The process of erosion of communist system in Europe, started by the creation of 'Solidarność' in Poland, could not be of no influence on social and political situation in any country, even German Democratic Republic – highly indoctrinated police state at that time. It did not resisted the erosion of economic system either.
Huge social strains, inefficient industry, disastrous state of infrastructure brought this country to the verge of breakdown at the end of 1980'. Opening of Hungarian border with Austria caused the wave of refugees from East Germany, who spend their holidays there. On 10th October 1989 Hungarian government allowed for the East German citizens who abode on it's territory for the entry to Austria. As a result, 24500 East Germans escaped through Hungary, 13600 via Prague and 800 via Poland. The appeal of the youth which took place on 4th October 1989 in Lipsk as well as the creation of Neue Forum started the strain of events called 'the quiet revolution'. In a month it sweept Erich Honecker from his post, brought to destruction of the Berlin Wall on 9th of November and opend the path to German reunification1.
More heated atmosphere had an impact on the Sorbs, a minority accredited by the authorities. They used to exploit political changes in Germany before and use it as an opportunity to blow the wistle on their national issue. It so happened during the Spring of Nations, revolutionary unrests after the First World War and German defeat in the Second World War.
The foundation of social and judical act of the Sorbian minority in state system of East Germany was represented by the Sorbian Act (Serbski zakoń), passed in 1948 by the Saxon government. It gave the Sorbs who lived in Saxony the base for cultural autonomy and enabled the creation of many educational, cultural and scientific institutions, for the first time supported financially by the German state2. Two years later similar act was introduced in Lower Lusatia, although there, unlike in Saxony, it was introduced not by means of the act of the chamber of deputies but as an regulation of Brandenburgian cabinet3. Roland Marti, a slavist from Saarbrucken cited by Ludwig Ela, said: 'Which linguistic minority in Europe, similar in size, has such a institutional protection, strongly rooted educational system and wealth of publications in it's own language?'4. Of course the prize the Sorbs had to pay was a submission of Sorbian institutions that were subsidised by German government to prevading in German Democratic Republic ideology5.
As early as in 1980' writer Jan Koch and journalist Werner Měškank strongly protested against devastation of Sorbian villages by lignite mines. Because of this intervention, the former was quieten and the latter simply made redundant6. The policy of 'pierestrojka' and 'glasnost' introduced in Soviet Union was greeted with a huge dose of distrust from German communists. But unlike the ideas of Spring of Prague or Polish 'Solidarność' it could not be openly criticised as it steamed from the country of their hegemon. That is why, at the end of the decade, it was possible to establish first steps of free social dialogue, mainly on the pages of Sorbian evening paper Nowa doba, one of 30 Eastern German papers which frequently informed about new trends in USSR7. In the second part of 1980' Domowina established the dialogue also with church circles. The first visible sign of this relation were theses, published 25 May 1987, which defined the attitude of clergy towards this organistaion:
1. Domowina is an socialist organisation and it's main goal is to educate the youth in accord with this ideology.
2. The organistaion is closely related to SED and it pursues itąs goals.
3. Domowina stipulates the right to act on behalf of the Sorbs.
4. Domowina made it's mark in the field of Sorbian education and culture.
5. Many catholic Sorbs are the members; they engage themselves mainly in activities of county branches.
In October 1987 the meeting of the chairmans of Domowina and Cyryl and Metody Association (Zjednočenstwo Cirila a Metoda) – Jurij Grós and Rev. Kilank took place. On 1st February delegation of Domowina met with cleric and secular representatives of Sorbian catholics. The last turn of this session was held on 4th December. It did not brought on the breakthrough in mutual relations as it was impossible in face of the current social and political situation. The condition of official participation of the catholics in Domowina's actions was the change of it's status, an incerease of an influence of the belivers on it's policy as well as an increasing of the number of pages of their religious magazine Katolski Posoł and desition of censorship, inclusion of church related subjects in Sunday radio programmes broadcasted in Sorbian, an inclusion of religious elements in official Domowina's ceremonies, taking up national – religious aspects in scientific researches and a help for schools that introduce the Sorbian language. Of course there could not be any discussion about releasing Domowina from under the SED's influence at the time. The chairman of Domowina also reminded that the school system remained in charge of state. In this situation it was impossible for the church to accept the given post in the board of the union but in turn the agreement was reached on incereasing the the volume of Katolski Posoł and broadcasts8.
Since 1988 the group of Sorbian students headed by Timo Meškank could publish an independent magazine Serbski student, practically with no consequences. On the turn of October and September 1989 Rev. Michal Nawka conducted the talks with many national activists and investigated eventualities of taking up actions that would answer the needs of the moment. During the meeting in a rectory in Kulow on 25th September the idea of creating the Sorbian National Assembly (Serbska narodna zhromadźizna – SNZ) was formulated. Few days later, on 1st November 1989 an initiative group formed and on 11th it's first meeting was held. Three days before this date the boarder passes were open in Berlin but nobody was sure for how long. On the last day of September Sorbian students gave the Domovina censure vote9.
The organisation found itself under the growing pressure of Sorbian society. In 1989 the structure of Domovina consisted of following sections: secretariat, section of the second secretary divided in: Agency of Management, Finance and Administration, Agency of Agitation and Propaganda, Agency of Culture, Agency of Education and the Youth. Agencies were managed by secretaries. Each of them had four political workers on their aid. Organisational base was formed by 10 divisions with 282 field groups, 14060 members each10.
On 7th November 1989 the office of the secretary issued the need for public discussion on the most burning problems of Sorbian social life. This appeal was published in Nowa doba. As soon as on that month, during the extraordinary meeting of the union's presidium, the decision was made about forming the Extraordinary Domovina's Union Congress on 17th March 1990. In The Statement of Domowina's Union Congress on Some of the Current Problems of Domovina's Activity (Stejišćo Zwjazkoweho předsydstwa Domowiny k nĕkotrym aktualnym prašenjach skutkowanja Domowiny) the need of passing the national act by the Eastern German government was voiced along with conducting the survey of all regulationf concerning Sorbian school system, withholding planned displacements caused by creation of lignite. Simultainously, Domowina authorities resisted the demands of the whole presidium handing down resignations. It was also agreed that instead of the secretariat the working cometee will be appointed. It's aim was supposed to be the preparation of a congress and to propose a new status. In December 1989 a new canon of matters the national organization of Sorbs was to face in forthcoming weeks cristalized. It concerned: vital democratization of Domowina, later specification and introduction of the rules of national policy; new, more effective organisation of Sorbian School system; retaining the unity of the Sorbian nation and most importantly the union of Sorbs of Lower and Upper Lusatia; independent and free Sorbian press; full freedom of conscience, faith and thought; preservation of Sorbian repatriation area. Further existance of East Germany and it's continuous democratization was assumed as well11.
The change of Domowina's status was of crucial significance in the process of it's democratization along with chanaging the structure and it's place in social life of Lusatia, Saxony and Germany. The project of the new status, accepted in genereal by Extraordinary Congress, read that Sorbian national organization will not be any more linked with any party's policy and from now on it will be keeping full indpendence and the pluralism should not be anyhow restricted. Domowina saw itself as a representative of the Sorbian people in the area of assurance of equality in every field of social life, retaining and development of culture and Sorbian language, developpement and strenghtening of national awareness, preserving national traditions and protection of Sorbian colonization area. Introducing the new status has let Domowina to function in new socio – political conditions. The personal decisions of the Congress has not, in fact, satisfied the representatives of the reformational wing – SNZ's candidate for the chairman, Jan Malink, lost in the ballot. The post was handed to a consensual candidate, Bjarnat Cyž but the outgoing first secretary, Jurij Gross, popular among the delegates from Lower Lusatia, not only has stayed in the presidium, but was also chosen for one of vice chirmen. Although open manifeststion of dissatisfaction, it was decided not to ostracize the new board12.
Voices demanding democratization of Domowina could be herad from many different sides. On 4th November, when thousands of people came out on the streets, Nowa doba published the statement of Sorbian clergy pertaining to the current situation. The document voiced the hope for Domowina to become ideologically independent and concentrate on activities on behalf of Sorbian people and after some statut changes will conduct free vote for the members of its presidium. Domowina was also to stop concealing the practice of repatriation Sorbian villages for the sake of new mining sites. It was also expected to expand the support for learning of Sorbian language, establishing independent Sorbian youth and children organsations, principal in the mode of choosing chairmen's posts in Sorbian communes13.
Over 200 people took part in the opening session of th Sorbian National Gathering. In his opening speech, Rev. Jan Malik presented further democratization of national movement and reorganising Domowina in this manner as the key issues for the Gathering. On this day, 106 participants signed the petition submitted to the People's House of East Germany in which they demanded the observation of the Lusatian area during the planned expansion of minig sites, more visible presence of Sorbian language in school programme as well as in offices, more information on Sorbs in media and introduction of Sorbian TV programmes, a boost of competence and autonomy for Domowina in creating the national politics, representation of Sorbian interest in People's house by independent Sorbian deputies. Morover, 10 working groups were working out the following issues:
1. Domowina – a true representative of the whole Sorbian nation
2. Effectivity of the Sorbian School system
3. An influence of industrialization on the nation and enviroment
4. Administrative and territorial status of Lusatia in East Germany
5. Relations with neighbouring Slavic nations and Slavic reciprocity
6. Analysis and realistic evaluation of the nation's situation
7. Sorbian history after 1945.
8. The Sorb's position in society
9. The Sorbs and the media
10. The perspectives of Sorbian language and culture
The results of their work was presented in the period from December 1989 to January 1990 in Nowa doba. On 13th January 1990 this evening paper published a project of a programme of the Sorbian National Gathering entitled The Future of the Lusatian Sorbs in Society. On 2nd February it was handed down to the prime minister Modrow. In face of the oncomming Domowina's congress, SNZ prepared it's own propositions of statutory changes. The fight for the right to vote and possibility of being elected for |Domowina non-members was also announced. In the elections for the chairman of Domowina the candidacy of Jan Malinka was put forward. Before the Extraordinary Congress the an agreement with Cyryl and Metody Association had been reached. During the session, 72 invited guests recived the privilidge of active participation in the Congress. Joined pressure during the voting forced the chairman to withdraw Jurij Grós' candidacy. Still, the main goal – Gaining the chairman's post – has not been reached. Jan Malink recived 223 votes but Bjarnat Cyž, who replaced Gross, got 302 voices. This failure could not be counterbalanced by voting 10 members of deciding group of SNZ in 36-place union presidium. The Statement for the Extraordinary Congress of Domowina, (Stejišćo k wurjadnemu zwjazkowemu konkresej Domowiny) published on 24th March 1990 assured that personal changes serve the purpose of preservation of old order. Therby, Sorbian Gathering changed the sides and joined constructive opposition. It's members who acted in Domowina's structures concentrated on operations for sake of wide-ranging democratization. An important vector of SNZ were doings in aid of Sorbian school system. Directly from the group working on effectivity of the Sorbian school system The Sorbian School Comapany has emerged. It's first assigment was to prepare the proposition about the relation of Sornbian schools towards the school acts of Saxony and Brandenburgh14.
Lower Lusatians decided to form their own gathering. At first they participated in Sorbian National Gathering. Later, during the third sitting on 3rd January 1990 it was decided that ceratin problems of Lower Lusatia region and its people need special adress. An initiative group decided that following problems require the fastest action: opening of Serbski Dom in Lower Lusatia, administrative union of both parts of Lusatia, problems of energetic and mining industries, Sorbian school system and the use of language in Sorbian families. Although it may appear that the group's attention focused mainly on local problems, it should be noticed that most of it was more universal in character and agreed with the track of work of it's Upper Lusatian counterpart (e.g. issues of mining and energetics or postulate of the free Lusatia). The most active advocates of the free Lusatia were Jurij Koch and Werner Měškank. They remained in close cooperation with Měrko Šołta who was in charge of this issue in Sorbian National Gathering. There were attempts on drawing German mijority's attention to the issue and get their endorsement (by e. g. distributing stickers with adequate iscription). In contrary to SNZ from Budyšin, Lower Lusatian Gathering ceased it's activity even before the Extraordinary Domowina's Congress. It's participants transferred their efforts to the national Sorbian organization. They also continued to work in bodies that choosed them for their representatives like the media board of Laustzer Rundschau15.
Among Sorbian advocates of socialist option a reformational movement Sorbian Left (Serbska Lĕwica) had crystallized at the same time. The formation along with SNZ abandoned the idea of Sorbian Round Table (Serbske kulojtne blido) which gathered on 19th Decembre 1989, which is almost two weeks after the first sitting of Central Round Table of East Germany (7th Decembre 1989). It's participants were representatives of main strands of Sorbian national life: chief authorities of Domowina and it's particular departaments, Sorbian National Gathering, Sorbian Left, Cyryl and Metody Association, Sorbian Evangelical and Lutheran Supercommissariat, Lower Lusatian group – Serbska Namša and media: Nowa doba and Nowy Casnik. On it's first session, the body delegated Rev. Jan Malik as it's representative for the Central Round Table. He had equal rights to participate as others but was devoided of the right to vote. Representatives for Round Tables in Chóśebuz and Drježdžany were also deputized. Soon had the Sorbian Round Table worked the stand for providning the Sorbs with aequate representation in East German Chamber, district boards of Drježdžany and Chóśebuz and boards of communes in bilingual ares. Simultainously, the postulate of administrative chnages, which would enable the return to the state of matters from before the year 1952 (when Wojerecy and Běła Woda counties belonged to Saxony) or even directly incorporating the whole bilingual Lusatian area to Saxony was put forward. At the beginning of 1990 nobody could really forseen such a quick liquidation of East Germany. However, as soon as the March of the same year this body made a stand about the issue of unification of Germany16.
Apart from a discussion about the new order of national life, more and more burning became the need of making a stand about inevitable process of German unification. The Sorbs did not have a good relation back in history. That is why the matter of crucial importance was to assure the judicial security in terms of national existance. Acquiring suitable records in German Democratic Republic's legislation could significantly strenghten Sorb's position during the unification. In face of launching the work on East German constitution there was a demand for providning Slavic minority with rights. Arguments in favour of this record were passed to prime minister Modrow by Sorbian delegation on 2nd February 1990. Adequate record was also placed in proposition of the changes to constitution drafted by the central Round Table in Berlin. Nevertheless, after the People's Chamber's decision to be a part of Federal republic of Germany the issue become aimless.Attempts at aquiring minority act also ended up in fiasco. Although prime minister's Lothar de Maiziére verbal support was obtained and the project of the act was passed to People's chamber on 7th june 1990, the quick pace of subsequent events disrupted this strivings. Clear has become the fact that all binding decisions can only be made in Bonn. On 9th July 1990 the secretary of internal affairs adressed his new western equivalent with a request to take into account Sorb's rights in agreement of unification. Still, eastern German side decided that the document should contain only the issues of greatest importance and guarantees for Sorbs were not acknowledged as such. There was nothing on the subject to be found in the agreement of unification. Eventually, in the protocole for the agreement of 31th August 1990 East German side advanced freedom to claim sorbian nationality and the presence of the Sorbian language in the public life17.
It was not much in comparison with what was expected so it is no surprise that common was the fear about future functioning of Sorbian institutions and schools. Surprisingly, this record proved to be so strong that it enabled judical guarantees for Sorbs in acts of Saxony and Brandenbourgh. Most important Sorbian cultural and scientific institutions remained as well. Nevertheless, the reference to the rights of minorities was not included in German fundamental law. Plans for merging areas settled by the Sorbs in one administrative body had also ended up in nothing although in course of administrative reform, which created five new regions in former East Germany, Wojerecy and Běła Woda counties were returned to Saxony, like it was before 1952.
Problems, such as decrease in the number of students of Sorbian language or significant reduction of members of Domowina could not be avoided. Despite harsh discussions and polemics the national unity, extremely needed in times of breaktrough, was sustained. It enabled the stream of reforms in Sorbian National Organisation and creation and reactivation of many sorbian organizations such as Serbska Maćica.
Translation Karolina Pałys
1. E. Cziomer, Zarys historii Niemiec powojennych 1945 – 1995, Warszawa – Kraków 1997, s. 254 – 263.
2. L. Ela, Před 60. lĕtami schwali so Serbski zakoń w Sakskiej [w:] Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w Europie Środkowej. W 60-lecie uchwalenia Ustawy Serbołużyckiej, pod redakcją Piotra Pałysa, s. 5-8
3. P. Šurman, K wóznamoju Serbskeje kazni z 1948 z lĕta 1948, [w:] Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w Europie Środkowej. W 60-lecie uchwalenia Ustawy Serbołużyckiej, pod redakcją Piotra Pałysa,, s. 12-13.
4. L. Ela, op. cit., s. 8.
5. Ibidem, s. 8.
6. L. Budarjowa, Wo serbskej narodnej zhromadżiznje, „Rozhlad” 2000, čo. 7-8, s. 262.
7. H. Kozel, „Nowa doba” a pjerjestrojka, „Rozhlad” 2000, čo. 7-8, s. 245.
8. T. Kowalczyk, Kościół katolicki na Łużycach Górnych w latach 1919-1990, Lublin 1999, s. 245-253.
9. L. Budarjowa, op. cit., s. 263.
10. J. Grós, Na wšĕm wina je ta Domowina... ? Pytanje za wotmołwami, Budyšin 1992, s. 60.
11. Ibidem, s. 46-59.
12. Ibidem, s. 70-83.
13. Ibidem, s. 48-49.
14. L. Budarjowa, op. cit., s. 265-267.
15. Ch. Klimenowa, Serbska zgromaźizna w Chośebuzu, „Rozhlad” 2000, čo. 7-8, s. 259-262.
16. M Kasper, Die Lauzitzer Sorben in der Wende 1989/1990 Ein Abriss Dokumenten und einer Chronik, Bautzen/Budyšin 2000, s. 29-42.
17. M. Kasper, Prócowanje Domowiny wo zapisanje narodnych prawowo z Zjednoćenskim zrĕčenju, „Rozhlad” 2000, čo. 7-8, s. 273-276.