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The Monday Demonstrations as a Protest Format in East Germany


The Monday demonstrations are the symbol of protest in East Germany and accordingly politically contested. Against the backdrop of the current crisis, various actors of different political persuasions are once again calling for demonstrations and using the format of the Monday demonstrations for their own purposes.

The Monday demonstrations emerged from 1981/1982 from the peace prayers of the independent peace movement under the umbrella of the churches. The peace prayers also repeatedly addressed the human rights situation in the GDR. They were rallying points for the opposition and those who had applied to leave the GDR. Then, on September 4, 1989, the first Monday demonstration took place in Leipzig in the courtyard of the Nicolai Church. The demands were aimed at social change. In the weeks that followed, the demonstrations became increasingly popular, despite repression and counter-propaganda by the SED. After the fall of the Wall in November 1989, the tone of the Monday demonstrations changed. The desire for reunification was now in the foreground: Nationalist tones could be heard. For the first time, neo-Nazis also appeared openly.

In the transformation years after the fall of communism, there were numerous regional protests in East Germany against the closure and liquidation of factories, which followed the tradition of the Monday demonstrations and stood up for social rights. Even afterwards, political actors oriented themselves on this protest format. In August 2004, for example, Andreas Ehrhold from Magdeburg called for a protest against Hartz IV by handbill. In the following eleven weeks, more and more people came. Neo-Nazis also took part in these Monday demonstrations. The organizers distanced themselves from them, but could not prevent their continued participation. From 2015, the format of the Monday demonstrations was occupied by PEGIDA, which placed itself in the tradition of the 1989 democracy movement, which met with fierce opposition. The same was repeated from 2020 onwards, when Querdenken also invoked this tradition and staged itself as the persecutors of a dictatorship.

The reference of various political actors in East Germany to the Monday demonstrations of the GDR was and is politically controversial. Some of the former civil rights activists spoke of an abuse of tradition, while others supported the social protests but distanced themselves from right-wing extremist appropriations. Precisely because in the last decade it was primarily actors of the extreme right who placed themselves in the tradition of the Monday demonstrations with their protests and marches, it remains to be remembered: The Monday demonstrations in 1989, in the final days of the GDR, stood for the defense of human rights, a democratic awakening and social justice.