9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’

Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day

– Heroes, David Bowie

On 9 November 1989, three days before this iconic photograph was taken, the East German government – amid some confusion – announced that anyone wishing to visit the West would be granted a visa. Ecstatic crowds surged at the Berlin Wall and guards were left with no choice but to open the various gates and checkpoints. That night ended  forty years of division between East and West Berlin. I was born three months into the Berlin blockade and airlift; on the night of 9 November 1989 I watched as Newsnight broadcast the amazing scenes from Berlin, a five-year old daughter asleep upstairs, dreaming, perhaps, of a brave new world. Continue reading “9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’”

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

Twenty years ago today, massive demonstrations in East Germany finally bore fruit when Erich Honecker was forced to step down as party leader. Tension had been building in East Germany for weeks. In August Hungary had removed its physical border defences with Austria, and in September more than 13,000 East German tourists in Hungary escaped to Austria.  This set began chain of events.  East Germans flooded the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to leave. This triggered  similar events in Czechoslovakia. The East German authorities allowed the East Germans in the Prague embassy  to leave for West Germany, providing that they used a train which crossed East Germany on the way. Continue reading “A kiss seals Honecker’s fate”

1989: The Baltic Way

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful political protest on 23 August 1989 in which two million people joined hands to form a human chain nearly 400 miles long across the three Baltic republics of the Soviet Union to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 which handed the Baltic states to the Soviet Union and destroyed their independence.  The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn – and perhaps a quarter of the entire Baltic population joined it.

The Baltic Way was part of the larger struggle known as the ‘Singing Revolution’, a group of protests between 1987 and 1990, which helped regain independence for the Baltic states in August 1991. It got its name because, during many of the peaceful protests that took place during those years, protestors would gather in town squares to sing national songs that had been banned during Soviet rule.

In December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report of a commission condemning the secret protocols of the 1939 Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On March 11, 1990, within six months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

Footage of the human chain was this year inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, a list of 193 moments of global significance.