East Germans Step Up Pressure For Political Reform
`EGON KRENZ, we are the competition.'' This chant from thousands of East Berliners in an anti-Krenz demonstration on Tuesday evening sums up the situation in East Germany.Skip to next paragraph
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Instead of decreasing the number of demonstrations, the new East German leader's first steps toward reform have had the opposite effect. The surprising new openness in the news media, and the promise of travel passes for all, are not satisfying the people.
In peaceful demonstrations that spread to all parts of the country, record numbers of citizens took to the streets this week. Hundreds of thousands protested Mr. Krenz's ``rubber stamp'' election Tuesday to head of state and head of the military. ``Who asked us?'' the marching East Berliners wanted to know.
Krenz, who replaced Erich Honecker on Oct. 18 as Communist Party chief, has a record as a hard-liner. Though he is trying to portray himself as a leader who will listen and respond, ``the people aren't buying it,'' says a Western diplomat here. Witness the demonstration Monday in Leipzig, he points out, where 150,000 to 300,000 participated.
In his Tuesday speech before the People's Chamber (or parliament), Krenz talked mostly in generalities.
He called for an ``enlivened'' parliament that truly reflects the will of the people and for new election laws. Krenz also promised equal rights for all citizens and called for the creation of an environment committee in the parliament. Last week, on his first full day on the job, he was out talking to factory workers, Gorbachev-style, and meeting with church leaders.
On the other hand, he emphasized in his speech that there will be no detour from socialism. He supported debate, but only through existing channels, such as the party, youth and work organizations, and the media. He also appealed to citizens not to flee to the West.
Krenz has made a start, admitted a few Germans who attended a church service in East Berlin Monday. But the point, they explained, is that power is still concentrated in the hands of the Communist Party, which is unresponsive. There must be real, democratic elections, they said.
If Krenz is to survive, says the Western diplomat, he must bring new people into the ruling Politburo soon. Otherwise, he is caught between satisfying the Old Guard and a demanding population.
Demonstrators couldn't agree more. As they walked the broad boulevards of East Berlin Tuesday night, relaxed and joking with each other, they also shouted this suggestion: ``Build a new old folks home and put the Central Committee in it.''
The Central Committee is now set to meet Nov. 8-10, a month earlier than planned. It has power to change the the 18-member Politburo's membership.
Signs of pluralism are beginning to flicker.
One of them, says Gesine Schwan, was the parliament's vote on Tuesday. Twenty-six of the 500 delegates voted against Krenz for head of state and 26 abstained. ``This is the first time opposition votes have been documented,'' says Ms. Schwan, a professor at the Free University in West Berlin.
The opposition groups are learning that they must organize to get anywhere. In their first international press conference on Monday, which the East German media also covered, they presented a report on police brutality during the demonstrations of Oct. 7 and 8, East Germany's 40th anniversary weekend.
They find it particularly disturbing that Krenz, who was head of internal security at the time, is now head of state. The leaders demanded an independent commission to investigate the treatment of those arrested.
A day later, the chairman of the parliamentary National Defense Committee (and also Krenz in his speech) admitted police violence over that weekend. According to the East German news agency ADN, 83 cases of complaint are up for review. Police are now under orders to ``show restraint'' during demonstrations.
Krenz, and some church leaders, would like to see a stop to the demonstrations and want to avoid confrontation.
But some see demonstrations as necessary pressure. ``As soon as the demonstrations stop, or the exodus of people stops, there is no chance for change,'' says Arnuls Baring, a colleague of Ms. Schwan's at the university.
The Berliners on Tuesday evening showed no interest in violence. Turning to go down a street, they were blocked by a row of policemen. The demonstrators walked right up to the uniforms, stood face to face and shouted, ``No violence.'' One protester put a rose in a policeman's lapel. Then, without incident, they turned and moved down the street.