(1912-1994) German communist politician, in power in East Germany 1973–89, elected chair of the council of state (head of state) 1976. He governed in an outwardly austere and efficient manner and, while favoring East–West détente, was a loyal ally of the USSR. In Oct 1989, following a wave of prodemocracy demonstrations, he was replaced as leader of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and head of state by Egon Krenz, and in Dec expelled from the Communist Party.
Honecker, the son of a miner, joined the German Communist Party 1929 and was imprisoned for antifascist activity 1935–45. He was elected to the East German parliament (Volkskammer) 1949 and became a member of the SED Politburo during the 1950s. A security specialist, during the 1960s he served as a secretary of the National Defense Council before being appointed first secretary of the SED 1971. After Walter Ulbricht's death 1973, Honecker became leader of East Germany.
In Oct 1989, following large-scale civil disturbances, Honecker was replaced by his protégé Egon Krenz. He was placed under house arrest Feb 1990 and charged with high treason, misuse of office, and corruption. In March 1991 he was transferred from a Soviet military hospital to Moscow, but the German government demanded his return to face manslaughter charges in connection with the killing of those illegally crossing the Berlin Wall 1961–89. He returned to Germany July 1992, but the courts ruled that he was too ill to stand trial and he was allowed to go into exile in Chile 1993.