Fighting the takeover: East German students resist the attack on their universities


East German students on the march

By Kath Gelber

BERLIN — "Westies and Easties interpret the Federal Republic of Germany in different ways; the point however is to change it." This banner paraphrasing Marx decorated the foyer of the Humboldt University in East Berlin for 20 days in December 1990 before the students there set off on a seven-day protest march from Berlin to Leipzig.

Only a few months after the Federal Republic swallowed the German Democratic Republic, students, among others, are feeling the pinch.

Reunification for the most part has not been a merging of the two Germanies, or an attempt to combine the better aspects of the old GDR (like free education, employment, access to abortion rights, low cost housing) with the FRG. Instead it has brought the almost total disintegration of the east and pressure on the "Easties" to dissolve into the "Westies" framework. This is exerted through means varying from bright stickers in new shop windows in the ex-GDR screaming "Consumerism — Just Great!" to a complete restructuring of the GDR's education system.

This restructuring consists of closing universities and technical schools, worsening the teacher-student ratio to bring it into line with the west by throwing more than 40,000 teachers out of work and a total virtual overnight change of course content. The new united, capitalist Germany isn't secure enough to allow a Marxist education system to openly criticise the process and methods of reunification.

Students all around the east are protesting. In Leipzig the Martin Luther University was blockaded and 12 students went on hunger strike, while local government representatives refused to meet and discuss with them. Slogans including "Free state of Saxony [an election slogan from December 2] — free of democracy" hung over the entrance of the main building. The students have taken their demands to the courts.

A sitting of the Saxon state parliament was disrupted by a protest of 2000 students and teachers in December, as politicians had to make their way through the crowd to enter the building. This group was protesting against the proposed closure of the Journalist Section of the Karl Marx University in Leipzig, the German School of Sport in Leipzig and the Literary Institute. The protesters demanded the resignation of education minister Hans-Joachim Meyer.

At Humboldt University, students began their occupation on December 13 and continued it 24 hours a day during Christmas and the New Year. They organised a cultural program with visits by artists expressing solidarity with their protests, including well-known GDR author Christa Wolf. They received food and about $A4500 in donations.

On January 1, about 50 set out on a seven-day, 200 km protest march, culminating in a day of action at the Karl Marx University

in Leipzig. They were also planning a two-day protest strike and further actions to unite all students affected by the changes. Their action so far has been actively supported by the University vice-chancellor (who walked with them the first leg to Potsdam on January 1) and many teachers.

The students' demands are fundamentally democratic: they want to be involved in the restructuring and renewal process themselves. In the words of a spokesperson (Susan Arndt) from the Humboldt Uni Student Union, they want to "present an alternative".

In an interview which appeared in the West German left-wing daily Tageszeitung on January 2, she said some "students see the closures in the context of an attack on the identity of ex-GDR citizens. Then there are students who are worried they won't be able to finish their course. And there's a psychological motivation: that people feel betrayed and unfairly treated. General consensus holds that the closures represent a politics that in itself must be rejected."

Arndt discounted assurances by some politicians that all students will be able to finish their courses as a "delaying tactic". She said it was impossible for the students to continue to study at a university "that has been declared ideologically contaminated" and that the protests will continue until "we are accepted as partners in the process of self-renewal".

The protests are not only against the closure of unis and courses, and the retrenchment of teaching staff, but against the "brutal acquisition of the GDR by the FRG" said another spokesperson of the East Berlin students, Steffen Oelsner. n