Hot autumn in Berlin


By Will Firth

BERLIN — The huge stone statue of Lenin no longer dominates the "United Nations Square" in Berlin's inner east. It has been removed despite the efforts of the deceased Soviet sculptor's family lawyer and groups of locals who wanted to conserve the monument.

They argued that the statue should be kept as a piece of history, reminding future generations that part of Germany was once part of the east bloc. Another argument for retaining Lenin on his pedestal was that he is a symbol of socialism, and socialism is a no less noble goal simply because its east European experiment turned out a fiasco.

An interesting hybrid of conservation and "desecration" was found in the proposal to keep Vladimir Ilich there and grow ivy up him.

Two other issues have been in centre of public attention. One is the influx of work- and asylum-seekers, which has anything but slackened in the last few weeks. In particular the war in Croatia has led to a new stream of refugees.

The wave of neo-facist violence against foreigners and refugees has temporarily eased, but the question is how long this will hold. The gang attacks are carried out mainly by young unemployed in crisis-stricken eastern Germany and are coordinated by neo-Nazi parties.

The police rarely offer protection, and prosecution of the offenders is more the exception than the rule. Mainstream Germany has condemned the attacks but taken next to no action.

On the other hand, progressive groups have organised large rallies and counter-demonstrations and also run very positive practical actions: in one case, Autonomists (semi-anarchists) and a church community in the Baltic port city of Greifswald organised protection and re-transport for a besieged group of refugees settled there against their will by West German church and government authorities.

A second big issue is the smashing of the once comprehensive social services in eastern Germany to the present level in the west. One example is the child-care sector. Currently full-time day-care in a creche or kindergarten still costs around A$40 per month with only a short waiting list.

Ninety per cent of children in east Berlin are enrolled in preschool institutions, whereas the figure in west Berlin is 69%. But even this is too high for Berlin's local government, which plans to slash the figure back to that of an average west German city, like Hamburg's 63%. Fees are also set to increase.

According to figures of the education-sector union GEW, the cuts would throw 9000 child-care workers in the east and 2650 in the west of the city out of their jobs. It's clear that these cutbacks would bring problems for parents, especially for mothers who are working (or nly expected to take over child-care.

Over all, it is women who are hardest hit by unemployment in eastern Europe: when a business shuts down, they're often the first to be let off, and for a new job they're the last to be chosen. Employers are now happy for more women to be in the home, and the "three K's ideology" of German traditionalism, "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (children, kitchen, church), is no thing of the past.

For the citizens of what was once East Germany, more and more illusions about capitalist reality are being shattered.