Twenty years ago today, on October 18, 1989, East Germany’s long-serving leader Erich Honecker was forced to step down.
Honecker was in charge of the building of the Berlin wall when he initiated a power struggle in 1971, that led, with Soviet backing, to his becoming the new head of state. Despite adopting a programme of so called “consumer socialism” which resulted in a marked improvement in living standards – internal dissent was not tolerated. Some 125 east German citizens were killed during this period while trying to cross the border into West Germany and West Berlin. But when in the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika, reforms to liberalise communism, Honecker refused to implement changes in East Germany. Then, as mass demonstrations against the GDR government spread from Leipzig, faced with civil unrest, Honecker’s politburo comrades colluded to remove him after 18 years in power. He died of cancer in Chile in May 1994.