Old Stasi Never Die

By Theil, Stefan | Newsweek International, December 10, 2001 | Go to article overview

Old Stasi Never Die


Theil, Stefan, Newsweek International


Retired police chief Manfred Kittlaus looked out at the angry teenagers and realized he had made a foolish mistake. While lecturing the civics class at an East Berlin high school, Kittlaus revealed that he had a longstanding admiration of Americans. The class of 17- and 18-year-olds was outraged. How could anyone respect the nation responsible for Hiroshima, the Vietnam War and the extermination of the buffalo?

Kittlaus should have known better. In schools across eastern Germany, anti-Americanism is all the rage. In Saxony, teachers gloated over the World Trade Center attacks. "America is finally getting a taste of its own medicine," one told students. In Hohenschonhausen, a Berlin residential district once favored by the communist elite, a political- science instructor penned a virulently anti-American manifesto and posted it on the high school's bulletin board. Since the United States is "a system that always brings criminals to the top like that racist Bush," it read, the idea of supporting America post-September 11 is "perverse."

The end of the cold war redrew Germany's map, but that was the easy part. Many of the attitudes cultivated over 40 years of government propaganda linger. Pollsters say the number of "Ossies" who believe life was better under totalitarianism rises each year. That disillusionment has fed perhaps the most disturbing development in Germany today: the ongoing influence of some of the very people who made East Germany notorious for brainwashing and repression.

They're the teachers who tell students that to be regimented in a dictatorship is better than a democracy's "society of wolves," as one East Berlin instructor puts it. They're the perpetrators of the Stasi secret police--who like the Nazis before them feel no remorse. And they're the rank and file of a suddenly resurgent Communist Party, which last month won 50 percent of the eastern vote in Berlin city elections. "The criminals we thought we'd gotten rid of are at the top of the ladder again, just like they used to be," complains Sigrid Paul, who spent 19 months in jail under the old regime.

Germany may be the victim of its own good intentions. In the name of tolerance and social peace, the reunited nation never purged its eastern elites. Only a few of the worst offenders lost their jobs. The Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit was the most intrusive secret police in history; its work produced 250,000 political prisoners. Hundreds died. Many more remain traumatized. But a German court granted their tormentors a virtual amnesty, ruling in 1993 that perpetrators can't be held accountable for actions that were "usual practice" under communism. Not a single Stasi interrogator, agent or administrator has ever been sentenced for the suffering he caused. To the contrary, Heinz Schmidt, a former Stasi chief, says he and his ex-colleagues feel "proud" to have defended their country against "parasites and saboteurs.

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