East Germany's peaceful revolution remembered in church campaign

By Stephen Brown
April 30, 2009

Christians in eastern Germany have launched a campaign to mark the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution which overthrew communism, with a light sculpture shone onto the walls of the regional parliament building in Erfurt.

The work, by artist Ingo Bracke, projected words such as "peace", "reconciliation", "non-violence" and "solidarity" onto the building that once housed the communist-run administration for the district of Erfurt in the days of totalitarian rule.

The sculpture included extracts of texts from the Ecumenical Assembly which gathered delegates from all East Germany's main churches in April 1989. That was less than six months before the country was engulfed in its autumn revolution. Despite still being under strict communist rule, the assembly demanded, among other things, secret ballots for elections, freedom of opinion and freedom to travel and the right to form independent associations.

This was the "writing on the wall" that East Germany's communist rulers refused to recognise, said Bishop Christoph Kähler of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, at the launch of the campaign on 29 April. "That meant the end of their regime, through a peaceful revolution," he said. "People took burning candles onto the street and voiced their protests and demands."

As the light shone on the parliamentary building, a sound collage was broadcast with spoken extracts, the sounds of church bells, and snippets of music by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

The campaign to remember the revolution is called "Holy Disorder". It seeks not only to recall the events of 1989 but also to mobilise church members into political involvement. 2009 is a year in which Germany faces a general election.

East Germany's 1989 peaceful uprising has sometimes been dubbed a "Protestant revolution" because of the prominent role played by church members and the street demonstrations that followed packed prayer meetings for peace and change. The protests paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany in 1990.

Communist party politburo member Horst Sindermann is reputed to have lamented after being deposed, "We were prepared for everything, but not candles and prayers."

The Ecumenical Assembly in East Germany received inspiration from the World Council of Churches, which called on its members to take action to promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

"The Ecumenical Assembly was the basis and formed the roots for many other political demands and political programmes that were developed in autumn 1989," said Bishop Kähler in an interview with Ecumenical News International, explaining why the "Holy Disorder" campaign has been launched on the 20th anniversary of the Ecumenical Assembly. "If we had not had this groundwork, we would not have been able to act as directly and peacefully as we did."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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