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Chancellor: 1953 East German Uprising Proud Event in History of Freedom

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17 June 2023, Berlin: (L-R) President of the Bundesrat Peter Tschentscher, President of the Bundestag Barbel Bas, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President of the Federal Constitutional Court Stephan Harbarth lay wreaths at the central memorial service for the victims of the 17 June 1953, popular uprising at the Seestrasse cemetery. East German uprising of 1953 took place in East Germany from 16 to 17 June 1953. On 16 June, construction workers in East Berlin began a strike action against work quotas during the Sovietization process. Photo: Joerg Carstensen/dpa

Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised the popular uprising in former East Germany on June 17, 1953, as one of the most important and proudest events in the nation’s history of freedom.

At the time, it looked as if the uprising would be in vain, the Social Democrat (SPD) politician said on Saturday at the commemoration in Berlin of the victims of the suppression in the now-defunct communist state. “But those sacrifices were not in vain, we see that more clearly today.”

Scholz added that during the peaceful revolution in East Germany in 1989, the “great vision of freedom and self-determination” was realized.

The demonstrators of 1989 had not referred to their predecessors in 1953 because they had known little about them, he said, referring to the later movement that would eventually lead to the downfall of the East German regime. Nevertheless, he said, “a direct line” existed between the two events.

Scholz commemorated the events together with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bärbel Bas, who is president of the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, Peter Tschentscher, who is president of the upper house, or Bundesrat, Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner and others.

They gathered at Berlin’s Seestraße cemetery in the former western part of the city, where several victims of the popular uprising are buried. Protesting workers had moved there at the time.

About 1 million people took to the streets on June 17, 1953, in 700 places in what was then East Germany. They demonstrated against stricter labour conditions, but also for more prosperity, free elections and an end to the division of Germany.

The Soviet occupation forces, together with the East German authorities, put down the protests. At least 55 people were killed.

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