Erich Honecker

former leader of East Germany, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (1976-1989)

Erich Ernst Paul Honecker (25 August 191229 May 1994) was a German communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1971 until shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. As the leader of East Germany, Honecker was viewed as a dictator.

Erich Honecker in 1986

As Cold War tensions eased in the late 1980s with the advent of the liberal reforms introduced by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—Honecker refused all but cosmetic changes to the East German political system. He cited the continual hardliner attitudes of Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro and Nicolae Ceaușescu whose respective governments of North Korea, Cuba and Romania had been critical of reforms. Honecker was forced to resign by the SED Politburo in October 1989 in a bid to improve the government's image in the eyes of the public; the effort was unsuccessful, and the regime would collapse entirely the following month.

Following German reunification in 1990, Honecker sought asylum in the Chilean embassy in Moscow, but was extradited back to Germany in 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, to stand trial for his role in the human rights abuses committed by the East German government. However, the proceedings were abandoned, as Honecker was suffering from terminal liver cancer. He was freed from custody to join his family in exile in Chile, where he died in May 1994.



Address at the third stage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, Helsinki (1975)



  • It is highly symbolic that the first conference of the European States, the United States of America and Canada is taking place 30 years after the peoples of Europe were liberated from Hitlerite fascism by the Soviet Union and the other States of the anti-Hitler coalition. Through its results the Conference contributes towards fulfilling the legacy of millions of sons and daughters of so many peoples who fought heroically against fascist barbarism. They laid the foundation stone for a secure and peaceful Europe.
  • The all-European Conference of States has no precedent in the changeful history of the European continent. Its conclusion is a success of the cause of peace, a victory of political realism and of reason. It has become obvious again that there is no alternative to the policy of peaceful co-existence.
  • The States assembled in Helsinki confirm the turn from "cold war" to détente in Europe. It is for the first time on our continent that with the documents of this Conference what may be called a code for the application of the principles of peaceful co-existence between States with different social systems has been agreed under international law by all participating States and solemnly sealed by the signatures of their highest representatives. By now those major problems have been solved that were a burden on the relations between States in the post-war period.
  • As an inseparable part of the socialist community the German Democratic Republic has had its share in the set of European treaties, and has thus contributed to the successful course of the Security Conference. At each phase of this process, which was not without contradictions, the German Democratic Republic has proved that it is guided in its actions by the interest in peace and detente, and that it is a stabilizing factor for peace in Europe.
  • Mindful of the bitter experience of two devastating world wars which started from German soil, the German Democratic Republic considers it its special obligation to do all in its power to guarantee lasting peace and security in the centre of Europe. Therefore our Constitution states that: “The German Democratic Republic pursues a foreign policy serving socialism and peace, international friendship and security.” This also determines our attitude towards the treaties and agreements concluded. We advocate their strict observance and full application in good faith.
  • A socialist State in the heart of Europe at the boundary between the most powerful alliance systems of our time, the German Democratic Republic accords high priority to security. It is only if security and the sovereignty of States are guaranteed that fruitful, beneficial and mutually advantageous co-operation is possible. In view of the lessons of history and the immediate requirements of European politics, respect for, and recognition of, the principle of the inviolability of frontiers is the decisive point. Security for the European States has been and continues to be in the first place security for their frontiers. The terrible wars which devastated our continent in this century were the result of policies which, no matter under what pretext, started from the violation of existing frontiers, from disregard for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other States.
  • Recognition of the principle of the inviolability of frontiers remains the criterion of whether or not a policy really serves peace and thus the interests of man.
  • We consider the unrestricted application of these principles of security to be the basic prerequisite for the development of equal, mutually advantageous co-operation. Security provides a solid basis for co-operation. The German Democratic Republic is ready to work together peacefully with all States in the economic, technological and scientific fields, in education, culture and sports.
  • We note with concern that military detente is falling short of progressing political detente. The arms race, if continued, could endanger the hard—achieved results of political detente. The German Democratic Republic holds the view that also on disarmament and arms limitation resolute and effective measures must be agreed which meet the interests of all and which must not create unilateral advantages for anyone concerned. We are and continue to be ready to join actively and constructively in this endeavour.
  • The peoples will judge the historic value and the validity of the results of the Conference on the basis of how they will be filled with life in practical inter-State relations. This will not be the work of a few days but the result of a continuous, persistent effort. In this endeavour we are encouraged by the fact that this Conference is itself an example of the varied possibilities of solving complicated international issues in the mutual interest. Nor do we overlook the obstacles still being put in the way of detente — obstacles which should be overcome with courage and determination so that the results achieved can be consolidated and improved.

Speech at the meeting of the party and state leaders of the Warsaw Pact (1980)


Wilson Center Digital Archives

  • We cannot help noticing that the events in Poland are, first of all a consequence of the attacks from the inside and the outside, intended to undermine the socialist system. It is important for us to understand that the PUWP has a bitter enemy.
  • In order to defeat the counterrevolution, the [PUWP] must have a firm conception, a precise line, and these must be known by all Communists. The endless discussions about the mistakes made in the past will yield no results. The prejudice caused by propaganda is much more important. Naturally, we cannot admit the fact that the public opinion does not know the truth. It goes without saying that we must draw a line between the dissatisfied workers and the antisocialist forces. We must point out, however, who the enemy is, and what the causes of the current situation in Poland are.
  • Socialism has to be built in accordance with general principles. Hence the leading role of the party in the society: the party is the vanguard of the working class, the exponent of its vital interests. Many difficulties are known to have existed in the history of the revolution. For example, after the Great October Revolution, the Mensheviks said they would build a new society without Bolsheviks. The facts have shown, however, that only the Communist party is in a position to build a new society essentially different from the other societies.
  • We take the view that the popular forces in Poland are capable of solving their problems to their advantage. It is inadmissible that strikes take place in socialist society. The strikes in socialist society are directed against socialism and are not useful to either the workers on strike or the working class in general. These demonstrations are directed against peace, security, and detente.
  • Leninism is said to be creatively applied in Poland. This is a pretext of the counterrevolutionary and antisocialist forces so that they may be able to succeed in diverting Poland from its course, in changing the Polish socialist system. Free elections are talked about more and more in Poland. What purpose is pursued by this? It is easy to understand. That is why, via the information mass media, all these issues must be well clarified. However, on November 7th a cartoon was published in Poland showing an executioner with an axe in his hand, bearing the following caption: services rendered to the population. There are lots of facts attesting to the fact that some Polish writers write material against the people's system in Poland.
  • Imperialism bet its bottom dollar on counterrevolution. Under the circumstances, we combined political actions with administrative measures and, very shortly, we succeeded in isolating the counterrevolutionary forces from the working class.
  • It has been said, with good reason, that a revolution can take place peacefully or unpeacefully. Being Communists, we must be ready to consider both ways and, in certain moments, to act in accordance with the situation that was created, using various means. However, if the fate of the people's power is endangered, we will have no other choice but to have the organs of the popular power act decisively. We state this fact on the basis of our experience and of the conclusions we drew regarding the events in 1953. The same thing is apparent from the events in Hungary in 1956, and from the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Party and Revolutionary Young Guard Firmly Allied (1984)


German Propaganda Archive

  • In Berlin, the city of peace, your unshakable will now more than ever to do everything for the strengthening of our socialist fatherland, the German Democratic Republic, and for the safeguarding of peace, will be reinforced.
  • 35 years of the German Democratic Republic have been 35 years of hard struggle for peace and socialism. Our people, under the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, has truly done great things during these years. We are filled with joy that you, under the sign of the rising sun, display the same revolutionary spirit for the strengthening and defense of socialism.
  • Today peace is seriously threatened by the aggressive striving for supremacy of the United States and the growing armaments of NATO. First-strike weapons in Europe, above all in the FRG, have created a dangerous situation. There is nothing more important for us than to devote every energy to stopping a nuclear catastrophe. We want to create peace in the face of NATO’s weapons.
  • Before history we have accepted the responsibility of never again permitting war to begin on German soil. That is how we act. We do not want peace only for our and your generations. We want peace for your children and your children’s children. We want peace for all times, for ever!
  • We are in favor of freezing the arsenal of nuclear weapons and establishing nuclear-free zones, of freeing Europe from chemical weapons, of stopping the growth of military budgets and reducing them.
  • The military and strategic balance must remain, with ever lower numbers of weapons. The limitation and reduction of armaments according to the principle of equality and equal security-that is our goal. The return to detente-that is our task.

The FDJ — A Reliable Partner in Struggle of our Party (1984)


German Propaganda Archive

  • Regardless of some speculation in the West, we were confident that our people, on the basis of their own experiences, could reach no other decision. Our party, our government, will of course do everything in their power, in cooperation with the forces united in the National Front, to realize the election program of the National Front of the GDR in the interest of the prosperity of the people, in the interests of peace everywhere.
  • On the ruins left us by the Second World War developed everything that today surrounds us, what during the last forty years has been accomplished everywhere in the GDR, what each who visits us can see.
  • With pride we see that our republic is among the ten major industrial nations of the world, a nation mastering the demands of the scientific-technological revolution. We have combined the advantages of socialism with those of modern technology, and consistent with the Schwedt Initiative, are day by day producing more with less labor. Here there is no unemployment. Here the scientific- technological revolution is carried out while maintaining full employment. The best of it all is that here one can buy something for one’s efforts, for one’s wages, and that the time will soon come in which a good apartment will be available for every young person who begins a family.
  • You, dear friends, with your upright support of the ideals and values of socialism are a living guarantee that that which has been accomplished cannot be destroyed by those in the world who do not yet stand on the side of peace and cooperation, of disarmament. We are not alone in the world. We have powerful allies. We have them in the Soviet Union, in the People’s Republic of China, in the People’s Republic of Poland, in the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic, and the other socialist nations, but also in those states in the West that are working to prevent an atomic inferno for humanity, who are working to abolish war forever from the life of humanity.
  • We are firmly persuaded that it will be possible to make this disarmament process irreversible, because we set our full energy toward strengthening socialism and holding a dialog with anyone in the world who, like us, is ready to defend peace and disarmament, both in the nuclear and the conventional arenas.
  • In solving these problems, we must never forget that the developments in this or that socialist land may take different courses. That is the result not only of different national conditions. The socialist society is still young. It is at the moment in the process of great transformations in the Soviet Union and other socialist nations. Despite all the gloomy predictions of people who understand nothing, absolutely nothing, about the laws governing human society, those who would happily bury socialism, I want to say clearly and firmly that the world is turning not in the direction of capitalism, but in the direction of socialism. That is unchangeable f

Speech on the 40th Anniversary of the GDR (1989)



  • Today, the GDR is an outpost of peace and socialism in Europe. We will never forget this fact; this keeps us, and should also keep our enemies, from misjudgment.
  • Like the Soviet Union, which liberated us, and the People’s Republic of China, which is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding, the People’s Republic of Poland, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and other socialist countries, the GDR will also cross the threshold into the year 2000 with the certainty that socialism is the future. Socialism is a young society, and yet it exerts a great influence on international developments. It has brought about significant social change and will continue to do so. Its existence gives hope, not only to our people, but to all of humankind.
  • Just when the influential powers in the FRG sense the chance to annul the outcome of World War II and post-war developments through a coup, they have again had to realize that reality cannot be changed, that the GDR, on the western boundary of the socialist countries in Europe, remains firm as a dam against neo-Nazism and chauvinism. The GDR’s solid position in the Warsaw Pact cannot be shaken.
  • Socialism on German soil is so intolerable to our opponent because it represents proof that the previously exploited masses can determine their fortune without capitalism.
  • Life in our country and international events presently pose questions which demand clear answers from a firm position. Our position does not come from one of the scandal sheets of the FRG, nor from the radio or television there; it has not evolved out of dated doctrine, but rather from the creative application of Marxism-Leninism, from the interests of the working class and all factory workers. In a word, our position is a policy based on the highest principle, namely, to do everything possible for the well-being of the people and a future in peace. Accordingly, we do not stop at the achievements we have made. Upon attaining something dependable, we leave behind that which is outdated and restrictive; we are progressing on our course of unified economic and social policy. In this spirit, we will also continue to develop socialist democracy in its many forms. Our aim is for citizens to participate more and more actively and concretely in the activities of the state.
  • Forty years of the GDR mark a totally new chapter in the history of our people. At the same time, these forty years have impressed upon our consciousness the absolute necessity and also the preciousness of long-lasting peace. Never again shall war emanate from German soil; this declaration arises from a decisive lesson of the past. It has become our state policy. It has been the top priority behind all we have done up to now and all we will do in the future, so that the socialist GDR continues to thrive and the family of European peoples can live in safety and harmony. Our nation is reliably satisfying its responsibility at the center of the continent, at the division between the two major allied blocs.
  • The relentless, internationally coordinated slander campaign currently being led against the GDR aims to confuse the people and sow doubt regarding the strength and advantages of socialism. This can only serve to strengthen our resolve to continue in the future to do everything possible for a peaceful European house. The ability for states with different social orders to live and work together in such a house should be allowed to develop to the fullest.
  • The GDR has paved its way with achievements serving to strengthen our people in the knowledge of their power and of the worth of all efforts to establish a new, humane, complete life. Socialism and peace are, and remain, key words for that which we have achieved up to now, as well as that which we will continue to accomplish. We tackle the task with vigor and confidence. In its fifth decade, the socialist workers’ and peasants’ state on German soil will continue to prove – through its actions for the good of its people and through its efforts for peace, security and international cooperation – that its founding in October of 1949 was a turning point in the history of the German people and of Europe.


  • Whether Deng's example would now shake Gorbachev's authority remained to be seen. One European communist who hoped it might was Erich Honecker, the long-time hard-line ruler of East Germany. His most recent election, held in May, 1989, had produced an implausible 98.95 percent vote in favor of his government. After the Tiananmen massacre Honecker's secret police chief, Erich Mielke, commended the Chinese action to his subordinates as "resolute measures in suppression of . . . counterrevolutionary unrest." East German television repeatedly ran a Beijing-produced documentary praising "the heroic response of the Chinese army and police to the perfidious inhumanity of the student demonstrators." All of this seemed to suggest that Honecker had the German Democratic Republic under control—until the regime noticed that an unusually large number of its citizens were taking their summer vacations in Hungary. When the Hungarian authorities took down the barbed wire along the Austrian border, they had intended only to make it easier for their own citizens to get through. But the word spread, and soon thousands of East Germans were driving their tiny wheezing polluting Trabants through Czechoslovakia and Hungary to the border, abandoning them there, and walking across. Others crowded into the West German embassy in Budapest, demanding asylum. By September, there were 130,000 East Germans in Hungary and the government announced that, for "humanitarian" reasons, it would not try to stop their emigration to the West. Honecker and his associates were furious: "Hungary is betraying socialism," Mielke fumed. "We have to guard against being discouraged," another party official warned. "[B]ecause of developments in the Soviet Union, Poland, and Hungary . . . [m]ore and more people are asking how is socialism going to survive at all?" That was an excellent question, for soon some 3,000 East German asylum-seekers had climbed the fence surrounding West Germany's embassy in Prague and crammed themselves inside, with full television coverage.
  • Frequently I have heard criticism and even accusations directed against me for my policy towards the countries of Eastern Europe. Some say that Gorbachev did not defend socialism in those countries, that he more or less 'betrayed his friends'. Others, on the contrary, accuse me for having been too patient with Ceaușescu, Honecker, Zhivkov and Husák, who had brought their states to the brink of catastrophe. I firmly reject these accusations. They derive from outdated notions about the nature of relations between our countries. We had no right to interfere in the affairs of our 'satellites', to defend and preserve some and punish and 'excommunicate' others without reckoning with the people's will.
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