The German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik–DDR) was proclaimed on October 7, 1949, pretending to be „the first German state of the workers and peasants.” It was, in fact, a Soviet protectorate, a dictatorship based on fear, suspicion, and duplicity. Ther two key-institutions were the communist party, one of the most rigidly Stalinist in East-Central Europe, and the secret police (Stasi). The number of informers per capita was higher than in any other Soviet bloc country. The GDR remained in history as the Stasiland. The first strongman was the Comintern hack Walter Ulbricht, a narrow-minded bureaucrat involved in the main purges of German refugees in the 1930s in the USSR and during the Spanish Civil War. He was also involved in the excommunication of Willy Munzenberg, a flaming figure of European anti-fascism, and, most likely, in his assassination.
Ulbrticht’s protege and successor was Erich Honecker, another hard-core Stalinist. In the 1980s, as shown bt Robert Service in his great book „The End of the Cold War: 1985-1991” (Macmillan, 2015), relations betwqeen Moscow and its Warsaw Pact client-states grew increasingly sour. First Leonid Brezhnev, then Yuri Andropov, and finally Mikhail Gorbachev, regarded Honecker as a difficult partner and looked askance at his openings toward West Germany. In turn, Honecker and his clique criticised Gorbachev’s reforms and refused to emulate them.
By 1989, the GDR was an exhausted, rusty, obsolete Leninist regime. Like in other Central European countries, dissident activities developed, including independent peace and environmental movements. I wrote about these initiatives in an article, titled „Nascent Civil Society in the GDR,” published in the journal „Problem of Communism” in 1988. Historian Georg Herbstritt discovered copies of my article confisctated by Stasi from civil society activists. Both the Catholic and the Lutheran Churches acted as shield-institutions for the budding civil society. Protesters quoted on their banners Rosa Luxemburg’s words: „Freedom is always freedom for those who think differently.”
In October 1989, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the GDR, Gorbachev warned Honecker that delays in reforms would be disastrous. Honecker was ousted, his replacement was a political non-entitity named Egon Krenz. He was a hard-liner convinced that a Tiananmen scenario would work in East Germany. The Soviets sent unm istakeabe signals that a massacred would not be acceptable. There were over 400,000 Soviet military there, and Krenz had to take this into account. The deputy KGB chief of station in Dresden was a lietenant-colonel named Vladimir Putin. He witnessed the miraculous birth of democracy on the streets and, most likely, remembers those moments with a sense of anguish.
The GDR received a mortal blow with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. German reunification took place less than a year later. A nightmarish experience, imposed by Stalin during the fiercest times of the Cold War, came to a a fully deserved, infamous end. As of the writing of this article, both the president (Joachim Gauck) and the chancellor (Angela Merkel) of the Federal Republic of Germany are former citizens (prisoners) of the penal colony called DDR. This may explain Angela Merkel’s compaassionate stance during the most dramatic humanitarian crisis in Europe in recent memory.