Shadow of the Stasi's past | Germany | DW

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The dictatorship in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) also failed because the centralized planned economy managed the shortage above all. Oranges, cars or modern apartments were not a matter of course – on the contrary. If anything was booming, it was inflated state authorities and institutions. The most well-known and notorious example: the Ministry of State Security (MfS), popularly called "Stasi".

One of their most important resources was the huge army of so-called unofficial staff (IM). When the GDR collapsed in the peaceful revolution of 1989-90, almost 190,000 people spied for the Stasi. Converted to the 17 million inhabitants of the communist German state, one out of 90 was active as an IM. Among them conviction offenders, opportunists and blackmail victims.

A former SED newspaper in the hands of a Stasi spy

In this context, the former soldier Holger Friedrich comes into play. From 1987 to 1989, Frederick delivered incriminating reports about comrades from the National People's Army (NVA) and from the church environment. But he also had himself targeted the Stasi. Perpetrator and victim in one person? Exactly a few days after its exposure by the weekly newspaper "Welt am Sonntag" no one can (yet) estimate. And probably would have interested in the former IM "Peter Bernstein" only a few directly affected, if the now 53-year-old had not recently entered the media industry.

Germany publisher couple Friedrich in an interview (picture-alliance / dpa / B. Pedersen)

Holger Friedrich aka IM "Peter Bernstein" 30 years after his job for the GDR secret police Stasi

With the purchase of the "Berliner Zeitung" is one of the most famous former GDR Gazettes in the hands of a convicted Stasi spies. Such a story, almost film-like, causes a sensation 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Finally, from 1953 to 1989, the newspaper was subordinate to the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). After the political change, the editors gradually separated from GDR legacy. By the mid-1990s, all remaining IMs that had been flown had to leave the publisher. With this, the responsible persons wanted to prove their willingness to have credibly broken with the past. The more bitter it must now seem to them that their efforts are thwarted by the new publisher.

Stasi IM in your own family was not uncommon

Economically and publically, the "Berliner Zeitung", even without these circumstances, has a hard time asserting itself under market economy in the particularly competitive Berlin newspaper market. The dream of becoming a kind of "Washington Post" of the reunited German capital burst quickly. Several times changed the Berlin publishing house, in which the newspaper appears, the owner. But despite well-known editors-in-chief, among others from the "Spiegel" and the "Suddeutsche Zeitung", the newspaper has never quite got rid of its Eastern image. This should not change so quickly after the now known Stasi case.

Symbolbild International Press (picture-alliance / dpa / J. Kalaene)

"Competition is reviving the business," they say. The Stasi involvement of its publisher should rather harm the "Berliner Zeitung"

Apart from the journalistic reputation and economic risks, the Cause Holger Friedrich also shows how unpredictable the heritage of the GDR secret police is still. Published excerpts from his spy reports suggest that the IM "Peter Bernstein" has put other people at risk. According to this, he told his senior officer that he had heard a soldier say "that his younger brother is carrying emigration issues to Germany and West Berlin".

Editors in chief demand insight into all Stasi files

After his exposure, Friedrich claimed to have agreed with the soldiers he had eavesdropped, "which messages are forwarded to the MfS officer". A questionable representation, because following this logic, Friedrich's NVA comrade had deliberately left his brother to the Stasi. Why should he have done that? Because he was pressured? Or because he betrayed his brother for lesser motives? IM who spied in their own family were not uncommon.

Stasi Files Archive Berlin Germany (picture-alliance / dpa / S.Pilick)

The editors-in-chief of the "Berliner Zeitung" and the "Berliner Kurier" want to read the Stasi files of their publisher

Perhaps even the "Berliner Zeitung" itself succeeds in bringing light into the darkness. After the publisher's disclosure on 15 November, a transparency offensive was launched. Together with the also belonging to Friedrich Boulevard sheet "Berliner Kurier" one wants to "gather facts", it is said in a statement of the editors-in-chief. They desire insight into the Stasi files, "the victim and the perpetrator's file".

Victim Holger Friedrich? In fact, the Stasi also distrusted their informer and appealed "the so-called operative operation" Habicht "because of the well-founded suspicion of punishable acts. Friedrich was observed with it himself. This episode of his Stasi past sounds relieving. After being unmasked, Friedrich reacted in the "Berliner Zeitung" with an explanation in his own right. He was arrested on suspicion of "flight from the Republic" and confronted with the prospect of several years imprisonment.

In order to avoid the "acute compulsory situation", he declared his willingness to make a "compensation". The successful businessman wants to become a Stasi spy more than three decades ago. Until a few days ago he has not lost a word about it. Out of shame? For fear that he would not have sold him the Berlin publishing house?

In fact, it is unlikely that the deal would have happened then. Seen in this way, Friedrich's silence can be explained. What remains is flight from responsibility. Like so many Stasi IM exposed before him, he does not want to harm anyone. But where does Friedrich want to know that? The details that became known from his Stasi file suggest the opposite.

The Stasi case Holm burdened red-red-green in Berlin

His case seems to be more serious than that of the resigned in 2017 after a short term Berlin State Secretary Andrej Holm, which was set up by the left. Shortly after his appointment, it was announced that the social scientist had made false statements to the Humboldt University about his Stasi activities. The scandal temporarily endangered the newly formed state government of Social Democrats, Left and Greens.

As different as these two Stasi revelations are – neither one nor the other was revealed of its own free will. Andrej Holm finally got away with a black eye. The Humboldt University took after massive student protests the already pronounced notice back and left it at a warning. Whether the publisher Holger Friedrich survives his Stasi affair unscathed, is by no means certain. He has already damaged the reputation of his newspapers.

For Stasi files boss Roland Jahn the individual case is crucial

The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi documents, Roland Jahn, pleads in principle for a differentiated treatment of Stasi cases. Exemplarily he finds the behavior of the member of the Bundestag Thomas Nord. The left-wing politician had become known shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall for his Stasi past. "I would also like that from many others," Jahn said in an interview with Deutsche Welle in the summer.



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