Former East German dissidents criticized the early release of East Germany’s last head of state. Egon Krenz was sentenced to six and a half years for his role in the fatal shootings of people trying to flee the country.
His last time in the limelight?
After a Berlin court decided that he was unlikely to become a repeat offender, Krenz left prison a free man at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. “I’ve never felt like a manslaughterer,” he told a crowd of reporters waiting outside the building in Berlin. “I’ve always viewed it as a defeat that we weren’t able to prevent deaths and injuries at the border.”
Krenz fought his 1997 conviction on four counts of manslaughter for years and finally began serving his sentence in early 2000. Upon his release, he remained adamant that he was wrongfully imprisoned.
“It was an unjust trial since I acted as the head of the GDR, a sovereign state,” said Krenz, who held East Germany’s top position for less than two months in the Fall of 1989.
An undeserved freedom?
His sudden release surprised and angered many of those who fought against him and the regime he represented.
“He’s now undeservedly enjoying the freedom that he withheld from the citizens of the GDR [German Democratic Republic],” said Stephan Hilsberg, a former East German civil rights activist and now a Social Democratic member of parliament.
Wolfgang Templin, another GDR dissident, said he believed there was no justification for the release of the 66-year-old, who only served four years of his sentence. “Krenz has enough of a record and he’s neither old nor weak nor seriously ill,” Templin said.
Krenz benefits from the system he fought
Others welcomed Krenz’s release, saying that other GDR leaders who were old and ill, including Krenz’s predecessor Erich Honecker (photo), managed to evade long prison sentences. Honecker, whose trial was cancelled for health reasons, died in Chilean exile in 1994.
Erich Honecker, left, and Egon Krenz during the GDR's heyday.
“I’ve always been angered by the fact that nothing happened to those who bore the main responsibility, much more so than Krenz did, for the things that happened in the GDR,” Gregor Gysi, the former leader of the Party of Democratic Socialism, which emerged out of East German communist party after the fall of the Berlin wall, told ARD television.
He added that the communist leaders in Moscow had faced even less scrutiny in the post-Cold War era. “Some of them we made honorary citizens and [Krenz] we sent to the slammer,” Gysi said. “I never found this to be very just.” Soviet leader Michail Gorbatchev became an honorary citizen of Berlin in 1992.
While agreeing that Krenz’s release was the right decision, Günter Nooke, a Christian Democratic parliamentarian and former GDR dissident, said the communist leader was benefiting from living in a system he had fought for most of his life. “As an enemy of the constitutional state he is now enjoying its advantages,” Nooke told ARD.
From head of state to stockings seller
Krenz has enjoyed the benefits of the unified Germany’s prison system for quite some time. Shortly after his imprisonment, he was allowed to leave during the day to work.
Making use of his Russian language skills and connections to the former Eastern bloc, Krenz initially sold elasticized stockings and prostheses to Eastern European countries and later helped to export discarded planes to Russia, according to the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.
The apartment house near the Baltic Sea where Krenz's familiy is living, according to news reports.
He was also allowed to spend his annual three-week vacation with his wife and family, who moved to an apartment building (photo) in a resort town on Germany’s Baltic Sea coastline after a federal court decided Krenz had unjustly claimed ownership of his house in Berlin. “My wife has been waiting 42 years for me to spend more time with her,” Krenz said on Thursday. “Now she’ll get that.” While he plans to stay out of the limelight from now on, Krenz said he wants to write his memoirs: “I will stand up for a just assessment of the GDR.”