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1985-1989 The five most important Gorbachev moments for the GDR

March 11, 1985: Gorbachev becomes head of state and party

Mikhail Sergejewitsch Gorbachev is elected head of state and party leader in the Soviet Union. Until he took office, the Soviet Union was ruled by old men: Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. When Brezhnev died at the age of 76, Andropov came to power in 1982. Despite his poor health, the 68-year-old is elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) - and dies after 15 months in office. He is succeeded by Chernenko, 72 years old and also seriously ill. When he died on March 10, 1985, Michael Gorbachev became his successor. One of the regularities of the party apparatus is that in this case the second man in the hierarchy comes to the top. Behind Gorbachev lies a steep rise: As the son of a farmer, he studied agricultural economics and law and, at 49, is a full member of the Politburo.

Gorbachev sees himself as a radical reformer - he does not want to abolish socialism, but rather revive it and transform it into an efficient system. He propagates "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (reconstruction): more freedom and at the same time more responsibility for each individual. Private entrepreneurs should help ensure that the shelves in the shops fill up.

April 17-21, 1986: Gorbachev demands self-criticism from the SED

The XI. SED party congress takes important decisions on the development of the GDR, which underpin the chosen course of "unity of economic and social policy". In 1986, however, an economic downturn began. Mikhail Gorbachev is the guest of honor at the SED party congress and speaks of a time of upheaval. He demands self-criticism from the SED as "an indispensable condition for the success of a revolutionary party". The political and economic reforms he initiated in the Soviet Union are rejected by the SED.

November 10-11, 1986 - Warsaw Pact Summit

At the summit of the Warsaw Pact countries, Gorbachev announced the liberalization of Soviet Eastern European policy. In his speech he assesses the international competitiveness of socialism: Either the countries accelerated their development in the fields of science, technology and economy or socialism gets stuck in difficulties and problems and loses its dynamism.

October 6-7, 1989 - Gorbachev on the 40th anniversary of the GDR

As usual, the 40th anniversary of the GDR will be celebrated with a torchlight procession and a military parade - although GDR head of state Honecker had initially decided against it because of the tense situation. There are protests and demonstrations in several larger cities, for example in Leipzig, Halle, Karl-Marx-Stadt and Plauen. More than 1,000 people are arrested. The state celebrations end in a fiasco. As a guest of honor at the national holiday, Mikhail Gorbachev speaks out in favor of the inevitability of reforms and warns the SED leadership: "If we stay behind, life will punish us immediately." This later became the world-famous phrase: "If you come too late, life punishes you."

During the subsequent celebrations, around 3,000 demonstrators gather on Berlin's Alexanderplatz. They shout "Gorbi, help us!", "No violence!" and "We are the people!" The present forces of the state security and the people's police hold back for the time being. When Gorbachev left, however, they took action against the demonstrators.

Oct. 9, 1989 - Gorbachev shows restraint

70,000 people demonstrate peacefully for reforms in Leipzig. The GDR security forces hold back for the first time - also because Gorbachev - unlike the Soviet leadership in June 1953 - did not intervene. Without the backing of Moscow, the SED does not dare to take violent measures. The responsible district secretary withdraws the emergency services.