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Troubled Winter In Eastern Germany; Bonn Admits Conditions Worse Than Thought

February 13, 1991

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) _ The heady days of revolution have given way to a winter of hardship in eastern Germany and an acknowledgement by Bonn that conditions are worse than it originally forecast.

The central government on Tuesday was forced to step up a cash infusion of billions of dollars to keep afloat the former Communist land, hit hard by widespread unemployment as obsolete factories grind to a halt.

″The task is much more difficult than we may have imagined,″ Economics Minister Juergen Moellemann told a news conference in Bonn on Tuesday.

In Leipzig there is resentment to the hard times among those who set in motion the mass street protests that toppled the Communist regime of former East German leader Erich Honecker.

″We didn’t take to the streets in October 1989 to get this,″ said Pastor Christian Fuehrer, a leader of the peaceful uprising that led to German unification. He said more than 120,000 city residents have been affected by job cuts.

″We wanted to improve the system. We wanted more humane conditions for the people in our country. Now we have another emergency to contend with,″ said Fuehrer, the pastor of Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Lutheran Church.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government in Bonn said Tuesday it was sending about $6 billion to the east this month to help cities and towns cope with financial crises. That’s up from $3.8 billion in January.

″Producing unified living standards, of an economic and social kind, will take longer than some optimists, including myself, originally believed,″ Moellemann said.

The action Tuesday means Bonn will have already spent 40 percent of the money budgeted from the German Unity Fund for 1991. Officials insist the financing will not continue at such a rapid pace and is considered a stop-gap measure.

The new pledge of aid came with an admonition to local leaders to develop their own sources of revenue - a difficult task with so many people out of work.

A day earlier, Leipzig city councilman Peter Kaminski had said many cities and towns in eastern Germany would not have the money to meet payrolls at the end of February.

While the latest infusion of cash will keep the wolf away from the door for now, local leaders may well run out of money weeks or months down the road.

Kaminski said the world was watching Leipzig to see how the cradle of the revolution deals with the financial crisis.

Defying the brutal, Communist secret police, tens of thousands of former East Germans took to the streets of Leipzig in the fall of 1989, setting in motion the nation’s peaceful revolution for democracy.

One year later, the two German states merged, redrawing the boundaries of postwar Europe.

Now as a bitter February cold grips Germany, the two sides of the country are at odds.

Western Germans say much of industry in the east is not salvageable. And there have been doubts about the easterners’ willingness to pull themselves out of their slump.

While western salesmen are hawking everything from cigarettes to cars and clothes in the east, solid investment has lagged behind pre-unification expectations. The Persian Gulf War has further crimped any spending.

But recent developments in eastern Germany show the growing need:

-In a work force of 9 million, an estimated 2.6 million eastern Germans are either unemployed or working hours that amount to little more than drawing unemployment checks. Federal Labor Minister Norbert Bluem says the job market could collapse unless there is swift action to resolve the issue.

-Government officials, judges and prosecutors have been heading east to help out, but even they say more support is needed.

-The Federation of German Industries says not to expect any economic upturn in eastern Germany until next year. And even that could be delayed further by a long war in the gulf and recession in other Western countries.

-A government board is having trouble selling off the 8,000 state-owned businesses, virtually none of which are turning out competitive products.

Eberhard Enders, the vicar at the St. Nicholas Church, predicted ″another revolution″ if enough money wasn’t forthcoming from Bonn. ″The situation is explosive and people are dissatisfied,″ he said.

Many eastern Germans now say they initially hoped for a vaguely defined ″third way″ combining socialism and capitalism.

″I agreed that something had to change, but I wasn’t in favor of quick unification,″ says 26-year-old Petra Leichsenring.

Leichsenring, a mother of two, now spends five hours a day selling fruit at a makeshift stand in the city center for a take-home pay of $345 monthly.

Nearly everyone has a list of woes to rattle off, including rising crime, homelessness, and a legal system in chaos.

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