BERLIN (AP) — Germany's president on Thursday honored the bravery of peaceful protesters who stood up to the communist dictatorship in East Germany 25 years ago, drawing parallels to the student protests in Hong Kong today.
President Joachim Gauck spoke at an event commemorating one of the biggest demonstrations in the city of Leipzig on Oct. 9, 1989, which called for freedom and democracy.
None of those taking part could have known for sure whether authorities would opt for a "Chinese solution" and violently crush dissent as happened on Beijing's Tiananmen Square months earlier, he said. "But they came anyway: tens of thousands overcame their fear of their oppressors, because their longing for freedom was greater."
Gauck said the protest, which was shown by West German television that many in the East secretly watched, encouraged others and heralded the peaceful revolution that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall one month later.
Gauck, a one-time Protestant pastor who himself was involved in the protest movement, said the experience of East Germany showed how important it was to defend democracy even today.
"The young protesters in Hong Kong have understood this very well," Germany's head of state said. Students in the semi-autonomous city have been protesting for weeks against China's restrictions on the first direct election for Hong Kong's leader, promised by Beijing for 2017.
Gauck's comment came a day before a German-Chinese government summit in Berlin, in which China's Premier Li Keqiang will take part.