Hans Modrow, the last prime minister of the extinct German Democratic Republic (GDR), has died this Saturday at the age of 95. The politician, considered a reformist, claimed the legacy of the communist country until the end of his career and remained active as an adviser to the left-wing formation Die Linke, successor to the SED (Socialist Unified Party), the single party of East Germany. “With his work, Hans Modrow shaped history; without him, the peaceful transition of 1989 would not have been possible, ”said the group after announcing his death.
Modrow left his mark on German history during the turbulent months in which he led a collapsing GDR, from November 1989 until the only free elections that the House of People held on March 18 of the following year. As he took office, millions of East Germans flooded into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to enjoy the second consecutive weekend of their newly won freedom to travel. The wall had fallen on November 9 and with it the road to reunification opened.
Modrow was called the Gorbachev of the GDR. As the great reformer of communist Russia and father of the perestroika, Modrow was called upon to ease the transition at a time of enormous turbulence. During his inauguration, he appealed to those who had fled to return to the country and participate in the construction of a democratic rule of law. His government tried to push for changes (a new electoral law, the press, a new penal code…) but it was too late. In the streets, the demonstrators were no longer shouting “We are the people” – the slogan of the peaceful marches in Leipzig against the GDR government – but “We are one people”.
Modrow was very critical of the operation of the GDR and that is why he did not hesitate to accept the position when it was offered to him. “He wanted to change things, to democratize the country,” he told the French public broadcasting service France 24 in an interview in 2019. He was convinced that the GDR should continue to exist and did not want to hear about reunification. But on a visit to Moscow in February 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev let Comrade Modrow know that the Soviet Union would not oppose German unity. When he returned, he himself began to speak of “a concept for German unity.”
In mid-April 1990, a month after the elections, he handed over the post to the winner of the elections, the Christian Democrat Lothar de Maizière, who formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats and set out to negotiate reunification.
Born on January 27, 1928 in Jasenitz, now a territory of Poland and then of East Prussia, at the end of World War II he was taken prisoner by the Soviet forces and confined in a re-education camp. After the war he joined the SED and started working as a mechanic. He was trained in the main institutions of the communist cadres: the Karl Marx Party School, the Bruno Leuchner School of Economics and the Soviet Communist Youth Organization, Komsomol, in Moscow. He quickly amassed positions and responsibilities, from head of an SED district leadership in Berlin to party district leader in Dresden.
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Modrow was a member of the Bundestag (German Parliament) until 1994 for the SED, then already called PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism). He then went on to the European Parliament, where he held a seat for a decade. More recently, and almost until the end of his life, he participated very actively in political activity by presiding over the Council of Elders of Die Linke (The Left), heir to the communist formation.
“He decisively marked the history of our party. His tireless political commitment and his great attachment to our party and to East Germany. His dedication to the fight against fascism and neo-fascism were the center of his actions, ”the director of Die Linke reminded him this Saturday.
Modrow always believed that the unified Germany’s membership in NATO was a mistake. “He didn’t want Germany to have troops on the Russian border. I did not want there to be a war in Europe again ”, he told France 24 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
The political veteran starred in controversy until a few months ago. Last March, a month after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his party admonished him for using terms similar to those of Russian propaganda in a document that was leaked on social media. The Council of Elders that he chaired had produced a draft questioning “to what extent is the war in Ukraine an invasion of Russian troops or an internal civil war between the forces of the new states in the east and fascist elements in the west of the country”.
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