Gorbachev the Hope for East German Protesters With AM-East Germany-Protests, Bjt
FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ In 1953, Soviet tanks and troops brutally put down an East German workers’ uprising. But in 1989, pro-democracy demonstrators in East Berlin chant ″Gorby, Gorby, help us 3/8″
Many of the nation’s 16.6 million people view reform-minded Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who visited East Berlin over the weekend to mark the nation’s 40th anniversary, as a sign of hope for democratic change.
But the communist leadership in East Berlin will hear nothing of it, despite the growing exodus of East Germans who have fled to the West in the past month seeking more freedom and economic opportunity.
The official East German news agency ADN called the weekend protesters troublemakers who had been chanting ″slogans against the republic″ - referring at least in part to the cries of ″Gorby 3/8″
East German leader Erich Honecker Saturday dismissed the protesters’ demands and said their hopes were ″built on sand.″
Gorbachev told the 77-year-old Honecker of a Russian saying that ″he who is late is punished″ and urged the East German leader to consider reform.
By the end of the day Saturday, more than 15,000 people had taken to the streets in East Berlin and five other cities in the biggest protests in 36 years.
In 1953, it was the Red Army that crushed demonstrations and killed at least 267 protesters. More than 100 others were later executed for their role in the uprising.
Angered by economic hardship and increased productivity quotas, workers in East Berlin walked off the job on June 16, 1953. The following day, more than 12,000 protesters took to the streets in the city, and demonstrators also marched in Leipzig, Dresden and other major cities.
Soviet military commanders stationed in East Germany declared a state of emergency and sent in troops to quell the protests with tanks and guns. East Germany at the time was still under direct Soviet domination, even though the state was formed in 1949.
Communist authorities called the uprising ″a coup attempt supported by Western agents.″
Until recently, mass protests had been a rarity in East Germany.
This weekend, the protesters were emboldened by a Soviet leader - rather than wary of possible Kremlin intervention.
And although an estimated 380,000 Soviet troops remain stationed on East German soil, this time it was East German police who put down the demonstrations.
Witnesses and media reports said police chased, kicked and punched demonstrators. They also said hundreds of protesters were arrested and injured.
While Gorbachev’s visit was friendly and cordial, there were other signs of change between the two countries.
When Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev visited East Berlin for the 30th anniversary celebrations in 1979, his picture was on the front page of the Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland.
Ten years later, there was no Gorbachev picture, and there was no customary live television coverage of his arrival.