Tag: iron curtain

RIP Christian Führer, East German Peace Activist

In the early 1980s a church in Leipzig, East Germany’s ­second-­largest ­city, began holding “peace prayers” on Monday night. Two young pastors, Christian Führer and Christoph Wonneberger, at the Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church, led the services. As Andrew Curry wrote in the Wilson Quarterly, it was a dangerous undertaking, but the church was the only place where any dissent could be cautiously expressed. “The church was the one space someone could express themselves,” Führer said. “We had a monopoly on freedom, physically and spiritually.”

Through the 1980s, as Curry reported, the Monday meetings grew. Gorbachev’s reforms gave Eastern Europeans hope. But they knew their history.

In 1953, workers in 700 East German cities declared their opposition to the Unified Socialist Party of Germany, or SED, the party that was synonymous with the East German state, and demanded the reunification of the country. Soviet soldiers fired on demonstrators, and more than 100 were killed. In the years since, all opposition movements in the Soviet bloc had met the same fate: “’53 in Germany, ’56 in Hungary, ’68 in Prague, ’89 in ­China—­that’s how communism dealt with critics,” ­Führer says. 

Suddenly in 1989, with a breach in the Iron Curtain between Hungary and Austria, and Solidarity winning an election in Poland, more people started showing up for peace prayers, more than the small church could hold. People started flooding out of the church and marching with candles through Leipzig. Week by week that fall, more people joined the marches – hundreds, then thousands, then 70,000, 150,000, 300,000. And then, unbelievably, the Communist Party fell, the Berlin Wall opened, and East Germans were free after more than 40 years. As a Leipzig politician told me in 2006, “As it says in the Bible, we walked seven times around the inner city, and the wall came down.”

I was saddened to read that Christian Führer died Monday in Leipzig at 71. “Führer” is a German word meaning “leader.” Christian Führer was truly a Christian leader.

I talked about the Monday prayers and the fall of communism in this 2012 speech:

Travel after the Fall of the Iron Curtain

In the sumer of 1992, I lived and studied in Prague. I was keen on seeing life in Eastern Europe after the end of Soviet domination.

It was invigorating to think that my local law professor headed over the Vltava River in the afternoons to work on the new constitution in the Prague Castle. It was fascinating to learn of the “lustration” process by which participants in Soviet-era wrongs were penalized but not ostracized. Out of habit, no Czechs ever talked on the subway. Americans did.

There were other reminders of the old order. My overnight train to Katowice, Poland, from which I planned a connection to Krakow, stopped in the middle of nowhere. In the pitch black night, the sound of border guards throwing open train compartments and making demands in a foreign tongue brought forth fearsome movie-memories of life under totalitarianism.

They pulled a young man from my compartment and took him off the train. I don’t remember if it was a Central or South American passport, but it was one that doesn’t afford its bearer the luxury of easy international travel that Americans enjoy.

I honestly don’t remember if he was allowed back on the train. I’m just glad that era is over.

Liberty Most Deer

As a footnote to Chris Moody’s post about Monday’s 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I just came across this article about red deer refusing to cross from Germany into the Czech Republic.  This, of course, is a border that was the once heavily fortified dividing line between free West Germany and captive Czechoslovakia.

Even deer who weren’t born when barbed wire, watchtowers, and armed guards prevented the natural extension of their happy grazing grounds act as if the Cold War never ended — apparently because they learned their habits from their parents, who learned them from their parents.

Still, as with the new generation of Eastern Europeans who have no memory of Communism, some young deer are starting to break the mold, taking advantage of — and even taking for granted — their newfound freedom.  I wonder if the grass (and ferns, and whatever else deer eat) is any greener on the other side of the former Iron Curtain.

Berlin Wall Anniversary Links

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago this month, marking the collapse of Soviet communism. The anniversary is an appropriate time for stocktaking and for seeking to answer a number of questions associated with this historic event, its aftermath, and its continued influence.

  • Podcast: Why Russia must confront the criminal nature of its communist past.

Totalitarian Leftovers in Eastern Europe

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago.  A hideous symbol of the suppression of liberty, it should remind us of the ever-present threat to our freedoms.  Even two decades later the legacy of repression continues to afflict many people in Eastern Europe.  For instance, those in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain still struggle with the knowledge that their friends and neighbors routinely spied on them.

Reports the Associated Press:

Stelian Tanase found out when he asked to see the thick file that Romania’s communist-era secret police had kept on him. The revelation nearly knocked the wind out of him: His closest pal was an informer who regularly told agents what Tanase was up to.

“In a way, I haven’t even recovered today,” said Tanase, a novelist who was placed under surveillance and had his home bugged during the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime.

“He was the one person on Earth I had the most faith in,” he said. “And I never, ever suspected him.”

Twenty years ago this autumn, communism collapsed across Eastern Europe. But its dark legacy endures in the unanswered question of the files — whether letting the victims read them cleanses old wounds or rips open new ones.

Things have never been so bad here, obviously, but that gives us even more reason to jealously guard our liberties.  Defend America we must, but we must never forget that it is a republic which we are defending.