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Mon. December 10, 2018
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International Affairs Forum

Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Interview: Wolfgang Beyer

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Dr. Cornelia Beyer: How and why did you join the peace movement?

Mr. Wolfgang Beyer: The peace movement did exist before, but after the Helsinki Conference and the OSCE process, which promoted human rights, the peace movement grew and more people and other groups from civil society joined. It became apparent at the time that the official rhetoric of the GDR being a “haven of peace and promoter of international cooperation “ was just that – rhetoric. Neither its foreign policies nor the internal security state did match that rhetoric. The peace movement at the time was inspired by the Prague Spring and Solidarnosc – the Polish peace movement. However, the Eastern German movement could, for political reasons, not organise publicly.


What were the goals of the peace movement?

Mr. Beyer: The Initiative for Peace and Human Rights in Berlin worked towards peace in Europe and the world. In particular it aimed at an end of the occupation of Afghanistan, and at a strengthening of human rights within the GDR, which were restricted by massive surveillance of citizens, lack of freedoms and political rights for the citizens, heavy restrictions on international travel, and a firing order at the border to West Germany.
In other cities and communities there were many groups from the eco-movement and the church who were also in loose contact. Many of them tried to promote a better GDR.


How did the peace movement pursue their goals?

Mr. Beyer: The groups met informally in private flats, at church gatherings, or discussed in the library of the Zion’s church in Berlin. What was important was to share information, mostly to topics where public information was scarce, such as on the environment, the use of asbestos, the mining of Uranium in the GDR by the USSR for the production of nuclear weapons. Information sharing was not as easy as today because the internet did not exist yet. There were larger events organised by the protestant churches in Berlin, Plauen, Leipzig, and Dresden. In the beginning, these groups attempted to participate with their own slogans at the regular demonstrations which were organised by the state. As this resulted in imprisonments, later on they organised the so-called Monday demonstrations, which grew in popularity and finally brought about the political decisions that then led to the opening of the Berlin wall.


You had to leave the GDR in 1988. Why, and what happened?

Mr. Beyer: Due to the dismal economic situation in the GDR at the time and due to an occupational ban after working for the church in one of their charitable organisations, we put forward an application to leave the GDR. At one of the meetings of the peace movement in a church I had given a speech criticizing the rhetoric of the city of Berlin being a city of peace – Berlin was still divided at the time! After that, me and my family had to leave the GDR. We were given 48 hours to exit the country not to return.


One year later, the Berlin Wall fell. How much was that success attributable to the peace movement?

Mr. Beyer: The primary changes which were necessary came with Glasnost and Perestroika in the Soviet Union. Internally, in the GDR, the peace movement had contributed significantly to preparing what happened, but it did not develop any ideas for what would come after the end of the system. In fact, they wanted to reform the system, rather than replace it.


What happened to the peace movement later on?

Mr. Beyer: Members of the peace movement participated in the round table on social and economic conditions, which was created in response to their efforts, and some did also participate in the last government of the GDR, which was in place after the wall fell. Individual members were even present in the German parliament after unification.

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