Günter Schabowski


Günter Schabowski

Günter Schabowski (born 4 January 1929) was an official of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the ruling party during most of the existence of the German Democratic Republic. Schabowski gained worldwide fame in November 1989 for accidentally beginning the destruction of the inner German border, including the Berlin Wall.

Schabowski was born in Anklam, Pomerania (now part of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania). He studied journalism in Leipzig, after which he became editor of the trade union magazine, "Tribüne". In 1952 he became a member of the SED. In 1978 he became the chief editor of the newspaper "Neues Deutschland" ("New Germany"), which as the official organ of the SED was considered to be the leading newspaper in the GDR. In 1981 he became a member of the SED Central Committee. In 1985 he became the First Secretary of the East Berlin chapter of the SED and a member of the SED Politbüro.

On 9 November 1989, after a misunderstanding, Schabowski famously announced in a live broadcast international press conference that (effectively) all rules for travelling abroad were lifted, in effect "immediately" ("ab sofort"). However, the misunderstanding was only with regards to the date; the plan had been to lift the rules, found to be unsustainable after mass defections of East Germans to West Germany via Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the next morning.

Tens of thousands of people immediately went to the Berlin Wall where the vastly outnumbered border guards were forced to open access points and allow them through, which proved to be the end of the Wall regime. During the following purges of the "old guard", Schabowski was quickly thrown out of the SED, which then morphed into the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), even though earlier in 1989 he had been awarded the party's prestigious "Karl Marx" medal.

After German Reunification, Schabowski became highly critical of his own actions in the GDR and those of his fellow Politburo members, as well as of Leninist-style socialism in general. As of 2004, he remains the only really high-ranking GDR official to have renounced the GDR as fatally flawed. He worked again as a journalist and editor for a small local paper between 1992 and 1999. His campaign help for the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) has caused some of his former allies to call him a Wryneck.

Together with other leading figures of the GDR regime, he was charged with the murders of refugees. In August 1997 Schabowski was convicted along with Egon Krenz and Günther Kleiber. Because he accepted his moral guilt and renounced the GDR he was sentenced to only 3 years in prison. In December 1999 he began serving his sentence in Hakenfelde Prison in Spandau. However, in September 2000 he was pardoned by Governing Mayor Eberhard Diepgen and released in December 2000, having served only a year.

Publications

*"Der Absturz" (The Crash), Rowohlt Berlin Verlag, 1991
*"Das Politbüro, Ende eines Mythos, Eine Befragung", published by Frank Sieren und Ludwig Koehne, Rowohlt, rororo Aktuell 12888, Reinbeck 1991


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