Numbers at anti-reform protests dwindle
24 August 2004 , BERLIN - Organizers of anti-government demonstrations failed to mobilize 100,000 people to take part in protest marches in 140 cities throughout Germany Monday against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's unpopular economic and welfare reforms. The highly hyped revival of the 1989 "Monday marches" that helped to bring down the Communist regime of East Germany was unable to get more than last week's 80,000 onto the streets. As in previous weeks, the biggest marches were in Berlin, Leipzig and Mag
24 August 2004
BERLIN - Organizers of anti-government demonstrations failed to mobilize 100,000 people to take part in protest marches in 140 cities throughout Germany Monday against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's unpopular economic and welfare reforms.
The highly hyped revival of the 1989 "Monday marches" that helped to bring down the Communist regime of East Germany was unable to get more than last week's 80,000 onto the streets.
As in previous weeks, the biggest marches were in Berlin, Leipzig and Magdeburg in eastern Germany, where unemployment is running twice the national average of 10.5 per cent.
But turnout numbers were sharply lower than last week. Only about 5,000 turned out in Berlin, compared with 15,000 last week. And in Magdeburg, only about 10,000 turned out, compared with 20,000.
At issue are plans to reduce unemployment benefits that Schroeder insisted again over the weekend are necessary for reducing unemployment and maintaining a viable welfare system.
However, the marches organized by trade unions, leftwing lobby groups and the ex-Communist PDS party also serve as a forum for general dissatisfaction among East Germans with their plight in unified Germany.
Some 15 years after the Berlin Wall came down, more than 75 percent of eastern Germans polled in a survey released Monday believe communism to be a good idea in theory.
Over half of the people in formerly communist eastern Germany are disillusioned with democracy, said the survey by Datenreport 2004.
Some 25 percent of respondents agree with the statement: "There are other, better forms of government than democracy."
A whopping 76 percent of eastern Germans said they believed communism was a good idea that was only poorly carried out by the regime in former East Germany.
Protest organizers are convinced Schroeder will give in to demands before key elections in September in the states of Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony and local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia.
In fact, Germany is mulling further changes to a law reducing jobless benefits despite Schroeder's ruling out making such concessions, daily newspaper Die Welt reported, citing a government official.
Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement is already in talks with experts to adjust the law to the needs of more than 400,000 jobless people aged 58 or older, the paper cited Harald Schartau, a state labour minister and member of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD), as saying.
Schartau and fellow SPD member Matthias Platzeck, prime minister of the state of Brandenburg, are facing elections with their regional parties next month.
However, support for Schroeder's reforms came from an unlikely source. Leading conservative Roland Koch, premier of the state of Hesse, said he backs the plans, despite their unpopularity.
"At such a difficult time, everyone in Germany is well advised to bear with the decisions that have been taken. That applies to my party too," he said. "The law cannot be reversed."
Meanwhile, Schroeder's government published full-page advertisements in newspapers throughout the country explaining the unemployment benefit reforms. That move came after Schroeder's spokesman Bela Anda conceded the impact of the changes had become a public relations debacle for the government.
The advertisements attempt to dispel reports in the press about families facing eviction from their homes or having to hand over their children's piggy banks to tax collectors.
Subject: German news