Egon Krenz is a former politician from East Germany (German Democratic Republic) and was that country's last Communist leader. He succeeded Erich Honecker as leader of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and head of state in October 1989, but was ousted just under three months later amid the collapse of the communist regime.
Throughout his career, Krenz held a number of prominent positions in the communist regime. He was Honecker's deputy from 1984 onward, until he succeeded Honecker in 1989 amid protests against the regime. Krenz was unsuccessful in his attempt to retain the communist regime's grip on power, and was forced to resign some weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
After the German reunification in 1990 he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for manslaughter, for his role in the crimes of the regime. He is one of the last surviving leaders of an Eastern Bloc nation.
Following popular protests against the GDR's Communist government, the SED Politburo voted to remove Erich Honecker on 18 October 1989, and Krenz was elected as the new General Secretary of the SED Central Committee. Krenz had been approached several months earlier about ousting Honecker, but was reluctant to move against a man he called "my foster father and political teacher". He was initially willing to wait until the seriously ill Honecker died, but by October was convinced that the situation was too grave to wait for what he had called "a biological solution".
Despite many protests, the People's Chamber elected Krenz to both of Honecker's major state posts—Chairman of the Council of State and Chairman of the National Defence Council. The former post was equivalent to that of president, while the latter post made Krenz commander-in-chief of the National People's Army. For only the second time in the People's Chamber's forty-year history, the vote was not unanimous (the first was on the law on abortion); 26 deputies voted against and 26 abstained.
In his first address as leader, Krenz promised to blunt some of the harsher edges of Honecker's regime and promised democratic reforms. The speech was identical to the one he had given to a closed group of the SED Central Committee; he even addressed the national audience as "Genossen" (comrades)–a term reserved for members of the SED. The speech sounded formulaic, and few East Germans believed him. For instance, they still remembered that after the Tiananmen Square Massacre just months earlier, he had gone to China to thank Deng Xiaoping on behalf of the regime. In Honecker's resignation speech, he named Krenz as his successor, further conveying an impression of undemocratic intransigence. For this and other reasons, Krenz was almost as detested as Honecker had been; one popular joke suggested that the only difference between them was that Krenz still had a gallbladder. Indeed, almost as soon as he took power, thousands of East Germans took to the streets to demand his resignation.
Also on the same day he took office, Krenz received a top secret report from planning chief Gerhard Schürer that showed the depths of East Germany's economic crisis. It showed that East Germany did not have enough money to make payments on the massive foreign loans that propped up the economy, and it was now DM123 billion in debt. Although Krenz had been the number-two man in the administration, Honecker had kept the true state of the economy a secret from him. Krenz was forced to send Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski to beg West Germany for a short-term loan to make interest payments. However, West Germany was unwilling to even consider negotiations until the SED abandoned power and allowed free elections—something that Krenz was unwilling to concede.
This was not the only evidence that Krenz did not intend to truly open up the regime. While publicly discussing such reforms as loosening travel restrictions, he also personally ordered the rejection of the dissident group New Forum's application to become an approved organisation. Ahead of the large Alexanderplatz demonstration on 4 November, he ordered the Stasi to prevent any unauthorised attempt to cross the border by "bodily violence".
On 7 November, Krenz approved the resignation of Prime Minister Willi Stoph and his entire cabinet along with two-thirds of the Politburo. However, the Central Committee unanimously re-elected Krenz to the position of General Secretary. In a speech, Krenz attempted a reckoning with history, which also criticised his political mentor Honecker. Yet, by this stage, events were rapidly spiralling out of his control.
Despite promises of reform, public opposition to the regime continued to grow. In an attempt to stem the tide, Krenz authorised the reopening of the border with Czechoslovakia, which had been sealed to prevent East Germans from fleeing to West Germany. The newly formed Politburo agreed to adopt new regulations for trips to the West by way of a Council of Ministers resolution.
Trial and imprisonment
In 1997, Krenz was sentenced to six-and-a-half years imprisonment for Cold War crimes, specifically manslaughter of four Germans attempting to escape the communist regime over the Berlin Wall. He was also charged with electoral fraud, along with other criminal offences.
He appealed, arguing that the legal framework of the newly reunited German state did not apply to events that had taken place in the former GDR. Krenz also argued that the prosecution of former GDR officials was a breach of a personal agreement given by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during their talks, which led to German reunification. However, the verdict was upheld in 1999. Krenz reportedly described his conviction as "victor's justice" and "cold war in court".
Krenz began serving his sentence in Hakenfelde Prison shortly thereafter, before he was transferred to Plötzensee Prison, a prison with stricter rules.
He was released from prison in December, 2003 after serving nearly four years of his sentence, and quietly retired to Dierhagen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He remained on parole until the end of his sentence in 2006.
Unlike several other high-ranking members of the communist regime, like Günter Schabowski and Günther Kleiber, Krenz continues to defend the former German Democratic Republic and maintains he hasn't changed his political views. Krenz has on several occasions referred to the German Reunification as "Anschluss" (annexation).