Full Citation

  • Title Rip in the curtain lets out a flood of escapers
  • Author Roth, Terence
  • Publication Title The Sunday Times
  • Supplement Title News Focus
  • Collection The Sunday Times Digital Archive, 1822-2006
  • Date Sunday,  Aug. 13, 1989
  • Issue Number 8609
  • Page Number 5[S]
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
Rip in the curtain lets out a flood ofescapers DRENCHED with sweat, his heart pounding, Mario crouched behind a bush in Hungary and looked at Aus - tria . He was still about 30 yards from the empty fence-posts that mark the border. Rusting coils of barbed wire were piled up beside them. The sight con - firmed what he had heard on West German television last May, that, incredibly, the Hungarians had torn down their piece of the Iron Curtain. Mario prepared for the final sprint in his escape from East Germany. The 20-year-old Dresden carpenter had arrived in Hungary last weekend (for what he had told his superiors was to be a holiday) and had promptly started making his way to the Austrian border. The bike he had bought broke down, so he continued on foot, walking all night. Near dawn on Monday, he spotted a watchtower and gave it a wide berth. • The freedom-run through Hungary has put the two Germanys at loggerheads. TERENCE ROTH reports from Giessen, the refugees' first goal "I was alone and nervous and scared," he said later at the refugee receiving-centre in Giessen, West Germany. "It's almost over, but you think of what will happen if you are caught: at least two years in prison and no chance of ever leaving [East Germany] again." Mario worked up his cour - age and forced himself to leave his hiding place.- He started to run. He stumbled on the un - even ground and couldn't seem to run fast enough. He could hear only his own breathing. There were no guards, no shouts, no warning shots. The empty fence-posts blurred past, but he didn't stop running for several min - utes — he doesn't remember how long exactly. He came to a village and saw Austrian li - cence plates. ¦ By Wednesday, Mario had been brought to Giessen, al - ong with dozens of other East German refugees. Within three to five days, he expected to depart, a newly-minted West German citizen (Mario, a gangly youth with shaggy blond locks, declines to give his full name for fear of caus - ing trouble for relatives back home). He can now expect to begin drawing West German unemployment benefit until he finds a job. East Germany is haem - orrhaging people this summer Frustrated by deprivations and rigid state controls, East Germans — youths especially — are leaving in droves. They arrive here reproaching their communist leaders for cling - ing doggedly to Stalin-era con - trols , even as the Soviet Union and other East-bloc nations make reforms. More than 55,000 East Ger - mans have fled to West Ger - many this year, and more than half of them are between the ages of 20 and 40. West German authorities expect the number to exceed 100,000 this year, well over double the 44,000 of last year. And if the trend continues, as West German authorities ex - pect , East Germany faces a cri - sis as its population of 20m is drained of its work-force , younger workers in particular. Since Budapest eased bor - der controls in May, those East Germans who cannot get a coveted exit visa have been slipping out through the rip in the Iron Curtain that Mario used. More than 300 have taken the more desperate step of hol - ing up in West German em - bassies and consulates in Budapest and Prague and at the permanent mission in East Berlin, hoping for passage to West Germany. On Thursday East Germany pledged that those who have gone underground in Hungary or are seeking asylum at West German diplomatic missions can return home and seek to emigrate without fear, Hungarian officials said. So far, nobody has accepted such offers . The dispute intensified on Thursday as the East German Communist party newspaper, Neues Deutschland, warned that West Germany was pro - voking East Germany to take a tougher stance on the refugee issue. At the same time, East Germany denied Western re - ports that it was sealing up its own border with Hungary. Tensions between Bonn and. East Berlin are at their highest level since 1961, just before East Germany erected the Ber - lin Wall to halt emigration to the West, says Peter Danylow, a specialist on East Germany for the German Society for Foreign Affairs, a Bonn think - ta nk . "It doesn't have the showdown character of the Wall era, but it is badly upset - ting the balance of coopera - tion and conflict that is peculiar to German-German relations," he says. For Erich Honecker, East Germany's 76-year-old party chief, "it should become clear that he has an internal crisis on his hands and only he can solve it by giving people hope for the future," Danylow says. The East German govern - ment has accused Bonn of meddling in its internal affairs by not evicting the East Ger - mans from West German mis - sions . The West German gov - ernment , whose constitution obliges Bonn to welcome East Germans with open arms, has responded sharply that the blame for the flood of refugees lies in East Berlin's refusal to accommodate a growing de - sire for reforms. In one concession, the Bonn government did close the doors of its East Berlin mis - sion last week, asserting that the 130 people inside had ex - hausted capacity. West Ger - man officials then urged East Germans to pursue legal exit routes. For three decades, East Ger - mans have been making hair - raising escapes. They've bur - rowed under the Berlin Wall or soared over it in balloons. Most sought to swim rivers or his Polish-built car to Hun - gary but got hopelessly lost in a border town. ¦ ' A villager looked at his East German licence plates and asked where he was going. "I took a chance and told him I wanted to get to the border, and he said he'd take me there in the morning," Joerg says. After a night of drinking wine, they drove to the border, where Joerg handed him the keys to his car and struck off into the woods. (East German refugees say they saw dozens of cars with East German li - cence plates abandoned near the Hungarian border.) After doubling back a few times to avoid watchtowers, Joerg got lost again. But a Hungarian forester pointed vault fences. Thousands have made it through, but dozens have been killed by border guards or exploding mines, and countless others have been caught and imprisoned. East Berlin withdrew its standing order to shoot on sight under pressure from Bonn, but it wasn't until the Hungarians dismantled their border fence as part of their own reforms that East Ger - mans got a better chance. Now the East German gov - ernment has mounted a disin - formation campaign. "We were still scared after we en - tered Austria," says Michaela, a petite 21-year-old textile worker from Dresden who ar - rived in Austria via Hungary a week ago. "We were told that the Austrians would return us to East Germany." him in the right direction. Enough get through to make it hard for the receiving centre at Giessen to keep up. Peter Hartmann, the centre's har - ried deputy director, chain - smokes cigars and describes how the throng rose from 1,300 a month in early 1988 to 3,400 last January, then to 5,000 a month in April, more than 8,000 in May and nearly 10,000 in July. Doris Cornelsen, an analyst at the German Institute for Economic Research, says East Germany already has prob - lems maintaining a steady workforce as its population ages. East Berlin already has imported 100,000 workers from Third World communist countries, including 43,000 from Vietnam and 14,000 from Mozambique. Then there is the omni - present East German state sec - urity agency, the Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit. "The 'Stasi' are everywhere," says Ingo, a 24-year-old machinist from Erfurt who escaped through Hungary last week - e nd . "Most of their 'ears' are people who committed minor crimes but got off with the promise to listen in the discos and the factories to what you're saying." He recalls how a fellow worker sauntered over re - cently to ask why Ingo was going to Hungary for holiday. " 'Come on,' he tells me, 'just between us, you're going to hop to the West, aren't you?' I kept my mouth shut." On the other hand, many of the East German refugees re - count tales of the help they received from Hungarians. Joerg, a 32-year-old machinist from Potsdam, says he drove "If they continue to lose their own workers at 100,000 a year, especially from the young generation, they are cer - tain to be faced with a big problem," Cornelsen says. Once past initial adjust - ments , the East German refu - gees have tended to become quickly integrated into West German society. But there is some initial culture shock, beginning when the refugees step off the train. West Ger - man salesmen, sensing an opportunity, have descended on Giessen, hawking every - thing from life and medical insurance to new furniture. "We try and ease the culture shock as much as we can," says Hartmann. "The two Germanys have grown so far apart in social and economic development that this is a first step into a new world for them."The Wall Street Journal Frontier of hope: a Hungarian guard cuts the border wire Freedom: jubilant young East Germans take a train from Vienna to a West German future