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Europe

German Press Review: Olympic Bid Organizer Becomes Victim of Stasi Past

German newspapers on Thursday put the Stasi scandal of the former Leipzig Olympics organizer under the loop as well as Gerhard Schröder’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many newspapers led with editorials on the resignation of Dirk Thärichen, the former chairman of the committee overseeing Germany’s bid to win the 2012 Olympics, which the country wants to hold in the former East German city Leipzig. Thärichen left the post following accusations he had volunteered for the former East German secret police, the Stasi, in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"The man was just 19 at the time, and today at the age of 33 he is confronted with the Stasi accusation," lamented the Cottbus-based Lausitzer Rundschau. "Certainly it packs a wallop that he was campaigning on behalf of Leipzig, which is Germany’s nominee for the Olympics as well as being the city where the ‘Wir sind ein Volk’ – or ‘We are one people’ – movement originated," the paper noted. But the editors concluded that the scandal had less to do with Thärichen himself than with the fear of a public relations debacle damaging Germany’s chance to host the Olympics in 2012.

"Dirk Thärichen has played a decisive role in the success to date of Leipzig’s Olympic bid," wrote the editors of the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in Halle, "but he also has a Stasi file -- and it’s been screaming in his ear for days." The paper concurred that he was far from being a major Stasi criminal, but said his alleged willingness to volunteer was also far from being a badge of honor. "It clearly differentiated him from those who took part in the Monday Rallies," the paper wrote, referring to the vocal advocates for peaceful unification who began to demonstrate every Monday at churches -- first in Leipzig and then around the former East Germany. The paper also agreed that he had become the wrong man for the job, because, "by volunteering, he can no longer avoid the Stasi Stigma, even if refutes the allegations."

And at least one newspaper, Osnabrück’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, paid heed to the warm relations between German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Russia offers much," the paper wrote, "powerful economic growth, a recovered state financial situation, and interesting possibilities for business in the energy market. The nation has developed into a responsible trading partner, even though its €15 billion debt to Germany makes it our largest foreign debtor. For Germany, Russia has a special meaning: It supplies almost one-third of Germany’s need for natural gas and crude oil. But Russia as a trading partner also comes with perils, as does China. Namely, that Western industrialized countries can easily oust what is already an extreme scarcity of democracy and human rights in Russia. Outwardly, Putin has charted a Western course – but not internally. That cannot be forgotten just a few months before the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections."