Clashes in East Berlin point up risks of glasnost in E. Europe
In January 1933 Nazi stormtroopers marched in torchlight parade through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to celebrate Hitler's swearing-in as German chancellor. In June 1953 workers protesting the East German Communist government pulled down the red flag atop the Brandenburg Gate.
In June 1987 East German youths who wanted to hear a rock concert that blared over the Berlin Wall from the West chanted at the Brandenburg Gate, ``The wall must go.'' They sang a German anthem as well as the Internationale (the communist anthem). And they were beaten up by police.
The incident is seen in the West as a graphic illustration of the risks for Moscow in Eastern Europe as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev lets more glasnost (openness) into the system, and East European populations press for the same developments in their own countries.
The disturbances happened three nights running (the latest clash was Monday night) as West Berlin youths defied cool rainy weather - and the police - to listen to outdoor concerts by the British rock stars David Bowie, the Eurythmics, and Genesis. Up to 4,000 young East Berliners gathered to hear the forbidden music from a scant 100 meters away over the infamous wall. With increasing roughness the police barred the youths from getting close to the Gate, which stands just inside the wall in East Berlin. On Monday night, at least 50 were arrested, according to West German reporters present, and perhaps a equal number injured in the scuffles.
West German correspondents were also roughed up by plainclothesmen, and had microphones and cassettes snatched as well. The West German government has protested the mishandling of the journalists.
The skirmishes were the worst in East Berlin since 1977, when a previous generation of youths clashed with police as a rock concert in East Berlin was ordered to end early.
So far as is known, the weekend encounters were the first in decades to turn overtly political. The youths chanted ``Bulls [police] out,'' ``We want freedom,'' and - in front of the Soviet Embassy - ``We want Gorbachev.''
After a three-day silence, the East German press service, ADN, said yesterday that Western reports about the incidents were ``fairy tales.''
ADN also accused the West Berlin city government of having been provocative in staging the outdoor concert so close to the wall.
Some West German commentators, cautioning against any exaggeration of the political importance of the clashes, point out how minor they were in comparison with the riots and plundering, primarily by disaffected youths, in the Kreuzberg District of West Berlin a few weeks ago.
West German politicians have quickly jumped in with their own observtions, however.
Hans-Jochen Vogel, the soon-to-be chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said the incident showed the unnaturalness of the Berlin Wall.