Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Who pushed over the Berlin Wall? Harald Jäger. Where is he now?

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From Mary Elise Sarotte’s piece in the NY Times:

. . . It was the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev who had opened the door to these events. In his four years in power, he had introduced a series of social and political reforms across Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe — but to enhance his Communist Party’s control, not end it.

These reforms put the hard-line dictators in East Germany in a bind. They felt they had to make some sort of concession, too. Politburo members in East Berlin decided to make minor changes to the state’s draconian travel rules — but to retain their power to deny travel permission on a whim.

The announcement of this pseudo-reform, at an international news conference televised on the night of Nov. 9, was botched. The bumbling Politburo member running the conference, Günter Schabowski, read the news release for the first time on air. Much of his reading was garbled, but a few phrases popped out: that trips abroad would be “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately.” Shorn of their context, these phrases mistakenly gave journalists and TV viewers the impression that the wall was open.

But his error need not have been fatal. Politburo members making mistakes was nothing new, and the bottom line had not changed: The regime’s armed sentries still stood at the wall, with orders to keep the gates closed.

What had changed was the self-assurance of the people. By autumn 1989, the protest movement had gained sufficient confidence to take advantage of this incompetence. The people already knew the authorities would back down: A month earlier, peaceful protesters in Leipzig had turned out in such overwhelming numbers that the security forces, which we now know had planned a Tiananmen-style crackdown, had backed off.

And they knew they could trust each other. Stasi interrogators had once asked a prisoner named Katrin Hattenhauer, a young rebel, how she and her fellow dissidents held together despite all of the Stasi’s actions against them. She replied that shared suffering welded people together more strongly than shared success: “Where the hammer has come down, whatever is underneath is going to hold together.”

In contrast, Stasi files demonstrate how members of the regime did not trust their colleagues, or their subordinates — and that this lack of trust gravely undermined their ability to blunt the rising revolution. And so, when tens of thousands of Berliners headed toward the wall in the minutes after the news conference, the entire system cracked.

When one of the regime’s most loyal subordinates, a Stasi officer named Harald Jäger who was working the Nov. 9 night shift at a crucial checkpoint in the Berlin Wall, repeatedly phoned his superiors with accurate reports of swelling crowds, they did not trust or believe him. They called him a delusional coward. Insulted, furious and frightened, he decided to let the crowds out, starting a chain reaction that swept across all of the checkpoints that night. . .

Read the whole thing. And from a comment by Markus Ward:

Another funny but crucial detail … the night shift at the DPA office in Berlin called a quick meeting (if I remember there were two or three people) to determine exactly how to interpret “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately”. They ultimately decided for a quite uhh, let’s say under the circumstances very liberal interpretation and immediately put it on the wire. This message spread like wildfire through the news outlets and is what ultimately created those crowds hearing and led to the gates really opening. Hat’s off to these folks!

And a thought-provoking comment from “Umbrella”:

I am writing from Hong Kong, a Westernised-city within the holds of China. The situation is a bit inverted, we are just a tiny city in the midst of the concrete dragon which is China, lead by a group of government puppets who are intertwined with the 41 tycoons who control 70% of our GDP. Every day, I hear from my parents, my in-laws, my bosses, “The student movement and protests are no use, don’t fight with China, it is a regime that is omnipotent, ruthless and rich. Just give up.” But what they fail to see, or are too scared to see, is that our future is not defined by those who refuse to change, but by those who will fight for change.

UPDATE: Story about Harald Jäger today.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

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