FREE AT LAST!
IN THE EASTERN BLOC, THE LIGHTS OF COMMUNISM SEEMED TO BE GOING OUT
The no-man’s-land between the Czechoslovakian and West German borders at Schirnding was littered with abandoned East German cars and motorcycles that gave out on the final yards to freedom in the West. Their owners simply left them in the buffer zone, picked up their bags and walked. Those who followed in their battered, tiny Trabant and Wartburg cars plundered the hulks for spare parts. Meanwhile, the East German Communist party, desperate to halt the exodus, did some dismantling of its own last week to try to shed its repressive image. First, on Nov. 7, the government resigned. The next day, the Politburo followed suit, and on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall was opened up. Jubilant Berliners danced on the once forbidding barrier where almost 200 East Germans had been shot or killed by mines while trying to escape during the past 28 years. Some celebrants chipped at the Wall with hammers, and a new T-shirt became the hottest-selling item on the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin’s main shopping street. It depicted East Germans pouring through the Wall with the slogan “The last one out turns off the light.”
Sweeping: Throughout Eastern Europe, the lights of communism appeared to be going out. As many East Berliners got their first whiff of freedom, Bulgarian Communist party leader Todor Zhivkov stepped down, ending 35 years of authoritarian rule (page 54). Last summer, Poland’s Communist party accepted defeat in a semi-free election and allowed non-Communists to take over the government. Hungary has dissolved its Communist party and promised free elections next year. East Germany has yet to take the irreversible step of giving up supremacy. But on Friday, the policymaking Central Committee unveiled a sweeping pack-
age of reforms—including freer elections and moves towards a free-market economy—to be discussed at a meeting next month. Some members of the Politburo, frantically reshuffled to bring in reformers, hinted that they would be ready to compete in an election that
could topple their party and lead to the eventual reunification of Germany (page 52).
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl seized the opportunity to offer what he called “a new dimension to our economic aid” to East Germany, but only if it allows free elections and makes
fundamental changes in its state-planned economy. And he held out the prospect of reunification, saying that East Germany had “opened the eyes of the world to the fact that the division of our fatherland is against nature.” He announced that he and East German leader Egon Krenz had agreed to meet soon. But Krenz, after talking to Kohl by telephone, said that the reunification question “is not up for discussion at all.”
Dramatic: The NATO allies reacted cautiously to events in East Germany, clearly aware that any talk of redrawing Europe’s postwar borders would offend the Soviets. U.S. President George Bush praised the “dramatic happenings” but added, “I don’t think any single event is the end of the Iron Curtain.”
And Moscow quickly proclaimed that it would not tolerate a united Germany. Calling East Germany an “important, one might say strategic, ally,” Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov said, “Any unification of Germany is out of the question.”
In any case, the tumultuous changes in Eastern Europe have far outpaced Soviet-style restructuring. Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika seems modest in comparison. And while he remains committed to oneparty rule, many Soviet citizens are openly defying that party. On Nov. 7, the 72nd anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, antigovernment radicals paraded in Moscow, with one banner jeering “72 years on the road to nowhere.” In Kishinev, the capital of Moldavia, thousands of nationalists S clashed with police while clambering t over military vehicles lined up for a ? parade. Anniversary celebrations were also disrupted or boycotted by nationalists in Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine.
But it was in East Germany, a country that owes its very existence to socialism, that popular disenchantment snowballed beyond the Communist party’s control. Party leaders, trying to relieve the pressure, decided to let their
citizens emigrate directly over the border to West Germany—even through the Berlin Wall. The move was clearly a calculated gamble that, given the freedom to leave, most East Germans would choose to stay. Early indications were that the risk was paying off: a West Berlin official said that, of the tens of thousands of East Germans who flooded into West Berlin in the first 24 hours after the border opened, only 1,200 to 1,500 had registered as emigrants. Most were merely revellers, who spent
a few hours taking in the sights before returning home—at least for the time being.
Chaotic: Maclean ’s Senior Writer John Bierman witnessed the first chaotic night and day of unrestricted travel. His report:
It took about three hours for the implications of the announcement to sink in. Then, quite spontaneously, East met West in a joyful embrace at the checkpoints. I watched West Berliners thrusting flowers into the hands of people walking across from
the other side and tucking Krenz: a chaotic time them under the windshield wipers of tinny little East German cars. East German border guards, overwhelmed by the rush, gave up trying to check exit visas—and some began behaving more like tourist guides. One young policeman blushed furiously as a half-dozen girls, travelling together, kissed him one by one for letting them pass unchallenged.
At only one spot along the 45-km Wall did I see trouble.
That occurred at the massive Brandenburg Gate, where several hundred young East
Berliners swept aside police and raced to the Wall. They climbed it and were immediately embraced by West Berliners who had gathered on the other side. Some who stormed the Wall carried hammers, with which they broke off concrete chunks as souvenirs. That was more than the East German police would permit. They brought out water cannon to disperse the crowd and made several arrests. Explained one distraught officer: “They cannot be allowed to cross here. This is not an authorized checkpoint.”
Only a handful of the several thousands who came from the East were carrying the luggage that indicated an intention to stay. Most were just there to see the previously forbidden bright lights of the West. One middle-aged woman even braved the chill night air in dressing gown and slippers. She had been preparing to go to sleep, she said, when “I suddenly decided that I just had to take a look around.” A blind man, guided by a Seeing-Eye dog, told me, “I just wanted to smell the air of a free Berlin.” g Punching: The next day, I West German officials estimated that 100,000 East 1 Berliners had inundated their city. The Bonn government gave each visitor $60 spending money, and bars on the Kurfürstendamm sold beer at sharply reduced prices. The streets were so packed with people that it took me 90 minutes to get through Checkpoint Charlie, a famed crossing point where East and West used to exchange spies. Later, large crowds cheered on East German bulldozers as they began punching huge holes in the Wall and pushing huge slabs of concrete aside.
Only a month ago, dismantling the Wall would have been unthinkable. East German
staunchly resistant to the changes sweeping Eastern Europe. But the flight of East German citizens, which began when the Hungarians opened a gap in the Iron Curtain earlier this year, accelerated when Budapest threw open all its borders in September. That forced the resignation of Erich Honecker, the 77-year-old party leader who, as interior minister in 1961, was responsible for erecting the Berlin Wall. (Former West German chancellor Willy Brandt, mayor of West Berlin when the Wall went up, joined celebrations there last week.)
Honecker’s successor, the
52-year-old Krenz, took over on Oct. 18, promising to institute economic reforms but no compromises on one-party rule. The stream of refugees became a flood when Czechoslovakia followed Hungary’s example and opened its frontier on Nov. 3. Since then, more than
65.000 East Germans have fled the country. The total number of refugees and legal emigrants this year now exceeds 225,000, and West German officials estimate that between 1.2 and 1.4 million more want to leave.
Those who remain have become increasingly bold in clamoring for change. On Nov. 6, more than half a million demonstrators took to the streets of eight East German cities demanding free elections and an end to all travel restrictions. The next day, a parliamentary committee rejected a draft law that would have allowed East Germans to travel 30 days a year in the West, saying that it did not go far enough. Prime Minister Willi Stoph and the entire 44-member cabinet then resigned. On Nov. 8,
Krenz demanded the resignation of his Politburo colleagues as well, while retaining the leadership of the party, and nominated a younger, more streamlined body.
The size of the Politburo was reduced to 11 members from 21, and its average age was lowered to 61 from 68. In all, five new members were named, six former members were retained and 10 old hard-liners were dropped—including Honecker. In the most notable concession to reformers, Hans Modrow, the 61-year-old party chief in Dresden and a strong advocate of liberalization, was brought into the Politburo and nominated as the next prime minister. However, some senior Communists expressed disappointment that the Politburo still had holdovers from the old regime. “It is a halfhearted change,” said Alfred Kosing, a Marxist theoretician in the Academy of Sciences. His view was echoed by more than
5.000 rank-and-file Communist party members who demonstrated to demand a special congress with the power to remove the entire leadership and rewrite party rules.
‘Damaging’: Plainly alarmed, Krenz fired four of the six holdovers on Friday night. And he announced that some of them may face criminal charges for, as he put it, “greatly damaging the reputation of the party.” The Central Committee also scheduled a party conference for Dec. 15 to 17 to discuss personnel changes in that 163-member body. That is when it will debate a new electoral law that would allow opposition groups to participate. Asked if the party could be voted out of power, Giinter Schabowski, the East Berlin party chief and Politburo member responsible for media, replied, “Theoretically, that is possible.” But
he added, “don’t expect me to say the [Communist party] will go into this debate with the suicidal idea that it could be wiped off the political map.” At present, the Communist party has 2.3 million members, out of a population of 16.5 million. Its chief challenger would be the New Forum group, which was banned
shortly after its formation two months ago.
Krenz, facing the party’s worst crisis since it was formed 40 years ago, launched a stinging attack on his predecessor in a speech to the Central Committee on Nov. 8. He accused Honecker of “hesitant, even repelling attitudes” and making “wrong judgments.” The
next day, almost casually, Schabowski dropped his bombshell about the opening of East German borders. He told a news conference that the concrete-and-barbed-wire Berlin Wall would not come down immediately, but added, “We will make it invisible from our side.”
East German state television was besieged by calls after it interrupted a program on African elephant hunting to break the news. An East Berlin waitress whooped with joy, saying “We will storm KaDeWe,” an acronym for West Berlin’s fashionable Department Store of the West. In the early hours of Friday morning, large crowds of East Berliners surged through or over the Wall, while hundreds of West Berliners mobbed Checkpoint Charlie. West Berlin Mayor Walter Momper urged East Berliners to delay their trips because the city could not cope with the crush of visitors. But his televised appeal was largely ignored.
Concern: On Friday night, 24 hours after the initial announcement, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said that the East Germans were planning to open 18 new border crossings—five in the Wall and 13 in other parts of the heavily fortified border. But although Kohl stoutly maintained that all refugees were welcome, legislators have expressed growing concern about what they called “a reunification on West German soil.” Wolfgang Mischnik, floor leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party in Kohl’s coalition, wound up an emergency session of parliament Thursday night with an appeal to East Germans. “For those who are still undecided, I beseech you, stay at home,” he said.
The Bonn government appealed to its NATO allies for the use of their military bases to house refugees. External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, the first to respond, offered unused barracks and vacant land on the two Canadian bases at Lahr and Baden-Söllingen. But the GermanCanadian Congress angrily charged that Ottawa was not doing enough. Ron Schuler, Manitoba director of the Ottawa-based congress, criticized the government for not making an exception to immigration rules, allowing East German refugees to come to Canada from West Germany. Ottawa has taken the position that, because East Germans automatically receive West German citizenship when they cross the border, they are no longer refugees and cannot use such status for quick entry into Canada. Schuler complained about “Cold War rhetoric” but conceded that the congress might have to “rethink its position if reunification occurs.”
The changes in East Germany have been so rapid that analysts are still trying to assess their significance. Bennett Kovrig, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said that if East Germany becomes democratic, the pressure within Czechoslovakia would be irresistible. “Then you would have a solid phalanx, Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and
Hungary, marching to an entirely different drummer,” he said. “That would certainly change the balance of power.” Europe would be more or less whole again, at least up to the borders of the Soviet Union. The latter would still be a great power, analysts say, but it would no longer have a buffer of subservient satellites. The United States would still be needed in Europe, but less to redress Soviet power than as an example of economic vitality for the sluggish Eastern Europeans.
‘Heartburn’: However, that can only happen if Gorbachev abides by his pledge not to interfere. Gerasimov reiterated the Soviet commitment to what he has called the “Sinatra Doctrine”—the Eastern Europeans can do it their way. And Western scholars generally agree that it is too late for Gorbachev to revert to the Brezhnev Doctrine, named for the former Soviet general secretary, and send in the tanks. But he may come under strong pressure from his military if the Eastern European buffer zone crumbles too quickly. George Carver, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington,
D.C., said that the prospect of German reunification is causing “considerable heartburn in the Soviet general staff.”
A few members of that group are the same generals who put down a workers’ revolt in East Germany in 1953, invaded Hungary in 1956, invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968—and would have invaded Poland in 1981 had Warsaw’s government not taken the initiative and cracked down on the rebellious Solidarity trade union.
The U of T’s Kovrig also cautioned against exaggerating the importance of the changes in East Germany. Democratic reform, he pointed
out, came more easily to Poland and Hungary because it did not alter their sovereignty. East Germany is different because it is purely a socialist creation, the result of a post-Second World War division of territory by the victorious Allies. “If it goes pluralist and free-market, it has no reason for existence,” said Kovrig.
Even if Eastern Europe does go pluralist, the
main obstacle to freedom’s return may be neither political nor economic, but one of attitude. Already, reformers in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union have found that it was much easier to shove people into the pen of totalitarianism than it is to coax them out. For decades—seven in the case of the Soviets and
four for their satellites—Eastern Europeans have been led to believe that their decisionmaking would be done by instruments of the state. Now, the reformers are suddenly telling them to think for themselves. Not surprisingly, many of them no longer know what to think. But last week, as the euphoric mobs surged through the streets of West Berlin, they were
too busy celebrating to worry about tomorrow.
HOLGER JENSEN with JOHN BIERMAN in West Berlin, PEGGY TRAUTMAN in Bonn, SUE MASTERMAN in Schirnding, ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Moscow, MARY NEMETH in Toronto and bureau reports