This Europe: Revolutionaries of the forgotten putsch finally get their dues

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Germany has finally made amends for five decades of injustice by marking the anniversary of former East Germany's June 1953 revolt against Communism. Bonn has admitted it had sorely neglected an event that paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Johannes Rau, the German President, told MPs gathered in the Berlin Reichstag for a special anniversary ceremony: "For too long, the West ignored the real meaning of 17 June. We did not think and feel with the people of eastern Germany who lacked political freedom and everyday liberty."

East Germany's five-day insurgency was a forerunner of the bloody 1956 Hungarian uprising against Communism, the Prague Spring of 1968 and the birth of Poland's Solidarity movement in 1980. It began on 16 June 1953, when some 5,000 workers downed tools at a building site on East Berlin's Stalin Allee and marched against longer working hours.

The next day, the protests turned into a full- scale revolt against Soviet-backed rule, with more than 50,000 demonstrators taking to the streets of Berlin where they demanded free elections and reunification of the country. Recent research has shown the uprising was even more fierce in 700 provincial towns and cities where protesters lynched Communist officials, opened prisons and staged occupations of town halls.

The revolt overwhelmed East Germany's puppet regime, which was forced to rely on Soviet tanks to crush the uprising. At least 60 protesters were killed and some 13,000 were incarcerated.

The revolt remained a nightmare for the East German regime, which portrayed the uprising as an attempt by fascists to resurrect Nazi Germany. In West Germany, the anniversary was declared a public holiday but, as the Cold War continued, it was largely forgotten.

New evidence published by Hubertus Knabe, a German historian, suggests that the British government was equally determined to play down the significance of the uprising.

Mr Knabe claims that the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, intervened personally to stop British troops from offering their support to the protesters, because he feared it could lead to a reunification of Germany only eight years after the end of the Second World War.

Germany had to wait another 37 years for that to happen. As Mr Rau put it: "1989 was the realisation of the dream that failed in 1953."