Berlin Embassy Cable, The GDR Political Crisis: Still Deepening. October 4, 1989
On the eve of East Germany fortieth anniversary celebrations, it appeared that the SED was losing control. Several pressure points in society were mounting at the same time. In Prague, East German citizens had jumped over the walls into the West German embassy and the East German regime had negotiated their safe passage to West Germany planned for October 4. The outcome of the crisis in Prague was seen by many in the West as acknowledgment by the Honecker regime of defeat.
Domestically, signs were mounting that the aging East German regime no longer had a grasp on reality and were thus unable to efficiently deal with the situation on the ground. These assertions are echoed in this report from the US embassy in East Berlin from October 4, 1989. The report ends with a summary comment that the situation in East Germany is "politically pregnant," not explosive, but that the general situation was deteriorating. Honecker would be removed from power on October 8, and the Berlin Wall fell just over a month later on November 9.
Berlin Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "The GDR Political Crisis: Still Deepening," 4 October 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
In his first public comment since returning from his sick bed, Honecker admitted no crisis and blamed the GDR's problems on the devil in Bonn. Prime Minister [Willi] Stoph pledged continuity at next spring's party congress. The gap between the old leaders who are circling their wagons and the political reality continues to grow, however....
3. There has been no public announcement here of the GDR's surprise decision [on] October 3 to allow the FRG embassy in Prague to be emptied for the second time in a half-week of East Germans seeking refuge in the West. That and the fact that the GDR Reichsbahn trains which had been anticipated to begin arriving in Prague the same evening had still not reached the Czech capital by midday October 4 stirred speculation that this new concession might be provoking a serious fight within the Politburo.
4. The latest indication, based on Western press reports, is that the trains will begin to take the refugees out of Prague by late afternoon and that the delay was due not to high-level political obstruction, but to trouble on the rails. One version is that some of the tracks were blocked within the GDR, presumably by angry railroaders or average citizens, another version that the security police needed additional time to take precautions to prevent persons from jumping aboard when the trains passed back through the GDR on their way to the West German border.
10. From the other direction, signs of popular initiatives continue to multiply. For example, dozens of popular artists, many of them from the rock scene most attractive to young people, are circulating an open letter calling for more openness and recognition of Neues Forum and concluding that, “We want to live in this land, and it makes us sick to have to watch without means of acting as attempts at a democratization, attempts at social analysis are criminalized or ignored.”
11. Comment: A powerful mix of caution and prudence still overlays the anger and frustration. One contact in a scientific institute gave us an example: he and his colleagues drafted a bold, straightforward letter calling for reforms that was intended to be sent to their national trade union representatives . . in the end concern for consequences and doubt whether the moment was ripe caused most to hold back. Even our contact said he and his wife were in deep discussion about whether he should sign. On October 4, Neues Forum leaders put out appeals for all its sympathizers to refrain from any public actions that could provoke the authorities during the weekend festivities.
12. The situation, in short, still seems to us to be better characterized as politically pregnant, not physically explosive, but the gap between power and reality is increasing daily.