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& # 39; We are the people! & # 39; The Right is burning the peaceful revolution in Germany



Around him, one goes about his business: a farmer's market is in full swing, a tram is rolling by, cyclists are milling about among meandering tourists.

"It was not like that," says Kühne, narrowing his eyes with summery glare. "It was like the black and white photos, it was dark."

Thirty years ago, this sprawling concrete square in the former East German city of Leipzig was the epicenter of the freedom demonstrations that swept the country and brought down the Berlin Wall.

Grainy pictures of 70,000 protesters in Leipzig wearing candles and singing "We are the people". The rally was a turning point in the fall of the Iron Curtain a month later.

Kuehne was one of the protesters who, according to his words, "yearned for a free and united country". The then 21-year-old locksmith of the state railway said that the uprising in his hometown was "the best thing I've ever experienced".

Today he lets himself be inspired by the peaceful revolution in Germany time, as a member of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Kuehne is a candidate in the upcoming state elections in Saxony on 1 September, in which the AfD takes second place behind the Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party.

Now the AfD reunites the 1989 Leipzig demonstrations for their political campaign of 2019 – with the same slogans, images and revolutionary rhetoric.

On posters with historical photographs of the protest, posters with the famous slogan: "We are the people!" The AfD is calling for voters in the East to rise, much like three decades ago against communism.

  The Saxon AFD candidate Jörg Kühne sits on the square where he joined the freedom demonstrations 30 years ago.

At that time, protesters wanted to tear down the wall separating their country. The East endeavored to accept Western democracy and its promise of free elections, travel and a functioning economy.

The fast-track to 2019 and the AfD are committed to protecting the nation against the open borders of Europe and to working for fears over migrants and world markets. This nationalist message has been well received in Saxony and other East German states where support for the AfD is greatest.

My grandfather would turn a man in his grave today. Kühne jokes fast about his weight and paints a picture of similar activists who have become AfD supporters who stood too long offside.

"We were not asked", whether the German national currency should be replaced by the euro or Merkel So-called open-door policy towards refugees, he said. "But we are the people, and of course my party is still using this wonderful slogan from the peaceful revolution."

  An AfD poster on the roadside in East Germany with the famous 1989 slogan:

Driving You on the highway between Berlin and Leipzig and you will see dozens of AfD posters saying, "We are the people!" and refers to the protest date in 1989.

Another billboard says, "The East is rising!" and in smaller letters "Change 2.0".

The posters imply that "if voters vote for the AfD, they can end the work of those who led the peaceful revolution," said Kristina Spohr, a historian and author of Post Wall, Post Square: Reconstruction the world after 1989. "

" This is an abuse of history, "she added. "What the AfD wants – a nationalist, inward-looking Germany – has nothing to do with what people wanted in 1989."

The rebranding of the AfD in Leipzig is not well received in all a reputation as a liberal stronghold in conservative Saxony.

Martin Neuhof's grandfather was a photojournalist in 1989 during the demonstrations. His picture, which shows thousands of people flooding the former Karl Marx Square, was used in AFD posters in local elections in May.

The words "Change for Leipzig" and the AfD logo were distributed in the photo.

"If my grandfather knew about this, he would turn around in his grave," said Neuhof of Friedrich Gahlbeck, who died 20 years ago.

  An AfD billboard with a photo of the Leipzig protests from 1989 Martin Neuhof's grandfather.

The AfD is "instrumentalizing the peaceful revolution in Leipzig," said Neuhof, who spent as a child together with his grandfather, who worked for the GDR news agency, for hours in the photos Darkroom evolved.

This inspired Neuhof's own career as a photographer in Leipzig where he leads the anti-racism photo project "Herzkampf" with portraits of local activists.

Neuhof's family is currently in litigation with the AfD regarding the use of the historical photo. Kuehne says the trial is "in progress", but he considered it a "wonderful idea" to use the photo in the political campaign.

That certainly did not hurt his own campaign – Kühne was elected city councilor of Leipzig. And is now one of 11 AFD members in the left-wing council.

"They thought everyone would drive a Mercedes"

Memories of the revolution are everywhere. A huge mural on the wall of the Leipzig Marriott Hotel shows the 1989 protest in bright rainbow colors.

Gisela Kallenbach is a retired green politician who also took to the streets three decades ago. She points to the cartoon characters on the mural and gives Kühne's words: "It was not like that. It was dark. "

The demonstrators were" smoldering "in the air of brown coal factories, recalls Kallenbach was then a 47-year-old chemical engineer and mother of three children.

  The retired Greens MEP Gisela Kallenbach poses in front of a mural depicting the 1989 protests.

When the Berlin Wall finally collapsed, many East German aspirations collapsed. Some had "illusions that everyone would drive a Mercedes," said Kallenbach.

The collective call "We are the people!" was replaced by "We are a people!" But reality did not quite live up to expectations, historian Spohr said.

Freedom of feeling very quickly gave way to the feeling of second-class citizens. "Basically, the West German political system [was] applied to all of Germany," she said. "Everything that had to do with an East German identity was basically lumped in," said Spohr.

Until 1991, Spohr announced that the country would see a rise in right-wing extremist parties.

Saxony and the East German neighbors of Brandenburg (who also takes part in the elections on Sunday) and Thuringia are fertile ground for the AFD. These are working-class regions affected by the closure of their coal industry and still lagging behind the West in terms of employment and salaries.

While the AFD won 12.6% of the national votes in the parliamentary elections of 2017, it was twice as high in Saxony, where it had 25.4%. It is now the largest opposition party in the German Parliament.

If you look further to the right, you will find that other movements recycle the 1989 slogans. The anti-Islam group Pegida sang: "We are the people!" during demonstrations in neighboring Dresden in 2015 and rallies against Muslims every Monday night – a twisted version of the peace prayers on Monday in Leipzig all those years ago.

The slogan was revived by protesters during violent demonstrations against refugees in the city of Chemnitz, also in Saxony, last year, which made headlines worldwide.

"People Forget What They Have Won"

The AfD, like many populist parties that are on the rise in Europe, has channeled much of their anger towards the European Union.

Kallenbach, who was a member of the European Parliament for many years, quickly defended the EU, although she admitted that the German leaders were "blunders" in the reunification process.

"I think people forget what they've achieved in the last 30 years … a free, democratic state," said Kallenbach, today in her seventies, with a shock of bright red hair, clunky dangling earrings ,

Life in East Germany was filled with fear and intimidation. Kallenbach did not take photos of the major demonstrations because she was so scared of being targeted by the Stasi. The shadow of Tiananmen Square was huge and she was painfully aware of the tanks in the streets of Leipzig.

  The Berlin Wall collapses in November 1989.

East Germans of all ages called for "fundamental human rights," she recalled – things like freedom of expression, media and travel that had been destroyed after the Second World War.

] Now Kallenbach is determined to ensure that the AfD does not turn back the clock in these hard-won freedoms. She jumps on her bike to hand out leaflets to the right in the state elections.

The shocking pollution in the GDR was one of the reasons why Kallenbach took to the streets all those years ago. Today, it is the AfD that "poisons the atmosphere in our society," she said.

"Listen to the statements of their leaders, they are … racist, nationalistic, they offer an atmosphere that is almost like the 1930s." "I do not want to live in a country where this rhetoric is the common language."

Kühne of the AfD rejected the comparison with a dark period in German history, adding "I completely reject the slogan" racism. "

" People can protest against the AfD, "he said," but they should not attack us – physically or verbally. We're open to a critical dialogue. "

" We'll see who the humans are "

When the 1989 protester Christoph Wonneberger nimbly gets off his bike, it's a bit shocking to learn that he's 75 years old

The former pastor looks into the emerging Leipzig Nikolaikirche, where on Monday he organized peace prayers that turned into the largest protest movement the East had ever seen.

People gathered every week in the early 1980s in the great church to discuss the reasons that mattered to them, and as the danger of nuclear war increased, so did the number of patrons.

  Retired Pastor Christophe Wonneberger in front of the Nikolaikirche, where the weekly demonstrations began.

By October 1989, more than 2,000 people were crowding into the church and thousands were pouring into the streets.

The demonstrators were determined not to act aggressively and to give the police no reason to crack down on them. Wonneberger believes that this non-violent approach – along with its massive numbers – was the secret of their success.

He remembered, "We are the people!" actually came about. During a march, there was a confrontation with the police, in which one of the streets was closed off. "The police shouted through the speaker:" We are the police! "And the demonstrators answered," We are the people! "


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