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09/11/2010

Baerbel Bohley, leader in East German pro-democracy movement, dies at 65

September 11, 2010 | 10:20 am

Bohley Baerbel Bohley, a prominent figure in the pro-democracy movement that helped end communist rule in the former East Germany, died Saturday. She was 65.

The Robert Havemann Society, a group dedicated to the history of East Germany's opposition that Bohley helped set up, said she died of cancer.

Bohley, a painter who endured harassment by East Germany's secret police, and several others in September 1989 established New Forum. It became the most prominent opposition group in the final phase of hard-line communist rule.

The group advocated free elections, greater openness in East German society and a free press.

East Germany opened its heavily fortified border on Nov. 9, 1989, after mounting peaceful protests helped undermine the communist government.

New Forum's importance faded as Germany headed toward reunification in 1990.

Still, Bohley and other activists that year occupied the archives of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police -- ultimately helping ensure that the public would be granted access to them.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, said Bohley was "one of the important voices of freedom."

"For many, including for me, her courage and her directness were exemplary," she said. "I remember her as a personality who made possible the peaceful revolution and the road to German unity."

In 1996, Bohley said that what had been achieved in Germany since reunification was "less than what we dreamed."

"But it is far more than what we had before," she said.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Baerbel Bohley at the Berlin Wall memorial in 2004. Credit: Michel Urban / AFP / Getty Images

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