(This article was originally written for and posted on the website of the interdisciplinary academic network Cultures of the Cold War.)
In the counter-factual novel Stealing The Future the rift with reality is pinpointed as beginning on the 4th November 1989, and the publication of the For Our Country statement played a significant role in building East Germans’ confidence in their ability to remain independent of West Germany.
In the book, Margrit, a factory worker and neighbour of the book’s protagonist, recognises this significance:
“Just now you mentioned the Statement. I think that wasn’t just the moment when the old government became irrelevant, it was the moment when Chancellor Kohl’s plans for us became irrelevant too. It lost him his re-election in Westgermany, and gave us a sense of ownership over our own country, our own destinies.”
Was the Statement so important in real life?
Stefan Heym in 1989
On the 26th November, just over two weeks after the Berlin Wall opened, 31 East Germans signed the Für Unser Land statement (text below). It was an appeal to all East Germans to consider the position of the GDR, and whether the country should slide towards unification with West Germany, or remain independent.
The statement was read out by the author Stefan Heym at a press conference on the 28th November.
At the time it was heavily overshadowed by the Ten Point Plan formulated by the West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and although over a million GDR citizens signed the For Our Country statement it remains little-known, while Kohl’s Ten Point Plan – out of date practically before it was even released – has found its place in history.
Astute and concise
The idea of a statement such as this was not new, indeed the idea of the For Our Country appeal came from Dick Boer who had been involved in a similar call out in the Netherlands.
But now, when I re-read this appeal – mentally putting it into the context of 1989, considering the effects it had – reading it again I’m impressed by the political astuteness, the way whole political landscapes and opportunities are concisely evoked, a set of values which enjoy popular support are proclaimed, and the effect: over a million signatures within just a few weeks.
Realism or extremism?
“I experienced the unimaginable become true” – Ulrike Poppe (Frauen für den Frieden, Initiative für Frieden und Menschenrechte), one of the first signatories of the For Our Country statement
To the reader of today’s world the For Our Country statement can seem hopelessly left-wing, pie-in-the-sky waffle. The very phrases “revolutionary renewal”, “socialist alternative”, “anti-fascist ideals” smack of politics that nowadays are frowned upon as extremist, a mere semantic step away from violent terrorism.
But in its own time and context the statement was not only mainstream, but also realistic. It used the language of the time, certainly a language shaped and dominated by the very Stalinist structures that the statement condemns, but it’s a language which the authors have reclaimed.
In the future that they suggest for the GDR they want to guarantee concrete values and rights that only the most cynical would reject: “peace and social justice, freedom of the individual, freedom of movement for all and the protection of the environment” – rights and values that seem all the more valuable for their recent absence in the GDR.
Mikhail Gorbachev: “A common European House”
The writers are not too naive to recognise that these values can be achieved only with the support of their European neighbours: they call for economic, social and political co-operation with all neighbouring states, and not just with West Germany – a call that echoes Gorbachev’s Common European House rhetoric of the time.
They also clearly recognise the threat that West Germany poses, predicting how reunification will cause untold economic damage and the erosion of political values – the proof of the latter lies in the modern reader’s near-inevitable impression that the writers are Weltfremd, politically innocent.
The process of revolutionary renewal
But for me a fascinating part of this statement lies in the formulation “Prozeß der revolutionären Erneuerung” (the process of revolutionary renewal).
It tells me two things:
- that the authors (among whom were SED Communist Party members) deliberately reclaimed the word revolution. From an orthodox perspective their statement could only be described as counter-revolutionary. Yet behind these words lay the grassroots revolution (“by means of mass demonstrations”), and not that of a Marxist avant-garde. It tells me that they were not only using the language of their time, but claiming that the people were far in advance of the Party.
- Egon Krenz – leader of the SED (Communist Party) at the time:- “die Wende”
I also take from this statement a recollection of the spirit of that time. Since 1990 we’ve had twenty-five years of historical re-interpretation and the word revolution, in the context of 1989 (“the 1989 revolution”), has become diluted and debased. The word now represents a narrative that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the GDR government, and a demand for a new one – a West German one – to replace it. The period is popularly summed up by the phrase coined by Egon Krenz when he was the SED (Communist Party) leader: die Wende (meaning something like the change or the turning point).
Yet here we have a contemporary document, one that summed up the feelings of a huge number of East Germans, talking not about a Wende – a bit of a change, but about ‘revolutionary renewal’.
Christa Wolf, author: formulated the final version of the Appeal
Nor do the authors talk about revolution in the context of a move towards reunification (or Vereinnahmung: an assimilation, an absorption as the Appeal terms it), but in the context of cleaning up, of ridding the society of Stalinism and the usurpations of the Party.
With their very first words they draw a line:
We cannot and will not continue to live as we have done.
This was more than a mere ‘Wende’ – this was a revolution.
For Our Country – a translation
The original print out of the For Our Country statement
- Read original text in German
For Our Country
A call from 31 GDR citizens making a plea for the continued existence of the GDR.
Our land is in crisis. We cannot and will not continue to live the way we have done. The leadership of a party has usurped the control of a people and its institutions, all areas of our lives have been dominated by Stalinism. Without the use of violence, by means of mass demonstrations the people have started a process of revolutionary renewal which is developing at breath-taking speed. We do not have much time to find a way out of this crisis.
we demand the continued independence of the GDR. In co-operation with those states and stakeholders prepared to help we should muster all our strength to develop a society of solidarity, in which we guarantee peace and social justice, freedom of the individual, freedom of movement for all and the protection of the environment.
we have to accept that the powerful economic forces – along with the unacceptable conditions that influential West German industrial and political figures demand in return for their support – will lead to a sell-out of our material and moral values, and, sooner or later, an assimilation of the GDR by West Germany.
Let us choose the first path. We still have the chance to build a socialist alternative to West Germany, in equitable neighbourliness with the states of Europe. We have not forgotten the anti-fascist and humanist ideals with which we began.
We call on all citizens who share our hopes and our fears to sign this appeal.
Berlin, 26th November 1989
Götz Berger, solicitor;
Wolfgang Berghofer, local politician;
Frank Beyer, director;
Volker Braun, author;
Reinhard Brühl, military historian;
Tamara Danz, rock singer;
Christoph Demke, bishop;
Siegrid England, educationalist;
Bernd Gehrke, economist;
Sighard Gille, painter;
Stefan Heym, author;
Uwe Jahn, construction foreman;
Gerda Jun, doctor/psychotherapist;
Dieter Klein, political economist;
Günter Krusche, Generalsuperintendent of the Ev. Church;
Brigitte Lebentrau, biologist;
Bernd P. Löwe, peace researcher;
Thomas Montag, doctor;
Andreas Pella, civil engineer;
Sebastian Pflugbeil, physicist,
Ulrike Poppe, housewife;
Martin Schmidt, economist;
Friedrich Schorlemmer, pastor;
Andree Türpe, philosopher;
Jutta Wachowiak, actress;
Heinz Warzecha, managing director;
Konrad Weiss, film-maker;
Angela Wintgen, dentist;
Christa Wolf, author;
Ingeborg Graße, nurse.
- Read original text in German
How do we pray for our country and its leaders, current and future? Does our vote really matter? And for whom do we vote? Can we or our prayers help turn the tide of our nation? If you’re seeking answers for any of these questions, here’s a prayer that might help!
Lord God, we desperately need your wisdom. You have given us a great country, founded on principles and truths from Your Word. We need men and women who will honor You, trust You, and lead us once again back to You. We pray for servant leaders who love the things You love and who care more about others than themselves.
Give us leaders with discerning hearts, bold faith, and wise minds that model Your character. Teach them—and us—not just what is good, but what is best. Guide them in the way our country should go. Give them purity in their intentions, and godliness in their convictions. Energize their spirits and bodies physically and spiritually, and keep them emotionally secure in the knowledge of who You are—and whose they are. Help them to be bighearted and sincere, energetic in goodness, and courteous in their manners.
Raise up leaders with the greatest potential of godly leadership, those who can ease confusion, expose illusion, and heal delusion. You alone hold the power to turn the hearts of leaders, but You listen and use our prayers to move them into right action. Help us to be faithful to care and to pursue Your heart in prayer.
Help our leaders to be quick to admit failure, but ready to rebound in persistent resilience. Encourage them to choose wisely, and when they don’t know what to do, help them keep their eyes on You. Let them take a firm stand on issues that truly matter to You, regardless of the consequences or approval ratings. Make them God-pleasers, not puppets; leaders filled with conviction, not corruption.
As a nation, God, help us to desire righteousness more than rights, and to mirror sacrifice more than selfishness. You know us well, and You understand our flaws. Turn those weaknesses into strengths; bathe us with Your grace and mercy, though none of us deserve it. Fill us with the boldness to choose the kind of freedom that will benefit all, rather than a few. Open our eyes to see others as You do—with godly potential and value. But help us, too, to recognize our own pride in trying to elevate ourselves and others above You and Your purpose for our lives.
We need, You, God. Oh, how we need You! You have exercised nothing but faithfulness and fairness in Your treatment of our country, even when we’ve turned our back on You and forgotten Your goodness to us. Your discipline at times is hard, but You are just. Your purpose is always to draw us close to You, to bless us, and to make us a great nation who honors You. You are a good, good, Father—and Your love for us has a proven track record.
Forgive us for wanting our own way and making our own paths—often the ones paved with least resistance. Forgive us for fence-walking, or for ignoring completely the truths that can so easily set us free. Deliver us from mindless quarrels and destinations that lead us nowhere, but away from You. Free us from divisiveness, and melt our hardened hearts to love, not hate, and to heal, not debate.
Our history has cried for king-like leaders who will solve our problems and meet our needs. But there is only one King, and that is You, Lord. We have blindly sought answers from others to life’s unresolved questions through the years, but You are the only wise Counselor. We have longed for peace, but You are the only Peacemaker, and the only Prince of Peace. We’ve clung to our weapons of warfare, not as measures of defense, but as strongholds of selfish pride. We look at outward appearances; You see the heart. With You, nothing formed against us can prosper. Without You, we are nothing.
Make us a great nation, yes. But more than that, make us good, Lord, with a heartbeat that wants every person of every creed and color to know Your love, Your goodness, and Your worth. Make us wise as serpents, but gentle as doves. Turn our fears to faith, as we look to You and You alone for the future of our country. Give us God-confidence that no matter what happens, we will believe You are not only in control, but that You know exactly what is needed to accomplish Your purpose. Help us not to second-guess Your moves, but to move at Your command, always without hesitation.
We look to You and to You, only, Lord. Help us make wise decisions that move our country in the right direction. Help us to do our part in praying and in staying with what we know is right according to the truth of Your Word. Teach us to make our actions count and our words matter, and line them both up to Your sense of rightness, not ours. Guide us with Your eye; grip us with Your strong arm; teach us what we need to know to make our lives—and our nation—count for you. We pray for our leaders, but we ask You to make us both leaders and followers: leading in the way of Truth, and following those who honor You.
In the precious and powerful name of Jesus,
Rebecca Barlow Jordan is an inspirational author, speaker, and passionate follower of Jesus who loves to encourage others heart to heart. She has written 11 books and over 1700 other articles, greeting cards, and other inspirational pieces. Her daily devotional Daily in Your Presence is available for delivery through Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Rebecca at www.rebeccabarlowjordan.com.
Publication date: February 2, 2016
This article is part of our larger Prayers resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can’t find the words to pray.
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