SOUL-SEARCHING IN BONN. West Germans seek balanced way of dealing with civil dissent

West Germans still are groping for the best way to deal with civil dissent and violence in the wake of the murder of two policemen earlier this month. The latest test case is Hamburg's Harbor Street with its eight barricaded houses of squatters. Some of the squatters moved out this year after occupying houses for five years. The more militant have stayed on to make a fortress out of the houses and the street they have closed off to the public. Several thousand city police, reinforced by the Federal Border Police, currently surround the area.

Finding the right balance between rule of law and tolerance for the unorthodox is not easy for any democracy, but it is especially hard for a young democracy in a land of authoritarian German traditions.

The instinct on the right to toughen laws and enforcement has been strengthened by the policemen's murders, which occurred at a demonstration against extending the Frankfurt airport runway, and the looming eviction fight in Hamburg.

The contrary instinct in the left anarchist environment from which the killer(s) of the policemen at Frankfurt apparently came - to resist all government authority - also has been strengthened.

In the middle of the political spectrum, however, the shock of the unprecedented murders is working to challenge previous views rather than reinforce existing reflexes.

The Liberals, the junior party in the federal center-right government, have been the traditional champions of civil rights. But they are now weakening in their opposition to new restrictions on demonstrations. And various peaceful protest groups - including many but not all legislators elected from the countercultural Green party - are condemning what has by now turned into routine anti-establishment violence.

For the conservatives, the action that is now required is to outlaw the use of face masks at peaceful as well as violent demonstrations. The prime murder suspect, Andreas Eichler, was arrested after a stolen pistol with ammunition matching that which killed the two policemen was found at an apartment he frequented. He apparently was one of the ``autonomes'' dressed in black ski masks who fought with police at Frankfurt.

For the autonomes - the left anarchists who show up at various ecological, antinuclear, and other countercultural protests - the present confrontation in Hamburg is a rallying call to further rumbles with the police. Several thousand autonomes and sympathizers are geared for the next battle at Harbor Street in Hamburg.

For the Liberals the present rethinking will probably mean yielding to the conservative demand for a new mask law.

For years the Liberals have opposed a tightening of the law, arguing that,in what is a very conformist society, many demonstrators who have been identified have been improperly penalized in their professional life for exercising their right to assembly and free speech.

On Monday, however, party deputy chairman Wolfgang Gerhardt said masks are now widely used for a more sinister purpose - as ``initial preparation'' for violent battles with police.

A number of Liberal backbenchers oppose any change, but the party executive committee shifted over the weekend toward approving the new legislation when it comes up for a vote in early December.

Some left protesters like Green spokesman, member of parliament, and leading ``fundamentalist'' Jutta Ditforth still argue that the state should not possess a ``monopoly on use of force'' and that if protesters don't win their way in governments and parliaments that are biased in favor of the conservative establishment, then they are justified in practicing violence against ``things'' (though not persons).

People of this persuasion also often contend that since their grandparents didn't resist Adolf Hitler, they have the duty to resist today's (democratic) government.

Following the murder of the policemen in Frankfurt, however, such reasoning no longer goes unchallenged on the left.

Green ``realists'' such as parliament member Otto Schily and former Hessian Environment Minister Joschka Fischer, as well as spokesmen for various grass-roots groups, are now denouncing violence unequivocally and are calling on their followers to do so, too.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to SOUL-SEARCHING IN BONN. West Germans seek balanced way of dealing with civil dissent
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today