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Protest by Dissidents at the Memorial March for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (January 18, 1988)

Regime opponents tried to use the annual SED-sponsored memorial demonstration for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to call for more human rights in the GDR. They quoted Luxemburg’s famous phrase, “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently,” and were subsequently harassed by the secret police.

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You Are Not Wanted at This Demonstration

“Brooothers, to the suuun, to freeedom …”

A rattling loudspeaker provides musical accompaniment as the “combat demonstration” for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht proceeds along its route through East Berlin. The bold, steady marching beat of the music is out of synch with the steps of the “workers” as they make their way to the memorial in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district. The cold is to blame, the puddles on Frankfurter Allee, the drizzling rain.

Way at the back, at Frankfurter Gate, talk of sun and freedom can no longer be heard that well, but one can read: “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” In front of the HO* department store for sports and leisure, a group of young people from the peace and human rights movement hold up a homemade banner with this Luxemburg quotation, but only for a few seconds. Two dozen middle-aged men in conspicuously inconspicuous GDR garb pounce upon them, tear down the banner, grab three or four young men from the group, and drag them by their arms to a police van parked nearby.

At the same time, other civilian security forces with large banners that obstruct the view stand in front of the cameras of Western television teams. Shouts from those being dragged away can only be heard a few times: “Freedom!” Someone in the group of protesters calls out, “See, that’s how this state treats its citizens.”

There is no echo in the crowd, no reaction. Even when another rabid Stasi action prompts two small children in the group of protesters to start screaming in fear and someone else is arrested there is no response from the onlookers. As if nothing had happened.

* HO: Handelsorganisation or trade organization – trans.

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