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Protests in East Germany (August 22, 2004)

In response to the introduction of another stage of labor market reform (Hartz IV), “Monday demonstrations” were organized in many parts of East Germany; these Eastern protests brought far more demonstrators to the streets than those in the West. The causes of the protests, according to this journalist, could be found in the unsolved problems of the past and in the lack of economic prospects for the future.

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Revolt in the East

Unrest is seething in the new Länder. The economic rebuilding of the East has stagnated. Many people feel like losers whose social safety net is now being taken away from them as well. Week by week, growing numbers of people are flocking to the demonstrations – but also to the radical parties on the left and the right. The biggest winner from the turmoil is the PDS.

Rainer Roth is an Ossi. Actually, these days one can even say: Rainer Roth feels like a real Ossi. Unemployed, an opponent of Hartz IV, a Monday demonstrator. Grew up in a country that no longer exists. Just a few weeks ago he would not have had to emphasize this. Then came the outrage over the labor market reform, and now every Monday people pour into the streets by the thousands to demonstrate against the government. “It’s a catastrophe that we in the East are being ignored like this fourteen years after unification,” says Rainer Roth. “A Wessi can’t understand this.”

Roth organized one of the first Monday demonstrations in the Brandenburg city of Senftenberg, about 140 kilometers southeast of Berlin – “formed a resistance group,” as he himself puts it. When he invited people to the first meeting at the end of July, he was expecting a handful of participants. In the end, 150 people squeezed into the pews of the Senftenberg church. Most of them wanted to paint posters that very evening and go out into the streets.

Their goal is clear: Hartz IV must go. The group announced that the first demonstration would be held on August 2. About 1,000 participants streamed through the city of 24,000. Two weeks later, Roth had already counted 3,000 participants. “And next time there’ll be even more,” says the forty-eight year-old. “By now, this has reached dimensions we hadn’t expected.”

The East is rising up. Last Monday, more than 80,000 people in the new Länder took to the streets to vent their anger about the consolidation of unemployment and welfare benefits into the new Unemployment Benefits II package. Whereas the West could only muster a few hundred demonstrators here and a few dozen there, the associations of the unemployed, unionists, and opponents of globalization in the East organized massive resistance.

They call their action “Monday demonstrations” in reference to the protests in 1989, the year of political change in the East. It doesn’t bother them that this time it’s not about resistance to a dictatorship but to a reform law. “The East is burning,” writes the Super-Illu*.

It hasn’t come to that yet. So far, the Hartz opponents in Leipzig, Magdeburg, Berlin, or Senftenberg are holding their peaceful demonstrations independent from one another. In the future they want to coordinate their protests. The activists are meeting in Leipzig next Saturday to develop a strategy. At that time, they are also likely to discuss whether SPD dissenter Oskar Lafontaine should speak in Leipzig on August 30th.

* The SUPERIllu is a popular weekly in the eastern part of Germany – eds.

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