East Berlin's peace rally for writers takes a shot at both superpowers

Even for a divided Berlin that has seen just about everything by now, it was an unusual meeting. It was an intellectuals' rally for peace in East Berlin Dec. 13-15 that put official and dissident East and West German writers together in the same forum probably for the first time since the immediate postwar years.

The discussion in the Stadt Berlin Hotel was initially aimed at denouncing new NATO missiles planned for mid-'80s deployment, observers inferred from the official East German sponsorship. It opened less than 24 hours after the Polish declaration of martial law, however, and under this shadow it also aired protests against the Soviet SS-20 missiles and East Berlin's refusal to recognize conscientious objection to military service.

Outside the hotel shoppers carried Christmas trees home in the snow. Children ate candied apples at East Berlin's traditional open-air Christmas market, rode the Ferris wheels, and drove rubber-bumper cars around in an incongruously placid circle. (''Whoever willfully rams another car,'' admonished the stern Prussian sign at the entrance, in defiance of all human nature and the clear intent of the inventor of rubber-bumper cars, ''will be expelled immediately.'')

Across the wall, in West Berlin, youths protested the imposition of martial law in Poland by smashing windows of the Polish and other Eastern European airlines.

And inside the Stadt Berlin the 70 East German and two dozen West German, Swiss, Austrian, Soviet, and British conferees discussed peace. Peace is good, they agreed; war is bad. And they wondered aloud what they could do to reinforce the former and hinder the latter.

For one Soviet participant, the answer was easy. The Soviet Union and its allies always fight only just wars, because they are on the right side of class warfare and history. The US and all capitalist states, on the contrary, fight unjust wars of repression. Therefore spontaneous peace movements are needed to oppose militarism in Western countries - but are unnecessary in the Soviet Bloc, since the governments there are already peace-loving.

This Soviet position evoked instant rebuttal from both West and even East German participants. Peace movements are needed everywhere, they countered, because of governments' bias toward solutions by force. The superpowers have to be restrained -- and that goes for both the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Poland, and the US in El Salvador.

West German novelist Gunter Grass, a vocal opponent of the new NATO missiles, declared his worry about the Soviet SS-20s too. East German writer Gunter de Bruyn put in a plea for alternative nonmilitary service for East German conscientious objectors -- as demanded especially by East German Lutherans. A Swiss author obse rved that he found it difficult to speak about peace when the Polish free trade union was being forcibly disbanded.

The conference, called by East German writer Stephan Hermlin, was suddenly adopted and cosponsored by the official East German Academy of Arts. It was attended by a who's who array of authors, theater directors, composers, and scientists.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.