Memorandum of Conversation Between Egon Krenz, Secretary General of the Socialist Unity Party and Mikhail S. Gorbachev
The new Secretary General of East Germany, Egon Krenz, traveled to Moscow on November 1, 1989 to meet in person with Gorbachev and assess the situation in East Germany and discuss possible paths forward. Throughout the lengthy meeting, Krenz and Gorbachev spoke openly about the challenges that now faced the GDR. Gorbachev, for the most part, remained hopeful that the new GDR leadership could instigate the necessary reforms that would save the GDR from complete collapse. Here, it is quite interesting to note just how steadfast Gorbachev remained in 1989 to the ideals of socialism and the necessity to defend those ideals against the magnetic appeal of capitalism.
Egon Krenz was also straightforward in his assessment of the situation in the GDR. Like Gorbachev, Krenz remained optimistic that the GDR could withstand the hardships brought about by reform and emerge from the crisis in a better position. Krenz was especially aware of the discrepancy between the rhetoric of the party and the reality of life in the GDR. Above all, Krenz seemed to stress that openness was acutely necessary if the GDR were going to embark on any sort of reform track.
See also the Soviet notes from this same meeting here.
Egon Krenz, conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, 1 November 1989, trans. Christian F. Ostermann, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Comrade Gorbachev recommended not to be deterred by the complicated problems. From his own experience he knew that comrades were at times depressed because even after several years of perestroika in the Soviet Union there were still such great problems to resolve. He then always told them that the Party itself had wanted perestroika. It had involved the mass of people in politics. If now some processes were not running as expected, if there were stormy and emotionally charged arguments, then one would had to cope with that, too, and not become afraid of one’s own people.
He did not mean to say that perestroika had been fully achieved in the Soviet Union. The horse was saddled but the ride was not over. One could still be thrown off. On the other hand, much experience had already been gained, which had great significance. Now the phase of intensified work for the continuation of perestroika was beginning in the Soviet Union.
The population, however, resented the Party for having the mass media in particular create a world of illusion that did not coincide with the practical experience of the people and their everyday life. That caused a break of confidence between Party and people. This was actually the worst thing that could happen to a party.
Some say that the cause for this is to be found in the fact that the party leadership misjudged the domestic political situation in the last three months. It proved to be speechless when so many people left the GDR. This was a tough accusation. In addition, besides political mistakes, important psychological mistakes were also made in this difficult situation: In the newspapers it was stated that we did not weep any tears after these people left. This deeply hurt the feelings of many mothers and fathers, relatives, friends and comrades of these people whose leaving caused them great pains.
Despite these facts the Politburo of the CC of the SED agreed that the political crisis in which the GDR currently found itself had not just begun this summer. Many problems had been accumulating for a long time.
Comrade Krenz stated that they in the GDR had unfortunately left many questions regarding perestroika in the Soviet Union to the judgment of the enemy and failed to have a dialogue with the people about it. This happened despite the fact that Comrade Gorbachev had advised Comrade Erich Honecker at one of their first meetings to deal with the opinions which had appeared in Soviet publications and with which he disagreed.
Comrade Krenz pointed out that the prohibition of [the Soviet magazine] Sputnik in the GDR had led to a situation in which the enemy could raise questions about the GDR citizens’s right of access to information. The comrades and citizens outside the Party who complained about it were not primarily concerned about the contents of Sputnik. The problem was that the GDR leadership on the one hand was watching as the population was receiving broadcasts from the Western TV stations every evening for many hours, but, on the other hand, prohibited the reading of a Soviet newspaper. This was an important turning-point in the political thinking of GDR citizens. After the 9th Plenum of the CC of the SED [on 18 October 1989], one of the first steps to be ordered therefore was the return of Sputnik onto the list of permitted newspapers.
On the subject of the still on-going demonstrations, Comrade Krenz stated that the situation was not easy. The composition of the demonstrators was diverse. Some real enemies were working among them. A large part were dissatisfied [citizens] or fellowtravelers. The SED leadership was determined to resolve political problems by political means. The demonstrations would be legalized, and there would be no police action against them. The situation, however, was developing according to its own dynamics. For the weekend, a large demonstration with possibly half a million participants was planned in Berlin. It had been initiated by artists and some of their associations.
Comrade Gorbachev explained that it was now necessary to revive creative Marxism, socialism in a Leninist way, the humanistic and democratic socialism in which man really felt that this was his society and not an elite society. This process was not easy to implement. Of this he had become aware during his visit to Cuba. There had been a tense atmosphere initially. He himself, however, had explained that perestroika resulted from the development of the Soviet Union, and was necessary for the solution of Soviet problems. The question of whether socialism in the Soviet Union would succeed or fail was of importance for the entire world, including Cuba....