Thousands in Berlin protest Gorbachev's fall Many Germans glad unification was fast SOVIET CRISIS

August 21, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

BERLIN -- Germans in this once-divided city mourned yesterday the fall of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the man who freed East Germany and healed this country's postwar division.

Many here also confessed relief that German unity had been at least sealed before the maverick Soviet leader's overthrow.

Under a driving rain, about 5,000 people marched the mile from Wittenberg Square in downtown western Berlin to the historic Brandenburg Gate to show their support for Mr. Gorbachev.

"German unity, without Gorbachev, without perestroika, would not have been possible," said Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen. ++ "We want the people in the Soviet Union to hear us from here: We are standing at your side."

Mr. Diepgen, who belongs to the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative party of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, noted that reunited Germany had not even celebrated its first birthday before events had changed the situation in Moscow.

"We have to be thankful we moved so quickly," he said.

Mr. Kohl has come under intense criticism for uniting East and West Germany too rapidly, raising taxes and straining the economy in the west and causing massive unemployment in eastern Germany.

But that criticism was sapped with Mr. Gorbachev's ouster.

"Unity wouldn't be possible today," said Hans Ullwer, who marched through the rain to support Mr. Gorbachev. "It wouldn't be possible four weeks from now."

Hans-Jochen Vogel, a former mayor of West Berlin and the parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democrats, insisted the Germans owed a special debt to Mr. Gorbachev for steering German unity through the Kremlin.

"We cannot be silent while Gorbachev is being removed for all he did for Germany and Europe," he said, predicting the military putsch would fail. "The desire for freedom and peace is stronger than violence."

The marchers carried banners demanding "No More Communism" and "Perestroika Has No Way Back," and they interrupted the speakers with periodic chants of "Gorby!"

At the imposing former embassy building, now the Soviet Consulate, police made a halfhearted attempt to keep demonstrators from the sidewalk in front of the building but allowed them to place candles before a curbside banner that read: "Fascists Get Out of the Kremlin."

Over the consulate's brass nameplate, someone had plastered a portrait of Mr. Gorbachev, surrounded by flowers. Below was another bunch of flowers around a sign that said, "We thank Gorbachev and wish everyone democracy."

People here seem stunned, not just by the sudden reversal of power in the Soviet Union, but also by the possible effects of repression or civil war on Eastern and Central Europe.

"It's not just for Gorbachev that I'm here, but because Moscow and Leningrad are not far away," said Ramon Sotelo, a student in business administration.

While the new junta in Moscow has promised to honor all international pledges, including the timetable for the withdrawal of the remaining 270,000 troops in Eastern Germany, the presence of those troops does little to reassure Germans.

"The Soviet military has a history of acting individually, as in the case of [former East German leader Erich] Honecker, who lay in a Soviet hospital and left the country under unclear circumstances," said Guenter Buch, a specialist on the KGB at the Common German Institute.

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