Berlin honors two anti-war martyrs

BERLIN – On Jan. 12, over 80,000 people kept alive the tradition of visiting the memorial sites of two great left-wing leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, on the second Sunday in January. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were imprisoned during World War I for opposing the war. The two helped to found the German Communist Party, Jan. 1, 1919, two weeks before they were murdered by far-right army units, predecessors of the Nazis.

Prominent, this year, were two big banners demanding the release of U.S. death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. But the prevailing theme was the threatening war in Iraq. Most of the signs and banners denounced U.S. “warlords” like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and demanded peace – not only from Bush, however, but also from the wavering German Chancellor Schroeder and Foreign Minister Fischer. Both were loudly opposed to the war before the Sept. 2002 elections, but have been slipping and sliding around since then, affirming and denying positions, refusing to withdraw tanks from Kuwait or naval vessels from the Horn of Africa. They repeatedly stress what one journalist called an “absolute and unequivocal MAYBE position.”

The tradition of walking to the grave site, now marked by a large stone slab and ringed by the urns of many leftwing and German Democratic Republic (East Germany) personalities who died in the years that followed, was begun in the 1920s.

The impressive monument, designed by the famous architect Mies van der Rohe, was destroyed by the Nazis, who prevented further marches. But the custom was picked up by the GDR after the war.

After the GDR’s demise the custom was kept alive on a far less formal basis, with thousands of people, old and young, mostly East Berliners, coming with red carnations during the whole Sunday morning.

At the same time, a mostly younger, more militant group, walked several miles with banners waving and loudspeakers. For some years there was antagonism between the two demonstrations. An army of visored police with helicopters, horses and vehicles, attacked the banner-waving section, even brutally arresting random participants.

But with the year-old Social Democratic-PDS coalition government here the police dropped their belligerency.

The two different sections mingled harmoniously on the final part of the route, which is flanked by countless booths offering leftist gazettes, books old and new, petitions as well as sausages or gulash.

Despite some long-standing differences, all were united in opposing a war, and plans are underway for the international march against war on Feb. 15.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org