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Germany

No apologies: Honecker's widow breaks silence

"What was criminal about East Germany?" After years of silence, Margot Honecker, the widow of East Germany's last communist leader Erich Honecker, still defends the communist state.

For years, journalists hoping for an interview with Margot Honecker traveled to her home in Chile in vain. The tough-minded widow of former East German leader Erich Honecker refused interviews with Germany's mainstream media - she would shout insults at reporters or spray them with the garden hose.

But this year Honecker, who was East Germany's Education Minister from 1963 until 1989, published a book on popular education in East Germany. She also appeared in a rare interview Monday with the German TV network ARD.

In the 90-minute documentary on the Honecker era, the widow, 84, staunchly defended communist East Germany.

She said she never understood why people tried to escape to the West over the Berlin Wall when so many died in the attempt. "There was no need for that, there was no need for them to climb over the Wall. It's certainly bitter to have to pay for such stupidity with their lives," she said.

Berlin Wall

"There was no need to climb over the wall"

A better system

Her husband Erich, who oversaw the building of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, was forced to step down by his Politburo shortly before the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989.

Of course there were political prisoners, people who "damaged socialism" in East Germany, Honecker said: "No one needs to apologize for that."

Most Germans who saw the interview on TV Monday disapproved of the widow's remarks - but hadn't expected any different from the opinionated hardliner. More than 20 years after the state's collapse, victims of communist East Germany, however, were outraged. "What kind of a woman is that?" asked a woman who was jailed for trying to escape across the Berlin Wall, and whose young son was then given up for adoption by the state. "It's shocking."

A counter-revolution

Margot Honecker claimed forced adoption did not exist in East Germany - safe in the knowledge that she has avoided criminal charges. She receives a 1,500 euro ($2,000) monthly pension from the German state.

In the TV interview, she described the evening in October 1989 when East Germany celebrated its 40th anniversary in Berlin: a torchlight procession, cheering youngsters and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev flanked by her husband, his face a stony mask.

Erich Honecker

1989: Erich Honecker steps down

Her husband no longer had the illusion of being able to save East Germany, she said; he called his country's demise and the fall of the Berlin Wall a "counter-revolution."

"Let others apologize"

For a few months the Honeckers, once the country's most powerful couple, lived with the family of a Lutheran pastor before fleeing to Moscow to avoid criminal charges. Erich Honecker was extradited to Germany in 1992 and charged with crimes committed during the Cold War, but was released in 1993 when he became sick with liver cancer. He lived with his wife in Santiago, Chile, until his death in 1994.

They were lucky, said former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze: Romanian leader Ceausescu was executed without further ado.

As for a final judgment on East Germany, Margot Honecker relies on history: she said she always felt that "we put a seed in the ground that will grow."

What is really wrong with this world is that people are still being exploited and killed in wars. "Let others apologize," Honecker demanded.

Author: Bernd Gräßler /db/sgb

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