Policing a Socialist Society: The German Democratic Republic

By Nancy Travis Wolfe | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6
Slaying the Dragon

Once the fangs of the ministry for state security had been drawn, the outrage of GDR citizens over past injustices was unleashed. As an identifiable and concrete malefactor, the MfS symbolized the distortion of Marxist-Leninist ideals by GDR leaders. Demands for its immediate and total extirpation during the months following the rejection of the Honecker government appeared to cast it in the role of scapegoat. It was tempting to attribute evils of the past to the MfS so that, with its abolition, the GDR could become "pure." Calmer analysts in the GDR as well as in the West cautioned against the lure of such an easy denunciation of the past. The MfS was, after all, merely an instrument of the SED elite, and thoughtful citizens asked themselves about their own responsibility in allowing the tyranny to develop and continue ( Berliner Zeitung, 20. 4.90: 16).

One of the leading political figures in the postrevolutionary scene, Ibrahim Böhme, contended that no one in the GDR could have a pure conscience ( Die Tageszeitung [Ost], 17. 4.90:1). 1 The chief law enforcement officer of the de Maizière government, minister of the interior Peter-Michael Diestel, who had not been involved in the policing system prior to the revolution, spoke of the responsibility of every GDR citizen for past injustice, excluding only the newly born and alcoholics ( Der Spiegel, 18/ 1990: 292). David Gill, coordinator of the Berlin citizens' committee for the dissolution of the MfS center, stated that a people who suffer such a system in silence are part of it ( Gill, 1990).

A barrier to ascertaining the true nature of the MfS was the strict oath of silence under which it had operated. In the first few months after the revolution, MfS workers were not certain whether they were free to reveal information. This point was not fully clarified until the Council of Ministers issued an order in May that specifically lifted the duty of


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