Primary Sources

Transcript of the SED Politburo Session held on 5 September 1989 East Germany

Description

Hungary began dismantling the barbed wire along its border with Austria in May, 1989. Over the summer months, thousands of East Germans risked their lives crossing over the Hungarian-Austrian border before heading north to West Germany. East Germany pressured Hungary to close its border with Austria, but on September 10, 1989 the Hungarian government announced that it was officially opening the border and no longer recognizing or enforcing the travel restrictions placed on East German citizens by the GDR government.

During this SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany- the communist ruling party in East Germany) Politburo meeting, less than a week before the official border opening, the leading members of the East German Communist Party discuss their strategy. In the excerpts included here, it is clear that the SED knows the Soviet Union will not pressure Hungary to close its border and prevent the exodus of thousands of East Germans. Foreign Minister Fischer had asked for a meeting of the Warsaw Pact foreign ministers, but was turned down by Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister.

Others in the meeting voice their concern that the actions in Hungary amounted to a betrayal against Socialism. Interestingly, at least one member, Mielke (head of the Stasi secret police), argued that the Hungarian government could still be won over by theoretical arguments regarding the practical steps necessary to avert a collapse of the Socialist system. This statement (and many others by ranking Politburo members at the time) illustrate how detached the aging GDR gerontocracy was from the reality of the situation around them.

Source

Wolfgang Herger, "SED Politburo Session," transcript, 5 September 1989, trans. Christiaan Hetzner, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

[Oskar] Fischer. The letter from Comrade Shevardnadze was forwarded by Comrade Gorinovich. He emphasized the concern of the Soviet Union for the further escalation of the campaign against the GDR. ... O. Fischer's proposal for convening the Committee of Foreign Ministers of the Warsaw Pact states met with misgivings from Gorinovich. That did not materialize too quickly. One must take into consideration the deviating viewpoints in Poland and Hungary as well. Fischer stuck to the proposal, but Shevardnadze's representative Aboymov had reservations too....

[Willi] Stoph. The West wants to continually raise the stakes. Hungary supports this in actuality, particularly with the open borders. That goes against all treaties. The FRG's campaign also goes against the agreements between Erich Honecker and Kohl. We must present our situation more aggressively to our allies and other countries....

[Kurt] Hager. Hungary is playing a double game.... The Hungarian gate remains open. It is therefore necessary that the Warsaw Pact states present our point of view to Hungary.... What they are doing is a breach in hitherto normal relations. We are faced with the question how we should continue to conduct ourselves with Hungary. That is for me still an open question. But the Hungarian position worsens with respect to us - in favor of Bonn. They will obey the orders of Bonn....

...

[Erich] Mielke. Hungary is betraying socialism. The proposal by Fischer for a meeting of the foreign ministers is very important. It concerns the power relationships in socialism in general. If Hungary continues to proceed with this, we are risking Hungary becoming a transit country. We must however support our comrades in Hungary too. We provide our comrades with theoretical articles, which are read and studied. What matters though is to clarify on the practical questions in the spirit of these good, theoretical articles....

How to Cite this Source

Wolfgang Herger, "Transcript of the SED Politburo Session held on 5 September 1989 East Germany," Making the History of 1989, Item #414, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/414 (accessed October 20 2014, 7:24 am).

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