President Joachim Gauck has called for more recognition for the victims of East Germany's June 17 uprising during a 60th-anniversary event. The 1953 workers' revolt was met with a heavy Soviet military crackdown.
Speaking at the Bundestag on Friday, Gauck called the 1953 event a "true popular uprising." He told parliamentarians it was his wish that "the knowledge about June 17 in [East Germany] becomes common knowledge for all Germans and that this day experiences the recognition it deserves as a popular uprising."
Gauck suggested establishing a commemorative "thinking day" in schools and also urged people worldwide to stand with those fighting for freedom, democracy and justice.
"We want to give them a voice if they are prevented from speaking, and we want to make them heard if they are looking for our public," Gauck said.
In 1953, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across East Germany, protesting increased demands on labor. The demonstrations later also called for free elections and the resignation of the government.
The Soviet military, summoned in at the request of the East German government, met the protesters with heavy resistance, including the use of tanks.
Gauck described the "wave of euphoria" he experienced as a 13-year-old boy during the uprising, and the bitter fate experienced by the protesters after their defeat. The uprising helped to inspire other freedom movements, he said, including the Prague Spring.
Because of the rebellion, millions of people - workers, students, farmers and housewives - rose up "in anger over injustice and intolerable conditions," Gauck said. "So many paid for their courage with great sacrifice, some also with life."
Shortly after the uprising, authorities in West Germany designated June 17 as "German Unity Day" to commemorate the victims. After reunification in 1990, "German Unity Day" was moved to October 3.
Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert drew comparisons between the uprising and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
"Why could we not then take the tradition of June 17 and the uprising of hundreds of thousands as a model?" Lammert asked. "Was the longing for democracy and freedom in 1989 and the motives of 1953 not strikingly similar?"
dr/mkg (AFP, dpa, epd)