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Event Reports

Longing for Freedom - June 17, 1953

Closing of the Year of Remembrance in Berlin

For an entire year, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung e.V. had organized more than 100 events and activities throughout Germany to commemorate the struggle for freedom on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the popular uprising in the GDR, to address today's threats to freedom and to remember the events and victims of June 17, 1953. The Year of Remembrance concluded with two central commemoration events in Berlin on June 16 and 17, 2023.

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The popular uprising on June 17, 1953 was the first major movement against the then Soviet foreign rule after the end of World War II. The Soviet tanks became a symbol of oppression.

At present, the popular uprising of June 17, 1953 seems to be increasingly forgotten in the collective memory. However, in view of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the topic is more important than ever, and we must face the question of what freedom means for our society and what we are willing to give for it.

For this reason, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V. launched a project on the culture of remembrance on June 17, 2022: For one year, more than 100 events and actions throughout Germany commemorated the struggle for freedom, addressed today's threats to freedom, and commemorated June 17, 1953. The Year of Remembrance culminated with two central commemorative events in Berlin on June 16 and 17, 2023.

"First steps that seemed unsuccessful at the time are more important today than ever before. Seemingly failed attempts have led to fundamental change. Freedom struggles need support when they happen and not later" - this was how the chairman of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V., Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert, opened the commemorative event "Longing for Freedom" on the evening of June 16, 2023.

In his speech, Friedrich Merz, Chairman of the CDU of Germany and the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, then recalled the great courage of the 1953 insurgents:"'We want to be free people,' was the motto of the construction workers in Berlin on June 17, 1953. Remembering is not just commemorating. Today it is the Ukrainians who are fighting for their freedom. History teaches us: freedom triumphs in the end!"

Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia, described the yearning for freedom in us humans in his greeting: "Where there is lack of freedom, there is always a yearning for freedom. And in the end, freedom always triumphs."

One person who embodies this desire for freedom in a special way is Wolf Biermann, who involuntarily, as he himself says, became the symbol and face of the struggle for freedom in the GDR. His closing concert was eloquent and touching. His lyrics are thought-provoking, but also encouraging, as in his song "Du, lass dich nicht verhärten, in dieser harten Zeit".

The Year of Commemoration of the People's Uprising in the GDR was concluded on June 17, 2023, the 70th anniversary of the uprising, with a commemorative event at Potsdamer Platz.

"The determination and courage of the people to take to the streets against the oppressors must be an example to us," Mayor and Senator Stefan Evers made clear in his speech. He said it was important to keep the memory of the events of that time alive - and Berlin had a special responsibility in this regard.

According to Evers, the anniversary shows that freedom cannot be taken for granted; it repeatedly demonstrates "that the values for which people took to the streets - the desire for freedom, democracy, self-realization - do not fall from the sky. For this very reason, he said, people in Ukraine, who today are fighting for their freedom, for peace, are also being remembered on this day in particular. "The legacy of June 17 is in our hands," Evers emphasized in conclusion.

Following the speech, Berlin schoolchildren recited under the motto "For freedom!" recited excerpts from eyewitness accounts of June 17, 1953, as well as names of victims of the SED regime, to connect us with the personal experiences, resistance and suffering of the people of that time and to remind us of the price many had to pay for freedom and democracy. In order to carry the memory of June 17, 1953 and the courageous uprising of the citizens in the GDR into the entire city and the consciousness of many people, several vehicles started at Potsdamer Platz after the end of the commemoration ceremony with large posters showing photos of the places and events of that time.

Wolf Biermann quote from 6/16/2023: "Freedom is not what you are given, but what you take."


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Sebastian Weise

Portrait von Sebastian Weise

Referent Politisches Bildungsforum Berlin 030/26996-3860


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