East Germany Lifts Travel Ban; Officials Indicate Sweeping Reform Ahead
Nov. 01, 1989
BERLIN (AP) _ Hundreds of East Germans fled to Czechoslovakia today after the government lifted travel restrictions, and a top Communist official for the first time said the future of the Berlin Wall could be open to discussion.
Also, East German officials acknowledged that the country's rigidly planned economy is in serious trouble and that sweeping reform may be on the way.
East Germany today lifted restrictions that had barred most travel to Czechoslovakia since Oct. 3. Former Communist Party leader Erich Honecker imposed the ban to stem the flow of thousands of refugees fleeing West through West Germany's embassy in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
New party leader Egon Krenz rescinded the ban and has also hinted that a new law giving East Germans greater travel freedom would be studied. Czechoslovakia is the only country East Germans can visit without permission.
Hours after the ban was lifted, more than 200 East Germans arrived at the West German compound in Prague.
Earlier, Communist authorities in East Berlin agreed to issue documents allowing East Germans in the West German Embassy to travel West. A similar arrangement is under way in Poland.
In Moscow, Krenz ruled out the idea of tearing down the Berlin Wall as well as the possibility of reuniting the two Germanys.
But in Kiel, West Germany, a Communist official for the first time publicly said the government may be willing to relax its view on the need for the Wall.
The opening of borders in other Soviet bloc countries was making the Berlin Wall's significance ''limited and illusory,'' said Johannes Chemnitzer, the top-ranking Communist in Neubrandenburg.
Replying to a question about whether that meant the future of the Berlin Wall is now open to discussion, Chemnitzer replied: ''Surely.''
Krenz held talks this week in Moscow with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to discuss possible reforms in East Germany.
Krenz said he and Gorbachev reached ''total agreement on all questions that we discussed,'' and said many of the pro-democracy demonstrators in East Germany's streets were showing their support for ''the renovation of socialism.
''In this sense I consider this a very good sign,'' he said.
On another topic, Guenter Schabowski, a member of the policy-making Communist Party Politburo, told a West German magazine the government must lift a wide range of subsidies on goods and services.
''We subsidize even flowers and taxi fares. That's an impossible situation,'' Schabowski was quoted as saying.
Schabowski, in the interview published today with the magazine Wirtschaftswoc he, or Economy Week, was quoted as saying the leadership also was considering an overhaul of the country's industry.
Schabowski said the leadership would examine whether the organization of industry into huge ''combines'' still makes economic sense.
The exodus of tens of thousands of East Germans has added to the mounting problems for the nation's industry, while continuing protests have increased pressure on the government to institute reform.
For years, the East Germany's Communist leadership has spoken of its economic system as an unqualified success. Although the country's standard of living has been the envy of many of its Soviet bloc allies, ordinary citizens still have to deal with many hardships.
Quality consumer goods are in short supply and buying a car can take 10 years.
A top manager told an East German newspaper that food and consumer goods supplies were falling far below the expectations of a dissatisfied population.
Heinz Warzecha, director of the machine tools combine named ''October 7,'' told the East Berlin newspaper Berliner Zeitung that more openness was needed in the way the economy was run and that such problems as inflation must be publicized.
''The level of food supplies, consumer goods and services in many areas does not meet the expectations that citizens of one of the 10 leading industrial nations have the right to expect,'' Warzecha told the government- controlled newspaper in today's edition.
''Whether we like it or not, the people are comparing us with West Germany and other capitalist countries,'' he added.
Warzecha said salaries should be linked to performance, asserting that ''whoever produces more deserves better pay.''
The Communist Party newspaper Neues Deutschland, in a front-page article today, also spoke of a lack of raw materials and workers in a machine took factory in Goerlitz.
Nearly 70,000 East Germans have fled to West Germany in recent months, and many are skilled, young workers.
West Germany's ARD television reported the opposition group Democratic Awakening has demanded a major change in East Germany's legal system.
ARD said the group has demanded the formation of a constitutional court, so that ''every citizen has the right to have the legal and constitutional basis of government decisions reviewed'' in court.