Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Commoners Beat Communists


MARLIS Flussen doesn't look like a demonstrator. A middle-aged matron, she wears a prim, proper dress and speaks in the soft, sure tones of a middle-class Fr"aulein. Indeed, that's her. Happily married for three decades, she is the proud mother of 21-year-old Stefan and 15-year-old Sandra. ``I never protested before,'' Mrs. Flussen says. ``None of us used to have the courage.''

More than anything else, it was the decision of millions of Mrs. Flussens - conservative, normally unemotional citizens - to stand up for their rights that toppled communism. For the past three months, she has participated in weekly demonstrations in this East German city. Leipzig's mass protests helped force hard-line leader Erich Honecker from office, made his successor Egon Krenz break holes through the Berlin Wall, and put his even more liberal successor Gregor Gysi on the defensive.

About these ads

Flussen tells her story from a pew at the impressive, baroque St. Nikolai Church. It is 4:30 p.m. For much of the past decade, the church has held a ``peace service'' each Monday at 5 p.m. In orthodox East Germany, the peace services attracted independent-minded individuals offering opposition views. Flussen isn't religious. Like many other Leipzigers, however, she started coming this fall because ``the church became the best place to get information'' about politics.

Hungary had opened its borders; streams of frustrated East Germans fled to the West. With elderly parents living nearby, Flussen couldn't leave. Her children didn't face the same constraints.

``I was terrified that I would lose my children,'' she recalls. ``My son Stefan was considering going. He was so frustrated with his prospects here,'' she says. ``I felt responsible as a mother to do something.''

The fear of losing her family overcame her fear of speaking out. On Oct. 9, she came to St. Nikolai. After the service, she joined the demonstration. She was scared - with reason. Police, prepared to shoot down the demonstrators, were called off only at the last moment.

Since that day, Flussen has missed only one Monday march - when she took her first trip to West Berlin.

The church is overflowing. After a Bible reading, the service turns serious. In recent weeks, the tone of the Monday night demonstration has turned nasty. One week, protesters stormed the seven-story stone headquarters of the secret police. Another week, banners calling for a united Germany appeared, complete with a map of the old 1937 borders.

In late December, the demonstrations were called off for two weeks to calm down the crowds. On this particular Monday, the pastor warns against too much emotion. If we are not careful, he says, violence could result.

About these ads

``People have lost valuable things in the last few months: hope, ideas, belief, peace, convictions, influence, status, power,'' he says. ``Let us all feel responsible for one another.''

At 5:50 p.m., the pastor tells everyone, ``go in peace.'' The crowd streams out onto Karl Marx Platz. The crowd is estimated at about 300,000 and almost covers the enormous square.

``This is not as many as in October,'' Flussen says. ``But it's not a bad turnout.''

Following speeches of caution delivered from the Opera House balcony, the crowd pours down the main boulevard toward the train station. They start off in good-humor. Many chant, ``Bravo, Bravo.'' Others shout, ``We are the people!''

``Everybody has real dignity,'' says a high-spirited Flussen. ``The greatest thing about it all is that everything we've done, we've done it without violence.''

But as she speaks, the shouts begin: ``Germany, Germany! A single Fatherland!''

Flussen agrees. ``We should be united,'' she says. ``There's no reason to keep us apart. Why should I live worse than my relatives in the West?'' We should have a referendum on the issue.''

The demonstrators start breaking up into groups. Anti-unification youngsters wave banners proclaiming, ``We don't want a Fourth Reich.''

``If Germany unites,'' one explains, ``then we will become aggressive.''

Pro-unification people heckle them: ``We've been cheated for 40 years,'' an older man shouts. ``I won't be cheated anymore.''

``We're definitely in the minority,'' the younger anti-unification protester admits.

Flussen is flustered. She doesn't like the bitter tone and decides to leave. She also must prepare dinner for her family. and has a 30-minute walk home. But she promises to be back next week: ``I'll keep coming until we have free elections,'' she says. ``I'm not scared anymore.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.