The Guardian 18 May, 2005

Berlin marks liberation with mixed signals

Victor Grossman

BERLIN: Many Germans still debate whether the end of the war 60 years ago is cause for jubilation or mourning. The current government calls it “Liberation Day” especially on major media occasions, but it doesn’t forget the mourning part, either. This duality is perhaps best captured by the coinage of the word Jein, a combination of Ja (yes) and Nein (no).

In Berlin the 60th anniversary ceremonies marking the end of World War II in Europe were threatened with disruption by neo-Nazis. The National Democratic Party (NPD), a well-financed, pro-Nazi group that chalked up alarming gains in state elections in Saxony last year, applied to hold a parade at Berlin’s cherished Brandenburg Gate, not far from the new Holocaust Memorial, on May 8.

There was a storm of protest in many countries several years ago when the same band of booted, tough-looking thugs marched through the Brandenburg Gate just like Hitler’s soldiers in years gone by. A repeat would never do.

There was talk of banning the party, something tried three years ago without success. The matter was thrown back and forth between judges and politicians; it was finally ruled that the neo-Nazis could not march to Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial, but could march down Karl Liebknecht Strasse and the famous Unter den Linden Boulevard.

Political leaders then announced a counter-demonstration at the gate, to be preceded by a candlelight vigil in East Berlin the night before.

The vigil, which drew thousands, was smaller than hoped for; the evening was icy and rainy. On May 8, however, tens of thousands of people showed up at Brandenburg Gate, wishing to show their anti-fascist feelings. What they got instead were songs, dances, a few bland statements, and booths with food and drink. They could also watch, on a big television screen, President Horst Koehler deliver a speech against the Hitler regime and its crimes, which, he said, “must never happen again.”

Koehler larded his speech with attacks on the (East) German Democratic Republic, whose people, he commiserated, suffered from 1945 until 1990 when they achieved the freedom and blessings lucky West Germans had been enjoying all along.

Among less pleasant blessings, which Koehler barely mentioned, is the 20 percent unemployment rate in eastern Germany. Such joblessness, especially among young people, has fed widespread despair and has led some to gravitate toward the neo-Nazi movement.

Koehler called for a search for the roots of Nazism’s rise, so as to prevent its return, but did not say a word about giant conglomerates like Siemens, Thyssen-Krupp, Bayer, BASF (parts of the old IG Farben trust which ran Auschwitz), or the major banks and insurance companies — all of which financed Hitler’s path to power and made billions from the war, especially from slave labourers and concentration camp prisoners who toiled and died in their factories. The same companies rule much of the roost today.

As for the neo-Nazis, about 3000 assembled. Not all were skinheads, not all had fat napes and violent, tattooed slogans, but enough did to make them look very vicious indeed.

Thousands of police, many on horseback or in squad cars, and some in circling helicopters, turned out “to protect the free demonstration rights” of the Nazis. They blocked off all access by anyone else to the entire route of march. Streetcar and bus routes were cut, subway and elevated stations closed down, and streets and bridges closed to all but proven residents.

While the anti-fascists couldn’t get close enough to curse or throw a bottle or beer can at the neo-Nazis, they were nonetheless able to effectively block their march.

The clear message to the neo-Nazis was that they were not wanted in Berlin, not by most Berliners, especially the 10,000 or more mostly left-wingers who stood in their way, recalling the terrible past which ended 60 years ago, said, “Fascism isn’t an opinion, it’s a crime!”

The neo-Nazis finally gave up and were herded out by the police to nearby trains.

Many politicians, after the ceremonies, will return to their veiled attacks against unwanted asylum-seekers and other “foreign elements”. They will continue cutting social benefits for workers, students, patients, pensioners and especially the jobless. They will never forget to carefully denounce the open neo-Nazis.

But these same jackbooted thugs, though kept from marching down Berlin’s most famous boulevard by several thousand anti-fascists, nevertheless had the whole downtown area of Berlin tied up completely on a day marking the end of Nazi rule.

Was that a real victory? The answer is again, “Jein.”

People’s Weekly World

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