East Germany clamps down on its peace protesters
Bonn — The other German peace demonstrators are persisting, too. In the latest incident 17 East Germans, after fasting for peace for six days in the East Berlin Saviour Church, wrote an open letter to East German state and party chief Erich Honecker asking him to reject deployment of any new Warsaw Pact nuclear missiles on East German territory.
Echoing West German protesters' objections to new NATO missiles, the East German demonstrators argued that existing nuclear weapons are enough for deterrence, and that no more are needed.
The East Germans were implicitly referring to veiled Soviet threats to react to new NATO Euromissiles by placing additional short-range Soviet nuclear missiles in East Germany and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
For its part, NATO says that its deployment of new missiles - scheduled to begin in December if no arms control agreement is reached before then - is a response to the Soviet buildup of 243 SS-20s aimed toward Western Europe over the past six years.
It was not immediately known if the East Berlin peace demonstrators have been arrested. In recent months, the East German government has repeatedly arrested (or expelled) unofficial peace demonstrators. It has been relatively lenient with them, however, out of a desire not to alienate Western peace activists or get into all-out confrontation with the East German Lutheran Church.
The official East German position holds that only Western nuclear weapons are bad and threaten peace, while Soviet-bloc missiles are good and safeguard the peace.
Unofficial Eastern peace demonstrators who call for an end to missiles in the East and West are therefore treated as lawbreakers.
In comparison with the 1 to 2 million people West German activists expect to rally against new NATO missiles on their big protest day Oct. 22, the East German numbers are small. They are significant, however, because of their connection with the Lutheran Church, the country's largest denomination.
Almost all of the activists profess they are Christians who take their stand on the basis of Lutheran teachings. The church, while not officially backing them, sympathizes with their stand and defends their rights of conscience.
The East German government - especially in the 500th anniversary year of the birth of Martin Luther in which it is claiming the great reformer as one of its own forefathers - has therefore reached a modus vivendi with the church. It allows Christians to conduct closed-door peace discussions inside churches and to display posters at these meetings - as long as the discussions and posters don't spill out onto the public street.
When activists have carried their campaign to the public, the police have clamped down. Most notably, some 20 members of the most vocal peace group in the city of Jena were expelled to West Germany this summer. Another five of their members are reported to have been included in the latest batch of 350 East German political prisoners ransomed this August by the West German government.
Ironically, the precedent of expulsion has helped encourage demonstrations by some Jena residents who had for years been trying unsuccessfully to emigrate. In June, just after a sermon on human rights in Central America, a dozen would-be emigrants gathered, dressed in white, in a Jena square. They continued to congregate every Saturday for a quarter of an hour. And a few of them began painting on their apartment shutters Article 27 of the East German Constitution:
''Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the right to express the principles of this constitution freely and publicly according to his opinion.''
By mid-July, the Saturday demonstrators had swelled to 180 - and their curious audience to about 1,000. By the end of July, the police used clubs to break up the group and detained 30 or 40 demonstrators for a short period. By mid-August, however, authorities let some 50 participants emigrate to West Germany - while another 100 would-be emigrants are continuing the Saturday protests in Jena. After the Aug. 6 and 13 demonstrations, three young participants were arrested, West German news agencies reported.