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People and Politics Forum 05. 12. 2008

"Should the perpetrators and their victims put the past behind them?"

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More information:

A Right to Forget? – How former Stasi agents continue to harass their victims

It has been almost two decades since Communist East Germany collapsed, together ith its system of spies and informants. Now, many of the former secret police agents want the files closed. They sue individuals, newspapers, exhibition curators, and even the government office in charge of the files whenever the names behind aliases are revealed. They say it’s time to draw a line under the past. They contend their privacy is being violated. And German courts sometimes even rule in their favor. We show examples of this campaign of intimidation and talk with experts on media rights and with staff from the agency that processes the Stasi files.

Our Question is:

"Should the perpetrators and their victims put the past behind them?"

Andy Medina, United Kingdom, writes:

"As a great lover of Germany and all things German, it is shocking and horrifying for me, that Stasi agents are harassing their victims in this way. It is also terrible for the image of Germany in the rest of the World. There is almost a sense that "well this is Germany what else would you expect". While this view of Germany may be unfair, nonetheless it exists. It would be better to protect these victims and not allow the perpetrators to abuse the law in this way. If an alleged former Stasi agent feels they are genuinely innocent, they have the right to make a challenge through normal legal processes. If German Law doesn't allow this, then European Law certainly does."

René Junghans, Brasil:

"My parents fled from the East –my father left Saxony and my mother came from Stettin (today Szczecin in Poland). Many of our relatives became separated from one another by the East German border. In spite of all that, I think the affronts of the past should finally be laid to rest. That’s part of what it will take to bring East- and West-Germany together in a way that keeps the air free of recriminations of past misfortune, state-sponsored persecution and spying. The German people deserve to live in peace. It’s also important to remember that the Stasi received its directions and authority from the legitimate government of an independent country, the GDR. You can’t just come in and accuse people of breaking West German laws that they were not subject to at the time of the alleged misdeeds. After the war, of course, it was different. But those were different times. Thank God, we all live in a united Germany now. Both ‘Wessies’ and ‘Ossis’ have a vested interest in living in peace. And that is only possible if one lays the past to rest."

Heinz Niesel, Singapore

"After 40 years of oppression and discrimination, why should one forget it all after only 20 years? Those who violate the human dignity of others should be punished –even after 40 years!"

R.Buchwald, Germany

"Why should the process be stopped for perpetrators who are still ridiculing their victims and even want to reestablish that perfect socialist model of theirs. Does anyone think of the victims who even all these years later wake up at night and worry that the cell door will be ripped open? Have you ever asked them what they think about all this? These people who sat in East German prisons, nobody took seriously!"

Klaus Uhle, Canada

"I am totally against this decision and the justification given for it! These Communist Party bigwigs and Stasi-rats who forced their brand of dictatorship –that so-called state- on others, should and must be called by their proper name, as long as they live! We’re talking about a person who is guilty for the persecution, murder, shooting, torture and humiliation of millions in the Eastern ‘Zone’ at places like Bautzen. I know what I’m talking about. Until I fled in 1953, I was persecuted in the Workers’ and Farmers’ State. I’m extremely disappointed at this leftist madness throughout German society which tries to paint a nostalgic picture of what was, in fact, a reign of terror. And there are more than a few naive citizens among us who are unable to recognize the unfortunate and dangerous extent to which the 68-generation’s RAF supporters, leftists of every color and anarchists have been able to infiltrate and advance their cause in our society."

Helge Weyland, Argentina

"What the heck is up with this? If a person can’t come clean about what he did and owe up to it, there’s no chance for honesty and clarity in the future. The future can only be properly managed when people are able to learn from the past."

Ingobert Niewöhner, Brazil

"I think Paul the Apostle had it right: He didn’t try to hide his past, but rather he repeatedly talked about it and reminded others of what happened."

Silvio Berndt, USA

"No way should we just let this matter fade away—that would be a bitter mockery of the pain the victims have endured. I am also one of those who were spied on, betrayed and thrown in prison. It goes without saying that we should have the right to know who we have to thank for our tribulations. I don’t think it’s asking to much to let us confront these people and to ask them why they did what they did to us. We are vigilant in not forgetting the Nazi era; we should do no less with regards to the period of socialism."

Dorothea Well, Ghana

"Sure you should let go of the past! But not until that past has been worked through and understood and only after a satisfactory solution can be found for the perpetrator and the victim...and the perpetrator should properly atone for his misdeeds."

Gerhard Seeger, Philippines

"Of course one could just let bygones be bygones. BUT (and this is a big BUT), it depends on the crimes committed and the attitude of the perpetrators was at the time. Many were no doubt hard-core Stasi types, and others did what they did because they had no choice. But how can you determine who falls into which category? Letting bygones be bygones is only advantageous to those who don’t deserve it, and these are the ones who are probably now putting pressure on their former victims. I think that the victims should decide if the affair is settled. Only they can know how badly they were affected by the crimes and if they truly can let it go."

Erwin Scholz, Costa Rica

"A State that evil done,

cries it be the tortured one,

forces victims again to see,

how degenerate the system be?

Let’s hope so..."

The People and Politics desk reserves the right to edit and abbreviate texts.