Trier, Germany, the birthplace of Karl Marx, erected a statue to celebrate the founder of communism’s 200th birthday Saturday, less than 30 years after communist regimes literally divided the country.
The west German town, just about as far from Berlin as one can be and still be in Germany, unveiled an 18-foot-tall statue of its native son Marx — covered before the ceremony in dramatic red cloth — to both cheers and protests.
VIDEO: Germany marks 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth by unveiling statue in his birth city of Trier, but celebrations risk being marred by protests over the divisive figure #Marx200 pic.twitter.com/T3ilXcD9HP
— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 5, 2018
“It is hard for many victims of the communist system to accept that a west German city is putting up a monument like this,” Hubertus Knabe, who runs a memorial at the site of a former political prison in East Berlin, told The Los Angeles Times.
The statue has some supporters in Germany, but it was donated by the Chinese government, and around 150,000 Chinese tourists visit Trier each year, where Marx lived for the first 17 years of his life.
Two high-level Chinese officials attended the unveiling of the Marx statue, underscoring the political reasons for China’s donation. The Chinese ambassador to Germany, Shi Mingde, explained that China had “modernized” the theories Marx laid out in The Communist Manifesto in such a way that it can achieve 30 percent of all global economic growth. “For that, we can thank Karl Marx,” Mingde said.
When the Trier council voted to accept the Marx statue from China in March 2017 by a vote of 42 to seven, the mayor, Wolfram Leibe, insisted that the town “should not hide him” one of its “most important citizens.”
“Thirty years ago, such a statue wouldn’t have been possible,” Leibe, a Social Democrat, said at the unveiling. Thirty years ago, in 1988, the Berlin Wall still separated East Germany under the Soviet Union’s rule from the rest of the country. “But today, with more distance to the socialism of the German Democratic Republic, is the right time to engage with Marx in this form too.”
The distance Europe may feel from Marx’s ideas isn’t a memory for some who escape repressive communist regimes. “Marxist states like the Soviet Union and Communist China are responsible for more than one hundred million deaths as a result of their insane quest to implement Marx’s utopian ideas in practice,” Marion Smith, director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., said in a statement in February.
Presiding over the statue’s unveiling was Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, who said Marx is not responsible for many of the atrocities committed by communist regimes. Saying repressive communist government did not properly implement Marx’s precepts is a trope nearly as old as communism itself, and led to some of the most bloody purges in Soviet Europe.
“Karl Marx was a philosopher, who thought into the future had creative aspirations,” Juncker said. “Today he stands for things, which he is not responsible for and which he didn’t cause, because many of the things he wrote down were redrafted into the opposite.”
Juncker went on to call Marx “the greatest thinker of modern times,” and said he was the “mentor of the revolution of the proletariat and working people all over the world.”
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