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New legislation aimed at compensating those who suffered imprisonment under the East German Communist regime has been criticized by victims' groups, who say it doesn't go far enough.
Some former inmates of Stasi prisons will receive compensation under a new law
On Thursday, the ruling coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats will bring a bill before parliament granting a monthly pension to citizens who can prove they were oppressed and jailed by the East German communist regime.
The proposal, however, has already come in for stinging criticism from victims' groups who say the bill is a bureaucratic nightmare that is likely to create added injustice rather than reconciliation.
In March 1974, the doors of the infamous Hohenschönhausen state security prison in Berlin closed behind Horst Dietrich for four years and three months. He was arrested and jailed by the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, for resisting a nationwide expropriation campaign that was to take away the small construction company he owned.
Now, more than 30 years later, Dietrich is scheduled to receive compensation, not for the company he lost but for his years in prison.
"I'm glad that, after such a long time, a German government has finally taken on this issue," he said. "I'm grateful to receive this small sum as a compensation for my suffering."
The sum to be paid out under the new law is more symbolic than anything else. The victims of communism will receive a monthly pension supplement of 250 euros ($329), but only if they can prove they spent at least six months in prison and that they are in need of the money.
The former Stasi prison at Bautzen
To get compensation, Stasi victims must earn less than 1,000 euros a month if they are single, and less than 1,300 euros if they are married.
Hans Joachim Michael, 62, and his wife Doris have a combined income of 1,400 euros, which makes them ineligible for the state pension. Michael considers this to be a serious injustice given that he spent almost three years in jail merely for planning to leave East Germany illegally.
"Every victim went through the same ordeal so everyone should be eligible to a pension," he said. "It doesn't have to be the same amount for everyone, at least something should be granted."
Victims groups have criticized the new law arguing that it ignores the plight of thousands of Stasi victims, including relatives of people who died in prison, people who faced discrimination at work for their dissenting views and thousands of victims who were frequently incarcerated for short periods of time by the secret police.
Alexander Hussok from the Aid Association for Victims of the Secret Police says he's been flooded with calls from people seeking advice on how to claim the pension and venting their frustration.
The East German secret police left behind miles of files on people under observation
"We are inundated with e-mails and faxes in which people from all over Germany express their anger and indignation at the new rules," he said.
However, politicians from the ruling coalition of conservative and social Democrats have been patting themselves on the back for what they believe is a fair solution.
"It is a good solution because for the first time we have extended pension payments from individual cases to almost all groups of victims," said Wolfgang Tiefensee, the federal minister in charge of eastern German reconstruction. "Of course one could always wish for more, but it's always the case that not everyone can qualify for such a program."
The government estimates that about 16,000 people will be eligible to receive the pension, which will cost the state about 50 million euros each year. But victims groups criticized the fact that former high-ranking communist government officials alone cost the state more than 2 billion euros in pensions costs. Nobody, the groups say, has asked whether they are entitled to the money.