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Protocol Office Article 2012.04.01 17 June 1953

Each year representatives of public life gather at the memorial at Seestrasse Cemetery in Berlin-Wedding for a commemorative ceremony with speeches and the laying of wreaths in memory of the victims of the popular uprising in East Berlin and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on 16 and 17 June 1953.

The uprising against the “building of socialism” proclaimed by Walter Ulbricht, General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), spread to more than 400 cities and towns and some 600 factories in the GDR and involved more than half a million people. What had begun with the demand that the increased productivity quotas be rescinded ended in a call for the overthrow of the SED government and free elections.

After a state of emergency was declared in East Berlin and in 167 of the 217 urban and rural districts in the GDR, the Soviet military bloodily quelled the uprising on 17 June 1953, although local strikes and demonstrations continued into July. The SED called the uprising a “fascist coup attempt” and arrested about 13,000 people as “ringleaders” and “provocateurs”. Recent research estimates that more than 125 people lost their lives.

The June uprising was the first mass revolt within the Soviet Union’s sphere of control after World War II. It prompted a series of revolts and uprisings (in Hungary and Poland in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and in Poland in 1980) that culminated in the fall of communist regimes in Europe in 1989/90.

June 17 was declared a public holiday in the Federal Republic of Germany by legislation of 4 August 1953; ten years later, Federal President Heinrich Lübke elevated it to a national day of remembrance. Until German reunification in 1990, 17 June was celebrated as the Day of German Unity; following German reunification, 3 October was designated the Day of German Unity. The Act of 4 August 1953 was repealed, but the proclamation of the Federal President of 11 June 1963 remains valid.

On 17 June flags are displayed throughout the country at the highest federal authorities and the agencies within their remit as well as at the public-law corporations, institutions and foundations under the supervision of federal authorities.

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