Former GDR rights activists support Merkel′s refugee policy | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.10.2015
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Former GDR rights activists support Merkel's refugee policy

Angela Merkel has found support from 46 former East German civil rights activists who agree with her position in the refugee debate.

The civil rights campaigners have written an open letter to the chancellor. The people who once criticized the regime of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) now write, "This is a country we have always been dreaming about."

Ex-GDR opposition members praise the chancellor's "firm stance" on her refugee policies. "We cannot and will not watch people drown at our borders while they are seeking their freedom and trying to save their lives and those of their families. We do not want to build fences like the ones we tore down for ourselves 25 years ago," they wrote to Angela Merkel.

The list of supporters includes people who are still politically active today. One of them is Ulrike Poppe, a state commissioner for the reappraisal of the consequences of the communist dictatorship. Among the first signatories are also Green Party politician Werner Schulz and Pastor Christoph Wonneberger, who coordinated the Monday peace prayers in the Nikolai Church in Leipzig in 1989.

The activists also point out the challenges

Because the chancellor is under massive pressure for her liberal asylum policies, the former East German oppositionists also wrote: "We have the greatest respect for your firm stand on receiving asylum-seeking refugees here in Germany."

At the same time, however, the civil rights activists drew attention to the challenges facing reunited Germany today. "We do not deny that some municipalities have reached their limits in providing accommodation for refugees. We do not deny that people in Germany also need more care and help and that they are also expressing their fears. We, however, strongly oppose any form of verbal or physical violence and hate speech."

Courage and perseverance then and now

All 46 supporters of the letter fought for democracy and freedom in East Germany in the 1980s and helped trigger the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. The initiator of the letter, Katrin Hattenhauer, became known for her banner with the words "For an open country with free people" written on it at one of the first Monday demonstrations in autumn 1989. Now, 26 years later, that banner expresses what she asks of Europe today. Back in 1989, she was arrested, placed in solitary confinement and faced 10 years in prison. She currently lives as a freelance artist in Berlin.

Katrin Hattenhauer told Deutsche Welle: "Over 25 years ago, the citizens' movement clearly demonstrated how you can change a whole country with courage and perseverance. We want to use this experience to raise our voices for the protection of asylum-seeking refugees and against prejudice and violence. We must now find the same courage, helpfulness, creativity and perseverance to meet this challenge."

The open letter to Chancellor Merkel concluded with an appeal to politicians, businesses, media and citizens: outstanding issues regarding the integration of refugees should not lead to dissociation from the matter; everyone must take up the challenge.

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