A purge of hard-liners

Despite changes, the refugees kept going

JOHN BIERMAN November 13 1989

A purge of hard-liners

Despite changes, the refugees kept going

JOHN BIERMAN November 13 1989

A purge of hard-liners

EAST GERMANY

Despite changes, the refugees kept going

The bonds that, since 1949, have made East Germany one of Europe’s most doctrinaire Communist states continued to loosen with bewildering rapidity last week. Egon Krenz, who succeeded hard-liner Erich Honecker as party leader last month, travelled to Moscow and, after meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev on Wednesday, Nov. 1, said that he was in favor of Gorbachevstyle reforms. The next day, Krenz went to Warsaw, where he discussed reforms with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the non-Communist Polish prime minister once reviled by Honecker. On Krenz’s return to East Berlin, the government began a wholesale purge of hard-line party officials. Among them: Honecker’s wife, Margot, 62, who had been education minister.

In the provinces, as well, party officials fell one by one. In Leipzig, East Germany’s secondlargest city, Mayor Bernd Seidel resigned on Friday, saying that he had lost the confidence of his fellow citizens. He clearly had: four days earlier, 300,000 of them had clamored for democratic reform in one of the largest street protests since the state was founded.

Krenz said that five members of the Communist party’s 18-man ruling Politburo would quit this week. But despite the purge of hard-liners, and Krenz’s promised or enacted reforms, including the relaxation of travel restrictions and the easing of media controls, East Germans continued to vote with their feet. Taking advantage of the end of the travel ban on Nov. 1, thousands crossed the border into Czechoslovakia to apply for entry to West Germany at the Bonn government’s embassy in Prague. Within two days, 5,000 East Germans had crowded the embassy and its grounds to the saturation point. And still the refugees kept coming, bringing the number of East Germans to leave this year to more than 170,000. That was the highest total since the Berlin Wall was put up to stop the outflow in 1961.

With hard-line rule cracking in East Germany, the remaining anti-reform holdouts were Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. And there the rumblings were audible. Last week in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, 4,000 protesters shouted “democracy” and ‘ ‘glasnost.” Perhaps even there it was only a matter of time.

JOHN BIERMAN with correspondents’ reports