350,000 in Berlin rally against racism Egg-throwing leftists mar largest protest since fall of Wall

November 09, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- In Berlin's biggest demonstration since the fall of the Wall, Germans poured into the Lustgarten yesterday to prove to themselves, and try to prove to the world, that they are against racism, neo-Nazis and attacks on foreigners.

The rally took place on the eve of the anniversary of the 1938 Crystal Night pogrom that began the Holocaust.

But the rally against extremist right-wing violence was disrupted by a group of young people identified as radical anarchist "autonomes." They threw eggs at the speakers stand while German President Richard von Weizsaecker tried to speak and Chancellor Helmut Kohl stood listening.

Aides protected the government officials with umbrellas, and police blocked the eggs with their riot shields. It was unclear how many social, political and cultural leaders were hit. Mr. von Weizsaecker, for one, was struck.

Police finally waded into the crowd, swinging clubs, and pushed the hooting, whistling egg throwers back from the speakers' platform -- but not before they had cut the cable to the loudspeaker system. Fourteen people, all under 18, were arrested.

The melee was broadcast nationwide by television networks covering the demonstration.

Police estimated more than 350,000 people crowded in and around the Lustgarten, the grand square where Nazis once burned books and Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, in 1933 proclaimed a boycott against Jews.

The people yesterday came in support of the proposition that "The dignity of man is inviolable," as stated in the first article in the German Constitution. They were prompted by almost daily neo-Nazi attacks against foreigners, attacks that include firebombing refugee homes, desecrating Jewish cemeteries and savage baseball-bat beatings of asylum seekers.

Barely visible behind police shields, Mr. von Weizsaecker said, "Whoever pretends that they take up violence in Germany's interest assaults the name of our nation.

"Germany is neither a slogan nor a cudgel, but the land where our heart lies.

"We have overcome separation," he said. "We will allow no new borders to arise now."

Mr. von Weizsaecker, a grandfatherly, white-haired man who is the very figure of the decent German, was an unlikely target for egg throwers. Mr. Kohl already had been struck by eggs in a famous incident at a factory in a town just after his re-election in 1990.

The asylum question is extremely divisive in Germany.

In the Lustgarten, a great many, if not most, of the people and placards and banners called for preservation of Article 16 of the Constitution, which allows virtually anyone who enters Germany the right to apply for asylum.

An 80 percent increase in the number of refugees and asylum-seekers this year -- the number may reach 500,000 -- has sparked debate across the political spectrum and within many parties, and, many believe, most of the right-wing violence.

Mr. Kohl's Christian Democratic Union favors changing the Constitution. The opposition Social Democrats are in deep conflict over the issue.

Mr. Kohl's coalition partners, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria, favor abolition of Article 16. Theodore Waigel, the finance minister who is a CSU leader, found it prudent to stay away from yesterday's rally.

The CSU president of Bavaria, Max Streibl, said simply he wasn't coming because it was hypocritical. He found himself being praised by the extreme right Republikaner Party.

Leftists in the crowd found themselves agreeing with Mr. Streibl.

"This official demonstration is hypocrisy," said Barbara Petersen, a 40-year-old layout artist who came with a loose collection of leftists that perform anti-government satires.

"They are not honest. Kohl and even the Social Democrats want to abolish Article 16. Today we have to go beyond satire to cynicism."

She indicated a sign reading, "Enjoy racism light," a parody of light beer ads.

"German treatment of thousands of people at our borders is "light" racism," she said.

But many people also seemed to echo Brunhilde Strehl.

"I'm 50. I'm a hausfrau," she said. "And I told my children I don't think it's a good thing that only young people take the trouble to demonstrate.

"I will go out on the street, I told them, and I will show my solidarity with the asylum seekers."

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