|“||Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism.||„|
|~ Erich Honecker|
Erich Honecker (August 25th, 1912 – May 29th, 1994) was a German politician who was the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). As party leader he worked closely with Moscow (which had a large army stationed in East Germany). He controlled the government of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1971 until he was forced out in the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. From 1976 onward he was also the country's official head of state as Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic following Willi Stoph's relinquishment of the post.
Honecker's political career began in the 1930s when he became an official of the Communist Party of Germany, a position for which he was imprisoned by the Nazi Party government of Germany. Following World War II, he was freed by the Soviet army and relaunched his political activities, founding the youth organisation the Free German Youth in 1946 and serving as the group's chairman until 1955. As the Security Secretary of the Party’s Central Committee in the new East Germany, he was the prime organiser of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and, in this function, bore responsibility for the "order to fire" along the Inner German border.
In 1970, he initiated a political power struggle that led, with support of the Kremlin leader Leonid Brezhnev, to his replacing Walter Ulbricht as First Secretary of the Central Committee and as chairman of the state's National Defense Council. Under his command, the country adopted a programme of "consumer socialism" and moved toward the international community by normalising relations with West Germany and also becoming a full member of the UN, in what is considered one of his greatest political successes.
As Cold War tensions eased in the late 1980s with the advent of perestroika and glasnost – the liberal reforms introduced by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev – Honecker refused all but cosmetic changes to the East German political system. He cited the continual hardliner attitudes of Kim Il-sung and Fidel Castro, whose respective regimes of North Korea and Cuba had been critical of reforms. As anticommunist protests grew, Honecker begged Gorbachev to intervene with the Soviet army to suppress the protests in order to maintain communist rule in East Germany as Moscow had done with Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring of 1968 and with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; Gorbachev refused.
Frictions between Gorbachev and Honecker had grown over these policies and numerous additional issues from 1985 onward. East Germany refused to implement similar reforms, with Honecker reportedly telling Gorbachev: "We have done our perestroika; we have nothing to restructure". Gorbachev grew to dislike Honecker, and by 1988 was lumping him in with Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov, Czechoslovakia's Gustáv Husák and Romania's Nicolae Ceaușescu as a "Gang of Four": a group of inflexible hardliners unwilling to make reforms.
Honecker was forced to resign by his party in October 1989 in a bid to improve the government's image in the eyes of the public. Honecker's eighteen years at the helm of the German Democratic Republic came to an end. The entire regime collapsed in the following weeks.
Following German reunification in 1990, he sought asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow in 1991 but was extradited back to Germany a year later to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by his East German government. However, the proceedings were abandoned due to his illness and he was freed from custody to travel to join his family in exile in Chile, where he died on May 29th, 1994 from liver cancer.