When a better life is just a swim away, cops and neo-Nazis don't seem to matter

October 01, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

SLUBICE, Poland -- The emigrants gather in the park at the end of the bridge into Germany. They spread maps on the grass and dream about crossing.

And then they end another empty day of waiting, watching the red-gold ball of the sun go down beyond the twin spires across the river in Frankfurt an der Oder.

Germany is their golden dream. Some of these people are refugees, some seek asylum, some just want to make money. All of them want a better life.

They have been coming in droves from all over Eastern Europe since the fall of communism two years ago and the simultaneous loosening of borders. Their goal is tantalizingly close. The Oder River here is no more than 150 yards wide, slow, shallow and full of sand bars, an easy swim.

"I'm not waiting," says Sacho Tihomirov Anguelov, who is sitting with his buddies on the balcony of the Drink-Bar Aga.

"If I don't get a visa, I'll swim the Oder," he says. "I'll look and look and find a place where the water is shallow."

From the balcony of the Aga he can see the levee along the edge of the river just past the gas station across the street. He knows the flood plain begins there and then the river waits.

At night, the lights on the Frankfurt side beckon like an illuminated invitation.

"I'm Bulgarian," Mr. Anguelov says. "That's why I can swim. We have the Black Sea."

Across the river, where Mr. Anguelov believes his dreams will be fulfilled, many people are fed up with the foreigners coming to seek asylum and take work. Neo-Nazis attack asylum shelters and refugee centers virtually every night. Foreigners are attacked on the streets of major cities.

Major voices in the big German political parties want the constitution modified to restrict the liberal political asylum law and cut down the number of foreigners coming into the country.

But Mr. Anguelov doesn't care. He's 21 years old, handsome as an Armani model and wired with energy. He's wearing a Puma sweat suit and a new pair of tennis shoes. He has a great shock of curly black hair, dark skin and a three-day growth of black beard.

He knows discrimination. He's a Bulgarian Turk. Most of the people waiting in Slubice now are ethnic Turks from Bulgaria. There are Rumanian and Bulgarian Gypsies, too. But they are less visible.

Mr. Anguelov says he was persecuted and discriminated against in Bulgaria, even though his family has been there for 150 years.

"Bulgaria is very, very difficult. The kids don't have enough to eat. There are no jobs. Gypsies and Turkish Bulgarians are all politically persecuted.

"There are no laws to protect us," he says. "I wanted to work after school, but as a Turk you don't get a job."

He becomes intense and animated. He punctuates his phrases with slashing gestures and whistles.

"I wasn't treated like a human being," he says.

"If you're a Gypsy or a Turk in Bulgaria and you steal a chicken, you get five years," he says. "A Bulgarian only gets seven years for killing a person."

But he says that he never stole a chicken and that he was never in jail.

"When I think of Germany I get tears in my eyes," Mr. Anguelov says. "I want to be free. I don't want my kid to grow up to be a gangster. I want him to have a job."

He wants to cross the river.

Slubice, this place where he waits, is a shabby, run-down town where all the shops look like Goodwill stores. It was once German and a suburb of Frankfurt. Now it's just a place on the wrong side of the river.

In Slubice, Gypsies live in "privat zimmer," private rooms, according to Sylvia, a Polish guide and interpreter who won't reveal her last name or where she lives.

The Bulgarian Turks, if they have money, stay at the Hotel Polonia or at a former military hotel called the Garnisonovy.

If they don't have money? "Quite a lot of people sleep in the park," Sylvia says. "But it's getting cold, and there are not so many now."

The Polonia is a seedy and suspect place on the edge of the park.

"They sleep in the lobby when the hotel is crowded," Sylvia says.

Two men had their throats cut in the Polonia about a week ago, according to Sylvia. Their bodies were tossed out the window. They were in the black market.

"There used to be more families," says Sylvia, who hangs out at the Polonia. "Now there are more single men."

Mr. Anguelov is married and has an 8-month-old son. His wife rTC and son are having a hard time back in Bulgaria, he says. He'll bring them as soon as he gets a job someplace.

He came by bus, a four-day trip. In Slubice, he supports himself by trading on the black market. "Shoes, shirts, cars," he says.

A brisk "Schwarzarbeit," literally black work, illegal moonlighting, operates along the border to guide people across.

"You can see them cross almost every night on rubber boats," Sylvia says.

The Schwarzarbeiter charge about 200 marks a person, about $145, to make the crossing. But upriver at a village called Gubinek kids lead people across for 50 marks a head, $35.

"We never get caught," a youngster named Leszek told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

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