German political parties remain engaged in bitter debate over how harshly to define communist East Germany, which collapsed 25 years ago. The row has permeated Sunday's commemorations of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
Dissident singer Wolf Biermann took another verbal swipe at the far-left political successors of the ruling party of former communist East Germany during an anniversary concert on Saturday.
Leftist leaders in turn reiterated a 1990 apology despite calls by critics in recent weeks that they declare the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) as an "unjust state." Saturday's renewed apology contained the phrase "state injustice."
Biermann, performing his legendary protest songs at a Berlin concert attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, said since the fall of the Berlin Wall his lyrics had become "documents against forgetting our history."
During the communist regime in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), dissidents such as himself used songs such as his "Stasi Ballad" to "free the soul from fear," Biermann told his Berlin audience.
They were a "baton against the rulers," he said, referring to the Soviet-styled controls used by the East's elite under leader Erich Honecker until 1989.
The Stasi, the GDR's secret police, comprising more than 90,000 staff and several hundred thousand informers, kept residents under tight scrutiny. Thousands were jailed and denied career opportunities.
1990 apology reiterated
On Saturday, the leaders of the Left party or Die Linke, formed in 2007 and comprising amalgamated leftists across reunified Germany, reiterated an apology issued in early 1990 by the predecessor eastern German PDS party.
It was in turn the successor of the communist-era Socialist Unity Party, or SED.
The Left party's co-chairs Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, as well as Gregor Gysi, the Left's opposition group leader in the Bundestag federal parliament, said the GDR had exercised "state injustice."
The socialist GDR failed, the trio said, not because of external circumstances but instead because of its own "internal contradictions, deficiencies and crimes, lack of freedom and ideological dogmatism."
The communist GDR was a state in which "political arbitrariness at any moment could replace law and justice; in which ten thousands of biographies were broken and destroyed by state injustice," they said.
"Today, we renew the apology for the past injustice and the realization that we have the duty to protect democracy and a rule-of-law state," they said.
It was the core policy of the Left that these fundamental rights should never be sacrificed on the "altar of supposedly higher goals," they added.
'Very distressing': Merkel
Merkel, visiting a conference of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Wismar, a Baltic Sea coastal city in her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, earlier on Saturday said: "The GDR was an unjust state" and described the row as "very distressing."
Johanna Wanka, federal minister for education and research, who like Merkel grew up in the ex-GDR, said she had spontaneously clapped when Biermann condemned the far-left Linke during his brief performance on Friday in the Bundestag, when it marked the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Wanka told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that the former SED in its remnant form had not been defeated. "I think that is tragic," she said, adding that GDR was "unfortunately worse" than the portrayal given even by Biermann.
Biermann, while performing his protest song "Ermutigung" ("Encouragement") in the Bundestag on Friday, told Left parliamentarians that they were "the wretched remains of what has fortunately been overcome."
Focus on Thuringia
The row coincides with regional post-election negotiations in Germany's eastern state of Thuringia that could see the emergence of Left Party candidate Bodo Ramelow as that state's premier.
German President Joachim Gauck, once a pro-democracy activist in the GDR, recently questioned whether the Left party could be trusted.
ipj/jm (dpa, AP, Reuters)