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Growing Number of E. Germans Say, 'I Like Gorbi,' but Local Leaders Are Nervous

December 27, 1987|GIRARD C. STEICHEN | Associated Press

EAST BERLIN — With their "I like Gorbi" buttons and their "We want Gorbachev!" chants, an increasing number of East Germans are looking to Mikhail S. Gorbachev to open their closed society.

The Soviet leader enjoys an enormous popularity among many East Germans because of his policy of glasnost, or greater openness on some issues.

For many, he is the embodiment of hopes that reforms could be implemented in East Germany, according to sources in the Soviet Bloc country.

But East German leaders have reacted nervously to Gorbachev's proposals, which also call for some economic decentralization.

Glasnost References Cut

References to glasnost in Gorbachev's speeches are deleted from time to time in the country's state-controlled news media.

And copies of a book containing Gorbachev's collected speeches, widely available in the West, cannot be found in East Germany.

"We don't have it," said a clerk, who works in one of East Berlin's largest international bookstores. "I don't know when it will be available."

The publisher of the East German edition of the book, Dietz-Verlag, said all the copies have been reserved for high-ranking party officials.

Kept Off Shelves

"They are deliberately keeping it off the shelves," said a young party member, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Newspapers containing Gorbachev's speeches on glasnost are quickly sold out and are often used, to the chagrin of party leaders, to back up demands for more openness at lower-level party meetings.

Buttons with a picture of the Soviet leader and the motto "I like Gorbi" are hot underground items, worn by young party members and dissidents alike.

In June, thousands of young East Berliners chanted "We want Gorbachev!" after police moved in to disperse a crowd that had gathered near the Berlin Wall to listen to an open-air rock concert in West Berlin.

'Gorbachev Our Hope'

In September, 1,000 people carrying Gorbachev posters demanded freedom to travel. One banner, written in Russina, said: "Gorbachev is our hope."

But such hopes have met with stiff resistance from hard-liners in East Germany's Communist Party, which loyally followed Soviet policies in the past.

Gorbachev's initiatives are causing increasing unease within the party's leadership because it is worried that changes in traditional political thinking are going too fast.

"The senile old men who hold power are doing everything they can to hold back the flood" of new ideas, another young party official said.

Western Influence Lamented

Party hard-liners have already expressed concern that too many East Germans are being overly influenced by the West.

They regularly tune in to West German television and radio broadcasts, and thousands of Western tourists visit East Berlin and other parts of the country each year.

Still, there have been some attempts to accommodate growing public pressure for more openness.

Erich Honecker, the East German leader, said recently that more self-criticism was necessary to overcome shortcomings in the "further development of socialist society."

Rare Acknowledgement

And in a rare move, the party newspaper New Germany acknowledged production quotas at machinery plants in several cities had not been met for November.

"We're trying out a little openness and democracy," a party official said of the newspaper report.

Glasnost was also the main topic at a recent state-sponsored writers' conference, where participants called for elimination of censorship.

There was no official reaction to the calls for more artistic freedom.

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