Lodi News-Sentinal/California 10.04.1984


Walling the people in

Doug Bandow

WASHINGTON - East Germany has begun constructing a second wall behind the infamous Berlin Wall, to make escapto the West even more difficult.

The new wall, which is 3 feet taller than the old one, is expected to stretch all the way around West Berlin's free oasis in East Germany's communist desert.

Ironically, the first concrete blocks for the new wall were laid only hours before two East German border guards scaled the wall. Assigned to watch each other, they fled together to the West.

From the end of World War II until 1961, 2.7 million East Germans went West; since the construction of the 100-mile wall around the city of West Berlin and the fortification of the 855-mile East-West German border, 192,000 have escaped. As the weapons employed to keep the people in have become more deadly - watch-towers, barbed wire, electronic alarms, automatic shrapnel-firing guns, land mines and camouflaged trenches - the ingenuity used by people to get out has expanded.

People have smashed through the wall with bulldozers and trucks; slid over the wall on a rope hooked between buildings and flown across the border in a hot-air balloon.

Unfortunately, courage was not enough for the more than 1,000 East Germans killed as they attempted to flee. Even believers in the communist ideal have a hard time explaining why the German socialist paradise must murder its people to hold them in: Dean Reed, a U.S. expatriate living in East Germany, says his adopted country has "the right to defend itself with this wall" against saboteurs and spies, but admits that escapers being gunned down "is a problem."

Yes, a problem.

But the real bakruptcy of the communist system is the spiritual malaise that envelops it. Legal emigrants from East Germany - who are increasing as Communist Party leader Erich Honecker tries to refurbish his country's world image and get rid of discontents - report a barren, repressive life and an increasing mood of despair throuthout the country.

"The worst thing," one emigrant commented, "is the passivity; the people have no interest in working anymore."

As a result, it is estimated that a half-million people, out of a total population of 17 million, have applied to emigrate.

Tragically, the inhumanity of East Germany is only magnified by the Soviet Union. When Yuri Andropow died, President Reagan called on the Soviet Embassy to express the sympathies of the U.S. people, but the Soviet people deserve our condolences not for his death, but for the fact that he was replaced.

Andropov went to the grave after burying countless others, from Hungarian freedom fighters in the ill-fated 1956 uprising to Soviet dissidents. The new party boss, Konstantin Chernenko, appears not to have risen to power upon such a tide of blood, but during Josef Stalin's great purge before World War II he was a local chieftain in the secret police and carried out torture and executions in the city of Dniepropetrovsk.

The Soviet Union doesn't have a wall, but it doesn't need one since it is bounded by other communist states. The material and spiritual deprivation there is even greater than in East Germany; Vladimir Golyakhovsky, a privileged Soviet surgeon who emigrated to the United States, has just written a book, "Russian Doctor" (St. Martin's Press), that paints a portrait of ruthlessness, widespread alcoholism and overwhelming moral depression.

Is there no hope for the people enslaved by such systems? Argentina, at least, is showing a different way. In 1976 the military deposed the civilian president and embarked on a "dirty war" during which between 6,000 and 30,000 opponents of the regime simply disappeared. A failing economy and the humiliating defeat in the Falklands war led to the collapse of the military junta and elections late last year. Raul Alfonsin gained widespread support from the middle class and was an upset winner; he has re-established the rule of law and begun prosecuting former military leaders for their cimes.

Journalist Jacobo Timmerman, who was tortured and then expelled by the military, describes the changes as "new expressions of life." Someday those new expressions may spread inside the most totalitarian of nations.

Man's inhumanity to man is as extraordinary as it is widespread. Unfortunately, we never will find justice in this world; only a power greater than man, in a domain greater than our own, will strike the final balance.

But we never should give up. West German Carl-Hermann Retemeyer runs the Central Data Registration Agency, which collects information on crimes committed by East German officials, like the murder of people climbing over the Berlin Wall, for use in trials when the Germanys are ultimately reunited. Though none of the 31,116 cases collected so far has been prosecuted, and probably never will be, Retemeyer - and we - still can dream.

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Letzte Änderung: 2010-06-28