburg, Dresden and Halle, call above all for free elections, the free formation of opposition groups and freedom to travel. Whereas the Ministry for Security registered altogether 140,000 demonstrators at 24 demonstrations in the week from 16 to 22 October, from 23 to 30 October 540,000 people take part in 145 demonstrations. Leading SED functionaries no longer rule out the imposition of a state of emergency. In a twenty-minute conversation with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, SED General Secretary Egon Kreuz states his interest in placing relations with West Germany “on a – if I may put it like this – on a new level”. Chancellery Minister Seiters and state secretary Schalck-Golodkowski are named as confidants.

October 27: The GDR State Council announces an amnesty for all refugees and participants in demonstrations. – The GDR Council of Ministers decides to lift the “temporary ban on travel without passport or visa” to the CSSR that was imposed on October 3. From this moment on, GDR citizens are meant to be able to cross the border to the CSSR again with their identity card.

October 31: The USA and the Soviet Union organise a summit on Malta scheduled for 2/3 December.

October 31: The SED Politburo discusses a white paper by five leading economists on the “Analysis of the Economic Situation of the GDR with Conclusions”. To avoid the necessary lowering of the living standard by 25 to 30 percent and the imminent insolvency of the GDR, they recommend offering the West German government the Wall in return for urgently needed new loans and extended economic cooperation.

In October, 57,024 GDR citizens manage to flee to the West; 30,598 people are allowed to leave the GDR with permission.

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The Collapse of European Communism 25 Years Ago: The East German Exodus through Prague, September-October 1989

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on September 30, 2014

(purely personal views as always)

Iconic photo by Associated Press “Prague Policeman pulls on coat of East German to prevent him from climbing fence to West German Embassy”


For earlier related see:

For some good links on the East German exodus via Prague, see for example:

Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The …
Steven Pfaff – 2006 – ‎History

The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989 Steven Pfaff … hundreds of embassy occupiers agreed to re- turn to East Germany, but thousands more … On September 30, the West German foreign minister, Hans- Dietrich Genscher, and … principal route to Hungary as well as the conduit to the FRG embassy in Prague.

It is worth noting the extraordinary growth in the number of East German emigrants/refugees in 1989, from approximately 5,000 a month from January 1989 to April 1989 to approximately:

May, 10,000

June 12,000

July 11,700

August 21,000

September 33,200

October 57,000

This is abundant demonstration of the fact that any model that gives primacy to the extent of structural factors at the expense of contingency does a disservice to the effort to understand the phenomenon of 1989 in communist Eastern Europe.

A particularly good and useful English language source that I recently found is the following:

September 1989

A young couple from the GDR arrives in the Csilleborc refugee reception centre near Budapest after the opening of the Hungarian-Austrian border, 4 September 1989In this month, the Hungarian government opens Hungary’s border with Austria for East German citizens without asking Moscow for permission – thus tearing the first hole in the Wall.

September 4: Following the regular Monday prayer for peace in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, there is a demonstration by around 1,200 people. Demonstrators express their desire to be able to leave the country freely by chanting “We want out!” and demand to be allowed to travel to the West – In Böhlen, representatives of a socialist opposition group meet and formulate an appeal “for a united left wing in the GDR,” which argues in favour of radical socialist reform and sees the best economic and political conditions for such a reform in East Germany and the CSSR.
GDR citizens wait for the opening of the border between Austria and Hungary on the evening of 10 September 1989September 8: Persuaded by assurances from the GDR lawyer Vogel, all East German citizens leave the West German Permanent Mission in East Berlin. It is then shut to visitors. – In Budapest, Stasi members do not succeed in convincing would-be emigrants to return to the GDR.

September 9: The West German news programme “Tagesschau” reports that East German refugees are about to leave Hungary for the West.

10/11 September 1989: Hungary opens the border to Austria for GDR citizens

September 10: In the night of 10-11 September, the Hungarian government opens the border to Austria for East German citizens. In the following days and weeks, tens of thousands of GDR citizens travel to West Germany via Austria. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, later confirms that Hungary did not ask permission in Moscow before carrying out this step.

GDR citizens cross the Hungarian-Austrian border, 11 September 1989September 11: Another prayer for peace in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig; the Volkspolizei closes off the church yard to prevent a demonstration. Numerous people are arrested.

September 12: At the Tuesday Politburo meeting, Günter Mittag, standing in for an ill Honecker, brings up the question of how “to close the hole in Hungary” as the most important issue, as the number of applications for travel to Hungary has risen steeply all over the GDR. To prevent “heavy losses” of citizens, Mittag proposes “not to allow departures on such a universal basis anymore. Why do the doubtful contenders have to travel? But this internal regulation must not affect our party and the majority of the population. We would make them angry. The Ministry of Security and the Interior Ministry should be the ones to carry out these measures.”

On the very same day, Stasi minister Mielke orders a “programme of measures for the timely recognition and prevention of the abuse of trips to or through the People’s Republic of Hungary.” It stipulates that all applications for travel to Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are to be checked by the Stasi. “The unit responsible has to decide whether objections should be raised against allowing the trip for security reasons” on the basis of the material collected about the applicant, and these objections are to override the Volkspolizei, the authority actually responsible for such applications.

September 12: At the invitation of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), the chairman of the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB), Harry Tisch, arrives in West Germany. When asked by journalists about the flood of refugees from the GDR, he angrily demands, among other things, that the “mud fight” stop.

September 14: In Bonn, the Erfurt pastor Edelbert Richter announces the founding of the GDR opposition group “Demokratischer Aufbruch” (Democratic Awakening), which champions a “socialist social order on a democratic basis” and speaks out in favour of human rights, freedom to travel, freedom of expression, of the press and of assembly, and free elections in the GDR. – The West Berlin Senate discusses the growing number of East German refugees and how to put them up. It decides that everything possible should be done to organise emergency accommodation.

Leipzig, 18 September 1989: People in front of the cordon of People’s PoliceSeptember 18: Hundreds of demonstrators take to the streets in Leipzig after the prayer for peace in the Nikolaikirche: they chant “We’re staying here!” and not “We want out!” as in previous weeks. Numerous demonstrators are arrested. – In view of the number of people leaving the country, rock musicians, songwriters and entertainers issue a public resolution demanding forms of democratisation and reform that are compatible with socialism, saying that cowardly delay provided “arguments and preconditions for all-German ideas.”
Leipzig, 18 September 1989: People in front of the cordon of People’s PoliceSeptember 19: The group “Neues Forum,” which has made a public founding statement on September 10, applies to be officially registered as a citizens’ association. Two days later, the Interior Ministry rejects the application, saying that the Neues Forum was a “subversive platform”. Three thousand people have so far signed the statement by the Neues Forum. – The synod of the Federation of Protestant Churches (Evangelischer Kirchenbund) passes a resolution in Eisenach in which it calls for a pluralist media policy, a democratic diversity of parties, freedom to travel for all citizens, economic reforms and freedom to demonstrate, describing all these things as “long overdue reforms”.

September 20: The West German embassy in Warsaw has to be closed because of overcrowding. – The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union issues a statement on nationalities policy, in which republics are promised economic independence.

September 22: Erich Honecker, firmly resolved to put a swift end to all demonstrations and “provocations,” sends a telex to the First Secretaries of the SED district administrations, telling them “that these hostile actions must be nipped in the bud, that no mass basis for them is allowed.” They are also to make sure “that the organisers of the counterrevolutionary activity are isolated.”

September 24: The West German embassy in Prague becomes a meeting place for GDR refugees, because the CSSR has tightened checks on its border to Hungary.
Leipzig, 25 September 1989: People standing near the Church of St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche), shortly before the start of the demonstrationSeptember 25: At the “Monday demonstration” in Leipzig, 5,000 to 8,000 demonstrators call for democratic reforms and official recognition of the Neues Forum movement. Those wanting to leave the GDR have now become a minority among the demonstrators.

September 26: The deputy Stasi minister, Rudolf Mittig, calls together the deputy leaders of the district administrations of the Ministry of Security and gives them the watchword to “operatively work on” the “hostile, oppositional alliances” with the aim of destroying them. The Ministry of Security, he says, is to provoke infighting, sow mistrust, split up the members and try to stop the politicisation of the groups by raising issues regarding organisation and structure – a major role here is to be played by the “inoffizielle Mitarbeiter” (“unofficial collaborators”) in their ranks.
Leipzig, 25 September 1989: The protest march turns around on Tröndlinring and heads back to the main railway stationIt is also on this day that Honecker orders the “Bezirkseinsatzleitung Berlin” (“Berlin District Operational Command”) and the various “Kreiseinsatzleitungen” (“Operational Commands”) of the Berlin districts to be ready to take command to “ensure security and order” and “to prevent provocations of various sorts” for the 40th anniversary of the GDR. On the basis of this order, Defence Minister Kessler orders the National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee/NVA) to take up position for action in Berlin from 6 to 9 October as a precautionary measure.

September 27: The CSSR government says that there will be no Hungarian solution for the now more than 900 people occupying the Prague embassy.

September 29: Union members from VEB Bergmann-Borsig, a large Berlin company, express their outrage to the FDGB chairman and Politburo member Harry Tisch “for depicting the desertion by so many of our people as being the result of machinations on the part of the class enemy, where these GDR citizens are supposedly mere victims or pawns.” Along with rock musicians, artists, authors, academics and representatives of the “block parties,” they call on the SED to enter into dialogue with all social powers.

September 30: The GDR yields to Soviet pressure in the Prague embassy conflict: West German Foreign Minister Genscher and Chancellery Minister Seiter travel to Prague and announce that the people occupying the embassy can leave the country. Several thousand East German refugees are taken to West Germany via GDR territory in special sealed trains.

In September, 33255 GDR citizens manage to flee to the West; 11903 are given permission to leave the GDR.

A commentary attributed to the Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst (ADN) calls after the East German citizens emigrating via Prague: “We won’t shed any tears over them.”

October 3: The GDR virtually closes its borders by stopping visa-free travel to the CSSR; the next day, this measure is extended to transit travel to Bulgaria and Romania as well. This results in protests and even threats of strike action in the areas bordering on the CSSR.

Arrival of GDR refugees in Ahlsfeld, October 1989 October 4: Once more, around 7,000 East German citizens who have again occupied the Prague embassy are allowed to travel to West Germany in special closed trains. In the night of October 5 here is a street fight at Dresden’s main train station between security personnel and around 10,000 demonstrators who want to jump onto the refugee trains.

August 1989

GDR citizens rush a border gate to Austria in SopronBeginning of August: According to the draft of a paper presented by the Central Committee Security Issues Department (“Information and Conclusions on Some Current Issues Regarding Hostile Influences on Citizens of the GDR”), GDR security organs have counted 160 “hostile, oppositional groups,” including 150 so-called grass-roots church groups, with altogether 2,500 members. The paper says that “around 25 non-permitted printed and duplicated publications with anti-socialist content were produced and distributed, almost always using church-owned or private equipment.” One of the main strategies used by oppositional elements, it says, is to allege that the GDR “permanently lags behind, particularly with regard to implementing human rights. This includes continually calling into question the validity of local elections.” The existence of 51 skinhead groups (to which around 1,000 young people belong), ten punk groups, 32 heavy metal groups and nine gothic groups is seen as a “non-socialist tendency”.
The breakthrough: GDR citizens rush a border gate to Austria in SopronAugust 5: The GDR government makes its first official statement on the embassy refugees on GDR television, confirming that the exodus constitutes a problem.

August 7: The SED leadership rescinds the so-called “lawyer’s promise”. The lawyer Wolfgang Vogel tells the West German Ministry for Inner-German Relations that he can offer those seeking refuge in West German missions impunity when leaving and returning to the GDR, but cannot, as previously, promise them a quick, affirmative decision on their applications to leave the country. – In an official statement by the GDR Foreign Ministry, the West German government is harshly accused of a “gross intervention in sovereign affairs of the GDR” for taking GDR citizens into its care; the statement calls this “typical pan-German arrogance” and says that it could “lead to far-reaching consequences”.
The breakthrough: GDR citizens rush a border gate to Austria in SopronAugust 8: The West German Permanent Mission in East Berlin, which is being occupied by around 130 GDR citizens, is shut. This is followed on August 14 and 22 by the closures of the embassies in Budapest and Prague, in which, respectively, 171 and 140 would-be emigrants are staying. At nearly every meeting with SED leaders, West German politicians have emphasised that they do not desire a flood of refugees from the GDR. West German politicians from government and opposition now publicly warn GDR citizens not to flee their country. In West Germany, a public debate begins on whether the country can or wants to take in refugees and how many it can absorb. – Chancellery Minister Rudolf Seiters announces that 46,343 people have legally moved from the GDR to West Germany up to the end of July. He appeals to GDR citizens wanting to leave East Germany not to do so via West German diplomatic missions.
Invitation to take part in the Pan-European Picnic (pamphlet)Every day, up to 100 GDR citizens are managing to flee from Hungary to Austria. However, hundreds are still being arrested as well. Several thousand GDR holidaymakers camp out on roadsides and front gardens in Budapest in 35-degree heat and wait for their chance to flee.

August 14: At the handing-over of the first functional models of 32-bit microprocessors by the Erfurt collective combine Mikroelektronik, Erich Honecker says: “Neither ox nor mule can stay socialism’s rule.” (“Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf halt weder Ochs noch Esel auf.”)
Invitation to take part in the Pan-European Picnic (pamphlet)August 19: The Hungarian Democratic Forum and other Hungarian opposition groups, under the patronage of the MEP Otto von Habsburg and the Hungarian reformist politician Imre Pozsgay, member of the HSWP Politburo and state minister, have organised a “Pan-European Picnic” at the Hungarian-Austrian border near Sopron to demonstrate for the abolition of borders and a united Europe by symbolically opening a border gate and allowing a “one-off, occasional border crossing”. Over 600 GDR citizens rush through the half-open gate to Austria. The gate is shut again after a few hours.
Cars left behind by GDR refugees, who had waited and saved for them for yearsAs later becomes known, this chance to cross the border without danger has been made possible by a standstill agreement between the state minister Pozsgay, the interior minister and the head of the border troops – and is a test to see how the Soviet Union reacts to such actions.

August 21: Several hundred people are arrested during demonstrations in Prague on the 21st anniversary of the “Prague Spring”.

August 22: A GDR citizen is shot dead by a Hungarian border guard while trying to escape to Austria.
Arrival in Austria: unbounded joy at being liberated
August 23: Hundreds of thousands of people in the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union commemorate their lost independence.

August 24: With the assistance of the International Red Cross, over one hundred would-be East German emigrants from the Budapest embassy are flown to West Germany via Austria. In Poland, the co-founder of the Solidarity movement, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, is elected as the first non-communist prime minister.

August 25: In Bonn, the Hungarian prime minister, Miklos Németh, and Foreign Minister Gyula Horn meet secretly at Gymnich Castle with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher. Németh says that he opened the talks with Kohl and Genscher with the words: “Chancellor, Hungary has decided to allow GDR citizens to leave freely. The decision was taken mostly on humanitarian grounds.”
Arrival in Austria: unbounded joy at being liberatedAccording to Horst Teltschik, Kohl promises his guests to compensate any disadvantages that Hungary might experience as the result of reprisals on the part of the GDR. The German government later gives Hungary an additional loan of 500 million marks and promises to abolish mandatory visas and to provide political aid to Hungary in its bid to join the European Community.

August 26: An initiative group including Martin Gutzeit, Markus Meckel, Arndt Noack and Ibrahim Böhme calls for the formation of a social democratic party in the GDR.

August 29: At a SED Politburo meeting, perplexity prevails on the question of how to proceed in the refugee crisis. Günter Mittag, who is standing in for a sick Erich Honecker, says: “Sometimes I’d like to smash the television, but that’s no use. (…) The business with Hungary wasn’t prepared by chance. It is an attack on the weakest point aimed at bringing the GDR into disrepute as well.

Comrade Mielke could talk for an hour or more about what means were used. Then there is the front-line reporting of the enemy, as we have very correctly called it. We have to show the main weaknesses of imperialism. We have to show where it aims to undermine socialism. But the basic guideline is: we do this calmly and don’t come to blows. We have to think about how to continue our line of argumentation.”
GDR citizens wait in a refugee centre run by the August 31: The Hungarian foreign minister, Gyula Horn, arrives in East Berlin to talk with GDR Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer and Günter Mittag. Horn announces that Hungary is going to allow the refugees to leave the country as of September 11, if they have not by then been persuaded to return to the GDR by assurances that they will be allowed to depart. Mittag and Fischer reject both options.

In August, 20,995 GDR citizens manage to flee to the West; 12,812 people are given permission to leave the GDR.

June 12: Hungary’s joining of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees comes into force. The Convention makes it unlawful to send refugees back to the country from which they have escaped. A worried Stasi delegation in Budapest enquires about the consequences for GDR refugees. The Hungarian secret service chief Ferenc Pallagi tells it that GDR citizens will still not be recognised as refugees, and will be deported to the GDR. “Leaving for West Germany/Austria or another country of their choice will not be permitted.”

May 1989

Hungarian soldiers cut through the border fence on 2 May 1989May 2: Hungarian border forces start taking down the barbed-wire fence to Austria. – In a memo of May 6 to SED General Secretary Erich Honecker about the start of the “planned dismantling of the border security fence on the national border of the Hungarian People’s Republic to Austria,” GDR Defence Minister Heinz Kessler assumes that it is only a cosmetic measure and that the Hungarian government will continue to keep the border secure.

January 1989

Erich Honecker, 18 January 1989 January 3: According to figures from the West German Interior Ministry, reception centres in West Germany registered 39,832 emigrants from the GDR in 1988, double the number in the year before (1987: 18,985). The number of immigrants of German descent, mainly from Poland, the Soviet Union and Romania, but also from other countries, also rose steeply in comparison with the previous year (1988: 202,673; 1987: 78,523). The number of asylum-seekers rose by 80 percent to 103,076 (1987: 57,379).


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