“The story of the Women for Peace group begins in 1982, telling how women mobilized, dared, and did things they had thought impossible only a short time before, irreversibly changing their lives.” (Ruth Leiserowitz)
SEID DOCH LAUT draws on the memories of the women of this group. The performance is inspired by Almut Ilsen and Ruth Leiserowitz’s edited book “Seid doch laut! – The Women for Peace in East Berlin”. (Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 2019, Aufbau-Verlage)
“It was high time to write down our history for others as well – because the story of the removal of the SED from power was not a man’s story. And it is also important to contrast our story with the perspective of the state security.”
To remember the “women for peace”, to put their courage and commitment in the center, catapults us into the present. They are not just the wives of well-known opposition figures as they are mentioned in passing in many history books. We want to give attention to the actions and influence of these women.
“What remains visible of the past events and who? Women’s stories had and still have a hard time being noticed. The share of women in the resistance and opposition of the 1980s would remain virtually invisible if the women themselves did not take care to make their history known. Women are actors in contemporary events.”
The “Women for Peace” were one of the longest-running opposition groups in the 1980s and co-pioneers of the Peaceful Revolution.
“And there were, I think, more conscious women than conscious men in 1989.”
Almost all of the former “Women for Peace” were politically active during the Peaceful Revolution. Thus, the “New Forum” and “Democracy Now” were co-founded with significant participation by some of these women.
The events of 1989 are well remembered by many Europeans. However, most people rarely think back to the beginning of the 1980s, and hardly anyone is aware that a lot was set in motion during that short decade.”
In 1982, seven women formulated a petition to party and state leader Erich Honecker on a new law to force women into the army, signed by about 130 women from East Berlin and Halle (Saale).
“I thought it was important for me as a woman to say, `No, military service is out of the question for me at all, nowhere, and certainly not in the GDR.` I also tried to raise my children in this spirit.”
The increasing militarization of the whole society was reflected in the state’s educational policy: military education for children, pre-military training for apprentices, civil defense exercises in universities and companies.
“I was outraged by this and demanded an explanation of why war should be played in the children’s room. We asked vendors why they put war toys in their shop windows.”
It was the responsibility for their children; the longing for peace under the constant threat of global military buildup; the fear of nuclear catastrophe and environmental pollution – threats that are more current than ever – that drove them to action.
“How much personal risk is one willing to bear oneself? Do we have to expect that this will already be taken as a reason to put us in jail? What professional consequences will the individual signatory have to reckon with? […] do we have to get involved here precisely because we have children?”
On October 17, 1983, the Peace Women – dressed all in black as a sign of protest – collectively posted their refusal by registered mail to the responsible military district command at the Alexanderplatz post office.
“That was really its own experience, that there’s something to be gained from four women just hooking under each other, not letting go and using that to protect each other.”
Because of their criticism of the GDR system, they were classified as anti-state by the MfS, monitored and controlled. Nevertheless, independent women’s groups formed in 17 cities, networked and sought publicity with impressive protest actions.
“Learning to stand up for ourselves and to resist was one of the guiding principles, just as nonviolent resistance was the defining credo.”
The law enforcers frantically searched for the male ringleaders behind the women’s protest. It was not until four years after the emergence of the movement that state security opened the “Central Opperative Operation” (ZOV) with the code name ‘Wasps’ in order to dismantle the women’s groups.
“The Stasi suspected that men were behind everything. Man, they don’t trust women with that. What freedom we have!”
The foundation for cohesion as a group was formed by regular meetings in the women’s homes to formulate protest letters or prepare the next event.
“It was often a lot of fun at our meetings, and I enjoyed being there.”
The name “Women for Peace” was deliberately chosen with reference to the peace movement of women in the West: They wanted to demonstrate openly that women on the other side of the Wall were not their enemies and were acting in solidarity.
“Actions were against thinking in terms of enemies and blocs, which dominated East and West.”
The 1980s were marked by the increasing protest of women in East and West against the armament madness. The potential for destruction on both sides had grown frighteningly. The path of mutual deterrence through more and more dangerous weapons leads to disaster.
“At first it was – only – an act of self-assertion, of emancipation against perpetual disenfranchisement in the broadest sense.”
In December 1983, Bärbel Bohley and Ulrike Poppe were arrested. Thanks to numerous expressions of solidarity, also from abroad, such as the vigils of the West “Women for Peace” at Checkpoint Charlie, they were released six weeks later.
“We needed the Western press, and that was especially evident during the arrests. I always saw it as protection and also as a necessity to make our ideas and actions known via the Western media within the GDR.”
On May 23, 1984, the first Political Night Prayer of the “Women for Peace” takes place in the Church of the Resurrection in Friedrichshain under the motto “Come let us lament, it is time. We must shout, otherwise we will not be heard”.
“Many had the slogan hanging on the wall: `Stay in the country and fight back every day`. I tried, but was too restless. Katja Havemann later said: ‘You were so colorful, you had to leave.'”
The interviews of the “Women for Peace” as a chain of reports on the experiences of many individual women involved to varying degrees, and so perhaps in this way the multiformity and liveliness of the past can become visible in all its contradictoriness.
“The soul is vulnerable. That’s what I’ve learned. Imagine that you don’t have a single drawer in your apartment where you can put your notes. Every room is surveyed by the secret service, every word can be recorded. Every intimate act is overheard. […] Still, it was an insanely exciting time. […] And the community within the group – being able to knock on a door and talk to a friend.”
(Barbe Maria Linke)