Next month, Germany will elect a new parliament. The Christian-Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to do well. Ms. Merkel, who is of East-German origin, is especially popular in the former West-Germany. In Merkel’s native East-Germany, however, there is a lot of nostalgia - “Ostalgie” (“Eastalgia”) as they say in German - for the days of the erstwhile Communist “German Democratic Republic” (GDR).
The post-war denazification process in Germany only affected the top brass of the regime. It seems the “decommification” process after the fall of Communism in 1989 has even spared some of the vilest collaborators of the old regime. With Stasi officers still active in Germany, it should come as no surprise that half of the former GDR citizens think the party of the former Communists is a respectable party.
A recent poll showed that 49% of the former East-Germans have “more good than bad” memories of life under Communist dictatorship. Half of the former GDR citizens feel that their hopes for a more comfortable life since the fall of Communism in 1989 have not materialized.
Die Linke, the German Left Party, is very popular in the East, despite (or perhaps because of?) the fact that many of its candidates were active supporters of the dictatorial regime two decades ago. It is difficult for the Christian-Democrats to criticize Die Linke for the immoral behavior of its leaders in the past, since some prominent Christian-Democrats in the Eastern provinces have an equally dubious past.
Saxony is the only state in East-Germany which has been governed by the Christian-Democrats since the German reunifaction in 1990. Its Prime Minister, 50 year old Stanislaw Tillich, was a member of the European Parliament from 1991 to 1999 before becoming a state minister in Saxony and finally the state’s leader in May 2008. Mr. Tillich is a Sorb, a member of Germany’s only ethnic minority. The Sorbs, also knows as Wends or Lusatian Serbs, are a Slavic people of some 60,000 who live in the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg. They are related to the Poles and Czechs and their freedom-loving spirit and religious attachment used to cause the East-German Communists a lot of trouble.
Mr. Tillich, however, appears to have been a collaborator of the Communist regime. Shortly after he became Saxony’s Christian-Democrat Prime Minister, the German press revealed that up to four weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mr. Tillich had been busy expropriating the house of an opponent of the Communist regime who had fled to the West. In the GDR, the property of refugees was routinely confiscated by the state.
The weekly magazine Der Spiegel wrote that Mr. Tillich was an informant of the Stasi, the infamous East-German secret police which spied on citizens and tortured and murdered “enemies of the state.” The magazine also pointed out that Mr. Tillich did his military service as a border guard, a position which, because of the risk that the guards might flee to the West, the Communist dictators never entrusted to those whose loyalty to the regime was uncertain. The border guards were under orders to shoot refugees, which resulted in the death of over 1,000 citizens.
Mr. Tillich’s spokesman accused Der Spiegel of “discrediting” his boss “because he grew up in the GDR.” Last May, however, the magazine, alleging that Mr. Tillich had deliberately cleaned up his biography, obtained a court order compelling the Christian-Democrat politician to disclose his GDR activities.
Next month’s elections will show whether German voters are bothered by Mr. Tillich’s past. They do not seem to be bothered by the past of many of Die Linke’s leading politicians, but perhaps the Christian-Democrat electorate is less forgiving.
Mr. Tillich’s past, however, is not the only GDR skeleton in Germany’s political cupboard. The newspaper Die Welt recently revealed that over 1,000 current German police officers have a Stasi past. 58 of the 730 employees of the Landeskriminalamt, the crime investigation office, of the state of Brandenburg, are former Stasi employees. Two former Stasi officers form part of the police unit protecting the weekend residence of German Chancellor Merkel. One of them even used to work for Abteilung III, the Stasi department which tapped telephone conversations from West-Germany.
When, in 2007, a member of the German Parliament asked the government how many former Stasi officers were working for the German federal police, the government answered that it is impossible to scrutinize over 60,000 personal files. A recent bill prohibits employers, including police departments, to ask for information concerning the Stasi past of employees. It is estimated, however, that at least 1,500 former Stasi officers are currently working for the German police, including former employees of Abteilung KI whose job it was to recruit citizens to spy on fellow citizens. After the reunification of Germany, the department which was set up to investigate the Stasi was allowed to register and investigate those citizens who had spied on fellow citizens, but not the official Stasi KI staff who had recruited the spies.