Thursday, June 18, 2009
The fate of today's Iranian protest movement is impossible to predict. Its relationship to the state and religion differs from the movement that led to communism's collapse in Eastern Europe, but Europeans must take their own history seriously and show their solidarity with the protesters.
By Claus Christian Malzahn
Fifty-six years ago, hundreds of thousands of East Germans demonstrated in the streets -- first to demand better working conditions in state-owned businesses, and then to call for free elections in East Germany and oppose the Stalinist regime. The revolt was brutally suppressed, and thousands of people were thrown into prison. Later, the rulers in the East and some intellectuals in the West denounced the events of June 17, 1953 as a reactionary uprising by people stuck in the past. The citizens of East Germany had to wait another 37 years for free elections. Those who choose to fight stand a real chance of losing. But the loss is made all the more bitter when their protests are subsequently vilified.
Notwithstanding the many cultural and political differences, there is a certain similarity between the pluralistic opposition movement we are witnessing in Iran today and what happened in past decades and more recently in Eastern Europe. The focus of these opposition movements has been a protest against government censorship and authoritarianism, as well as the desire for personal freedom devoid of the repressive actions of a regime. Just as the East Germans were on their own in 1953, the Hungarians bravely fought a losing battle three years later. In 1968, the Czechoslovakian attempt to establish "socialism with a human face" within the Soviet sphere of influence was brutally crushed by Russian tanks. Twelve years later, Poland's Solidarity movement fought for human rights and democracy and, with the help of the Catholic Church, created a Polish parallel universe that eventually brought down the communist regime, despite the fact it had declared martial law in 1981. It was allowed to do so in part because the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse in 1989....(Remainder.)