By Mary Merkenich
BOCHUM, Germany — Large sections of the German media have smelled blood, and now they are going for the kill. Tragically, in the case of one PDS (reformed communist party of the East) parliamentarian, this is literally the case. Gerhard Riege, 61 years old, committed suicide in mid-February after revelations that he had worked with the Stasi (the former East German secret police).
This media campaign, based on Stasi documents now being released, involves not just the gutter press but Germany's so-called respectable newspapers — Der Spiegel, Der Stern and Die Welt am Sonntag. Anyone even remotely suspected of association with the Stasi is at risk.
PDS chairperson Gregor Gysi says the campaign is an attempt to destroy the self-confidence and political effectiveness of former citizens of East Germany and to make certain they have no representatives in the German parliament.
The other political aspect of this campaign is to silence any left opposition, not just from the East but from the West.
Primary targets in the campaign include Gysi himself; former East German prime minister Hans Modrow (a reformer elected in 1989 during the Communist Party's belated democratisation, and now a PDS MP); Günter Walraff, a leading left-wing author and journalist in the West; Bernd Engelmann, another West German left-wing author; and Gerhard Stolpe, a religious oppositionist from the East and currently an SPD parliamentarian.
The media have been particularly unrelenting toward Gysi despite his denials and a lack of evidence. Two ex-Stasi agents have confirmed that Gysi never worked for the Stasi and had actually been the subject of spying himself. A charismatic public speaker, Gysi is a thorn in the side of the pro-capitalist politicians, who know that without him the PDS would be far less of a political force.
Another victim of the campaign is 42-year old Jutta Braband, who resigned as a PDS MP on February 19. As early as September 1991, she had openly admitted her connection with the Stasi, which she said had been out of political conviction. She had stopped working for the Stasi before joining the citizens rights movement and the PDS.
She said she was resigning because the media campaign had made her work as an MP ineffective. It was impossible, she said, to have a useful discussion about the history of East Germany when the framework for the analysis had already been decided.
Gysi said he hoped that Riege's death might make the "working through process" proceed on a more humane basis. The Journalists' Association has condemned the media campaign.
It is a campaign which is profoundly hypocritical. The Stasi are being portrayed as the most evil body since Hitler's SS. It is as if West Germany never had a secret police, or anything to do with the well known for its undemocratic and ruthless activities.
West Germany still has its Berufsverbot, a job prohibition law against radicals, which was actively used against left-wingers as late as the 1980s. People were spied upon by their colleagues, who tipped off the authorities about their political affiliations.