Adjusting to change

In East and West, the shock waves roll on

JOHN BIERMAN November 27 1989

Adjusting to change

In East and West, the shock waves roll on

JOHN BIERMAN November 27 1989

Adjusting to change



In East and West, the shock waves roll on

On West Berlin’s fashionable Kurfürstendamm, the nonstop stream of shoppers and gawkers from the other side of the Berlin Wall—instantly recognizable by their drab, lumpy clothes and stunned expressions— was building up to another weekend deluge. Off East Berlin’s windy Marx-Engels-Platz, inside the tinted glass and white marble-fronted parliament building, East Germany’s new prime minister, Hans Modrow, was promising that the dramatic reforms now in progress were “irreversible.” At the Brandenburg Gate, the Germans’ most potent symbol of past unity and global power, television crews from around the world were waiting to record the making of a significant new breach in the Wall. It was the end of another tumultuous week for both Germanys, and the city that was once the focus of the Cold War was still adjusting to the astonishing changes of recent days.

Much of the rest of the world was adjusting as well. In Paris, leaders of the 12 European Community (EC) countries were meeting to review the upheaval in Eastern Europe. In

Washington, D.C., and Moscow, aides to President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were preparing position papers for the superpowers’ summit at sea in the Mediterranean off Malta on Dec. 2 and 3. And in the Communist countries that have yet to succumb fully to the peaceful revolution sweeping what used to be called the Soviet Bloc, the shock waves were evident.

Two weeks ago, Bulgaria’s Central Committee pensioned off its longtime Stalinist dictator, party leader Todor Zhivkov, and last week it retired three of his closest political cronies. The parliament elected Petar Mladenov, a 53year-old former foreign minister, as the new president, and Mladenov promptly told a television interviewer that he favored free elections in Bulgaria. As if to underline his point, 50,000 people demanding a free vote crammed the main square of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, on Saturday. It was the country’s biggest demonstration in 40 years. In Czechoslovakia, the hard-line regime lifted restrictions on travel. But when 50,000 demonstrators marched in

the streets of Prague demanding further changes—including the ouster of Communist party leader Milos Jakes—riot police beat many of them with batons and detained others. Still, in Romania, the hardest-core Stalinist of all, President Nicolae Ceau§escu, seemed entirely deaf to Gorbachev’s reported exhortations to start down the road of reform before it was too late. In a move that highlighted the country’s growing isolation, the government restricted the entry of foreigners from neighboring Hungary.

The East German regime had not only taken Gorbachev’s warnings to heart, but may also have exceeded his expectations. An East German official disclosed that the Soviets had protested about not being given sufficient notice of the sudden breaching of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9. Last week, the East Germans went even further, although whether it was far enough to satisfy the deeply discontented East German people remained to be seen.

At a special parliamentary session, Modrow announced the composition of a new, 28-man coalition cabinet to replace the government that unilaterally resigned two weeks ago. Modrow, a 61-year-old former Dresden party secretary who replaced oldtime Stalinist Willi Stoph, gave 11 ministries to members of the four non-Communist parties represented in the parliament, or Volkskammer: the Liberal Democratic, National Democratic, Christian Democratic and Farmers’ parties. In the past, those parties were allowed only one ministry

each. But the change was not as sweeping as the numbers might suggest. All major ministries, including finance, economic planning, education, foreign affairs, security and defence, remained in Communist hands. Still, Modrow’s once-subservient coalition partners showed a newfound independence in demanding constitutional changes that would abolish the Communists’ guaranteed monopoly of power, and Modrow agreed to a parliamentary commission to study such questions.

In addition, the parliament approved Modrow’s package of reforms, including measures designed to bring about more private enterprise, reduce central planning and curb the power of the secret police. In doing so, the 500member parliament voted freely for only the second time in 40 years. In his speech to the body, Modrow called for a system that would provide for everybody “the chance to develop a life that is rich in content and color” and enable people “to develop individuality and collective comradeship.” Some observers contended that the use of a phrase like “collective comradeship” indicated that Modrow remained wedded to Marxist orthodoxy at heart. But he insisted that there would be political and ideological tolerance in the new East Germany and he appealed for the people’s trust. “I know that’s a lot to ask for,” he said. Modrow also indicated that his government’s most important task would be to pull the country out of its

economic crisis. He gave no specifics on how that would be achieved, but said that the country was now open to the West for joint ventures and investment partnerships.

Berliners and foreign news teams waited impatiently for work to begin on breaking down

the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate. It was not clear whether the delay was for political or technical reasons. Politically, the opening of the Brandenburg Gate would carry powerful symbolism, and it might encourage thoughts of German reunification, which Modrow ruled out in his parliamentary speech as “a dangerous concept.” Technically, it would be difficult to

break through the Wall, which is made of cinder blocks with reinforced-concrete facing and is 12 feet thick at the gate, without the use of explosives.

The need for a showy new concession became abundantly clear on the night of Nov. 13, when peaceful prodemocracy demonstrators held another massive protest in Leipzig. Observing what has now become a Monday-night ritual in the country’s second-largest city, an estimated 250,000 people marched around the fog-enshrouded city and demanded free elections and the resignation of East German leader Egon Krenz. The once-hard-line state president, who succeeded 77year-old Erich Honecker last month, is widely distrusted. Said Olaf Klein, a radio scriptwriter who is active in the main opposition movement, the 200,000-member New Forum: “Most people remember that Krenz was the Politburo member in charge of state security, that he was 2 chairman of the commission S2 that organized the last rigged ° election, and that he went to Beijing and congratulated the people responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre.”

Opposition leaders also expressed skepticism about Modrow, despite his reputation as a moderate. “We don’t really know much about Modrow,” said Sebastien Pflugbeil, a 41-yearold physicist who is one of the founders of New Forum. “Nothing particularly good and nothing particularly bad. But we do know that there are

still more hard men than good men on the Politburo.” Pflugbeil, a slight, wispy-bearded father of four, also said that, while he was delighted by the opening of the Berlin Wall, he feared that it might distract attention from the need for more fundamental changes. Referring to the free distribution of coffee and chocolate to East German visitors by a West Berlin company, Pflugbeil added, “There is a danger that the people’s resolve will be drowned in a sea of chocolate.”

The East Germans were certainly eager for a taste of the West. At the weekend, East German officials said that, since the border was opened for direct passage, they had issued well over 10 million visas for foreign travel—out of a national population of 16.5 million. Many of the visitors rushed to sample the West’s worldly pleasures. So many East Germans crammed into peep shows in West Berlin that, on the Monday after the first wild weekend of the Wall opening, the exhausted strippers insisted on opening four hours late. Video stores quickly sold out of pornographic tapes. Drugstore shelves were swept clean of condoms, and women flocked to medical centres where they could obtain birth-control pills free of charge. “We don’t trust our pill,” said Utta Keller, 33, a mother of four children from East Berlin.“It has too many hormones and it does not always work. I have had three abortions, and I don’t want to risk another.”

East German families stood palefaced and shocked before store windows. “We had no

idea there was such a choice,” stammered one woman. “What have we been working for all these years?” Most collected the Bonn government’s onetime gift of $60, while ordinary West Germans stuffed bank notes under the blankets of East German baby carriages as the parents pushed them by. One couple reached the end of the Kurfürstendamm to find $500 under the covers.

Some East Germans said that they were never going back. “Wild horses couldn’t make me,” declared Uwe Brenner, a 25-year-old auto mechanic from Dresden who came to the West through Czechoslovakia four weeks ago before direct travel was allowed. He and his family now live in a single hostel room, and he has a trainee job in a garage. “They have real cars here,” he said. “It is a joy to work on them. What’s more, I don’t trust anything so long as the Communists are still in power. They could still turn back the clock.” Several hundred recent refugees, however, have decided to return to the East. “I’m going to give it another try,” said Johan Herman, 25, from Leipzig, who left East Germany three weeks ago. “I miss my folks and my girlfriend and I don’t know if I could really settle here. You have a lot of things, but no security.” If the East German government tried to reverse the reform process, said Martin Fischer, a 28-year-old East Berlin laborer, “then we will go out on the streets and remind them who has the real power in our country. We’ve proved it peacefully so far, but we would fight if we had to now.”

In the East, Johanna Schall, a 31-year-old actress and a prominent New Forum supporter, expressed even deeper reservations. Five days after the border opened, she said that she had not yet crossed because “I was frightened.” Unlike the vast majority of East Germans, Schall had been able to travel abroad previously because of her work. “So I know well what the West is like, both the good and the bad,” she said. “Freedom is a very good thing, but very hard to digest.” Added Schall: “I don’t like this overwhelming array of things to buy. It’s just stupid, and it’s dangerous to the world in the end. And I don’t like the poverty one sees in the West. We don’t have the hunger and homelessness that exists there. This may sound sentimental, but many people here still have a dream of a really open and democratic socialism that gives people freedom and works economically.”

Amid last week’s turmoil, the East Berlinbased Institute of Sociology and Social Policies published a rare opinion poll that offered a statistical glimpse of the East German people’s state of mind. Only 30 per cent of those polled agreed that socialism represented “a historical advance on capitalism,” although 87 per cent said that they wanted to stay in East Germany.

The leadership of the ruling Socialist Unity Party seems determined to try to staunch the tide of refugees by offering reforms. An “action program” that the Central Committee announced on Nov. 10 promised “a market-

oriented, planned socialist economy.” But, to many observers, that apparent contradiction in terms could only impose crippling ideological limits on the search for solutions to East Germany’s economic problems. It might also jeopardize East Germany’s chances of receiving all-out economic assistance from West Germany, whose chancellor, Helmut Kohl, indicat-

ed that such aid would depend on genuinely free elections and progress towards a freemarket economy.

The fact that East Germany would need such outside assistance became abundantly clear during an unprecedentedly turbulent debate in parliament last week. Rank-and-file members appeared to be stunned and outraged by outgo-

ing ministers’ confessions of past paralysis in the face of party interference—and the disclosure that the government had run up a domestic debt of about $100 billion at the East German currency’s national exchange rate. Outgoing Finance Minister Ernst Höfner admitted that the party leadership had for years deceived even the Volkskammer’s budgetary and finance committee about the true state of the nation’s finances.

In the same spirit of finger-pointing, outgoing Prime Minister Stoph blamed deposed party leader Honecker and ousted Politburo member Günter Mittag for that state of affairs. Neither man was available to defend himself. Honecker’s wife, deposed education minister Margot Honecker, said that her husband was ill at home, “not yet recovered from his relatively serious operation.” Mittag’s whereabouts x were unknown, but observers discounted a § rumor that he had committed suicide. Reports 2 that three other former Politburo members Í2 had killed themselves were thought to be ° better founded.

Party officials, past and present, were likely to come in for similar criticism at a special congress of the Communist party scheduled for Dec. 15 to 17. Under intense pressure from the party rank and file, Krenz agreed to upgrade the conference already scheduled for those dates to the status of a congress. The distinction is not merely semantic: a congress has much wider powers than a conference, including the ability to dismiss Krenz himself

and the Central Committee. As Krenz put it, “The increasing gravity of the rapidly developing, extraordinary situation requires an early meeting of the party’s supreme body.” The situation also prompted the special EC meeting in Paris. Many Western European leaders expressed alarm that the EC’s cherished goal of achieving a unified market by 1992 had suddenly receded under the rising tide of change in Eastern Europe.

The concern was that West Germany, for all its ringing pledges of loyalty to the 1992 goal, viewed the increasing clamor for democratic change in Eastern Europe as an opportunity to widen its economic and political choices, and that it would first turn its attention to the goal of achieving German reunification. Last week, West German officials backed Britain’s campaign to delay a special 1990 EC conference to lay the legal groundwork for a European central bank and single currency. Explaining that his government now thought that next year was too early for such a dramatic step, West German Finance Minister Theo Waigel said, “You cannot construct

the roof until the foundations are sound.” Western European leaders also expressed concern that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, already opposed to economic and monetary union, could seize upon Eastern European reforms as a pretext for delaying or even halting the march to 1992. In London, Thatcher delivered a speech that bristled with ominous signals for her opponents, declaring that the EC should not become “obsessed” with the details of its internal business and demanding that Western Europe shoulder its responsibilities towards Eastern Europe.

European officials also appealed to President Bush to promise that, at next month’s U.S.-Soviet summit off Malta, the two superpowers I would not strike a separate g deal on Europe’s future. U.S. S officials were quick to offer reassurances. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Bush spoke by telephone on Friday with Kohl, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and French President François Mitterrand. “We do not intend to have this emerge as a second Yalta,” Fitzwater told a

news conference, referring to the 1945 meeting of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin at which Germany was split and other postwar divisions were arranged.

Fitzwater also said that Bush had sent a cable to Gorbachev stating his hope that the changes in Eastern Europe would remain peaceful. Within the administration, there was widespread speculation that Gorbachev might produce a blockbuster proposal at the summit. He could suggest major overall troop cuts in Europe or, going further, that all foreign troops be pulled out of East and West Germany. But White House officials said that they would merely accept such a proposal for consideration, not negotiate on it during the summit.

Meanwhile, on both sides of the Berlin Wall, Germans were still marvelling at the momentous events that continued to swirl around them. Some East German teachers seized the chance to take their entire classes over to the West. “I am a history teacher,” said East Berliner Bertrand Heiman, 36, who came to the West with his class of 26 elementary-school students. “What better way to teach children history than to let them watch it happen?” For East and West Germans, and the rest of the world, watching history in the making in the heart of Europe was a fascinating—and sometimes disquieting—spectacle.

JOHN BIERMAN in Berlin with PETER LEWIS in Brussels, SUE MASTERMAN in Vienna and WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington