Price of reunification brings appeal for German 'collective movement'

July 14, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- "Committees for Justice" opened offices across the former Communist East Germany yesterday offering a new voice to easterners who have come to feel insecure, dissatisfied and dominated by West Germany in the three years since The Wall that separated them from freedom came crashing down.

Announced over the weekend as an appeal for a "collective movement," the committees are a proclamation in search of an agenda, somewhat more than a lobby and considerably less than a party.

The committees were cobbled together over the past few weeks by the odd-couple pairing of Gregor Gysi, head of the reformed and cleaned-up party that succeeded the Communists, and Peter-Michael Diestel, a member of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union who sits in the Brandenberg state legislature.

Dubbed Max-and-Moritz by more conservative observers, after the mischievous bad boys of the German children's stories, Mr. Diestel and Mr. Gysi were nonetheless able to enlist 67 former East German notables to join them in their movement for justice.

They are a dynamic duo, both in their early 40s and youthful looking. Mr. Gysi, a tanned, stocky, balding intellectual, and Mr. Diestel, a hand some bodybuilder who was East Germany's last interior minister, became frequent and articulate talk-show guests as they sought support for their movement.

The list of signers of the appeal they rounded up is a somewhat jittery alliance of intellectuals, politicians, novelists, educators, song writers, journalists, clergymen and theologians, actors and theater directors, a former mayor of Berlin and at least one Olympic gold medal winner. The roster is a little short on workers from the former workers state, unless rock singers qualify as workers.

The committees seem to be a somewhat opportunistic response to the frustrations of East Germans with the major, established West German political parties and irritations at West Germans in general.

The price of the reunification of Germany is often said to be unexpectedly high, almost always in terms of taxes and other costs borne by West Germans.

West Germans are frequently described as getting tired of paying the bills for East Germans, whom they often characterize as a pretty lazy bunch.

But the East Germans have also paid their price in lost jobs, rising prices for food and, especially, rent, homes reclaimed by people returning from the west, and declining social services.

They often see the free-enterprise, free-market system expressed as a real estate speculator who is renovating an apartment building bought cheap into luxury flats for West Berliners.

East Germans talk of being second-class citizens, of being "occupied" by the West.

The appeal for the founding of "Committees for Justice" tabulates a long list of grievances from "deindustrialization" to the closing-down of cultural and sport establishments.

The appeal talks of discrimination and humiliation destroying hopes connected with unification and demanding new ideas.

The appeal and the start of the committees aroused considerable comment from newspaper editorials, both for and against, to skeptical comment from people on the street corners.

"With a collective always comes a collection," said a disabled mine worker quoted by the leftist paper Die Tageszeitung, whose editor signed the appeal.

"They can come to me with a collection basket or pass the hat. On principle, I don't give anymore."

Leaning over his back fence, a small-town politician thinking about the East German past said: "The Gysi-Diestel Project will very soon no longer be a committee but a Central Committee."

And the conservative, establishment paper "for Deutschland," Frankfurter Allgemeine, called the formation of the committee a wake-up call for the big parties.

All of which seems to contradict Mr. Kohl's declarations at this month's Group of Seven meeting in Munich that everything was going just fine with reunification.

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