Protesters Denounce Communism for Killing Craftsmanship
EAST BERLIN (AP) _ More than 10,000 skilled workers held a rally Tuesday to denounce communism for killing East German craftsmanship and demand free-market reforms to revive it.
″We absolutely and unconditionally need conversion to a full market economy,″ Burkhard Schmidt, spokesman for the Craftmen’s Union, told The Associated Press before the rally. Many of those attending also favored reunification with West Germany.
″Better to close for four hours than forever,″ said Lutz Scheibner, an electronics repairman. ″We need to show the government we know what needs to be done.″
The rally was called on short notice, over the opposition of top union leaders still loyal to the Communist system that rewarded them with comfortable bureaucratic positions.
While Hans Modrow, the Communist premier, and opposition leaders dicker over how to share power before free elections May 6, the general attitude toward compromise has soured.
Pro-democracy advocates from the Social Democratic Party and New Forum declared Tuesday they were not prepared to negotiate a role in the interim government and said coalition talks have been postponed.
Opposition reluctance to prop up the government reflects the atmosphere of uncertainty in East Germany, which does not have a unifying pro-democracy figure like Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa of Poland.
Since they have no obvious alternative to the distrusted Communists, East Germans increasingly look to the West and call for unification with prosperous West Germany.
Up to 2,000 East Germans flee to the West every day, bleeding the country of skilled workers and undermining chances for economic recovery.
West German Economics Minister Helmut Haussmann was in East Berlin for the first session of a joint economic council searching for cooperative measures to bail East Germany out of its crisis.
Haussmann told reporters that Modrow has agreed to accept West German aid of 6 billion marks, or $3.5 billion, in the recovery effort, which Bonn has tied to reforms that would allow more free enterprise and foreign investment.
Weekly rallies by hundreds of thousands of people have moved from demanding reform to outright rejection of the Communist system that has guided the nation through its entire four decades.
ADN, the official news agency, said a clash between ″young leftists″ and supporters of German unity was narrowly averted at the rally of more than 100,000 people Monday in Leipzig, where zeal for reform is strong.
About 100 youths demonstrating against the rally’s overwhelming support for unification chanted slogans for continued East German sovereignty and were chased by irate members of the crowd.
Witnesses said only a priest’s intervention ensured ″the explosive situation did not escalate and end in violence,″ ADN reported.
Tuesday’s rally in East Berlin and other demonstrations for free-market reforms or reunification are quietly supported by West German industry.
Businesses in West Germany that seek access to cheaper labor and a ready market have supported the effort to establish an entrepreneurs’ association in the East.
Leaflets printed by the West German Council for Trade and Industry were distributed at the rally held to announce a free seminar on starting new businesses in East Germany.
As at recent Monday night rallies in Leipzig, workers at the Tuesday demonstration chanted demands for German unity and denounced the interim government’s search for compromise between a planned economy and capitalism.
″There is no ’third way,‴ said Schmidt, the Craftsmen’s Union spokesman. ″Forty years of socialism has proved itself a failure and there is no time for further experiments.″
His comments were greeted by nods and denunciations of communism from the crowd around him on the Alexanderplatz, in the heart of East Berlin.
Despite the short notice, thousands of independent shop managers and skilled workers shut down their businesses to march. In the crowd were artisans in leather aprons and beauticians in aqua-colored uniforms.
″Taxes of 75 percent are death to our crafts,″ a placard declared. Others read, ″Planned economy, no thanks″ and ″Down with the Communists.″
Under the old system, ″it was impossible for fathers to teach their sons the crafts they had practiced for life,″ said Andreas Wiench, a TV repairman. ″We need to cure this illness in our economy.″
Public demand for dissolution of the Communist Party has increased in recent weeks and threatens the leadership of Modrow, who has enjoyed relative public trust.
The resignation of his finance minister after allegations of irregularities added another stain to the party’s image and one of the most popular Communists, Mayor Wolfgang Berghofer of Dresden, has left the party.
Proposed regulations governing foreign investment have disappointed both Westerners seeking joint projects and East German businessmen who need cash and a freer hand to boost production.
Continuing lack of incentive to turn out more for the state has resulted in growing shortages.
The State Office for Statistics said Tuesday the 1989 economic performance was far short of targets, and some observers doubt the credibility even of the 2 percent growth claimed in the report.