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Germany: Ex-Communists Remain Under Surveillance

Munich, 24 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's new Left coalition government has shown that it is almost as suspicious of the country's former communists as the previous conservative government.

The new Social Democratic Interior Minister, Otto Schily, has agreed that the nation's security service should continue the surveillance of the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Schily said late last week that doubts persisted about the PDS, even though it is represented in the federal parliament and shares governmental power in one state. According to him, security officials still question whether its aims and structures are consistent with Germany's constitution.

Schily said PDS surveillance would be lightened, but some forms of observation would continue. He said it was up to the party itself to clarify its beliefs and goals, and to show whether it gave whole-hearted support to the constitution.

The Interior Minister's decision has been criticized by some of his fellow Social Democrats and by some members of the Green party, which shares power in the national government.

Some find the move ironic because Schily himself first came to prominence in the late 1970s as a defense lawyer for members of the terrorist Red Brigades group and was put under surveillance by the security service. The Minister cut his ties to the extreme Left many years ago, moving to the Right wing of the Social Democratic Party.

The PDS was born out of the ruins of the old east German communist party in 1990. Almost all of its support comes from the five states of former east Germany, where unemployment is as high as 17 percent.

The PDS' most prominent figure is Gregor Gysi, a lawyer who made a name for himself under communism by defending dissidents. Gysi was also the head of an east German Communist Party committee that tried to introduce some reforms in 1989, just before the Berlin Wall fell.

Helped by Gysi's hard-driving criticism of the way the struggling economies of the east German states had been treated by Bonn, the PDS won 35 seats --out of 669-- in the national parliament in the general elections two months ago. In the state government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, on the Baltic sea, the party shares power with the Social Democrats. In another eastern German state, Saxony-Anhalt, the PDS keeps a minority Social Democratic government in power although it is not an official part of the government.

The Social Democrats who are in a coalition with the PDS in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have rejected Schily's decision. State Premier Harald Ringstorff said in a radio interview on Sunday that he saw no basis for continuing the surveillance. He said his personal experiences with the PDS in eastern Germany had not brought to light any anti-democratic activities. Ringstorff also noted that the PDS had made a public apology for the crimes committed by the former communist east Germany.

Gabriella Zimmer, leader of the PDS in another eastern German province, Thuringen, suggested over the weekend that the party should hold an open discussion about its history and its links with the former eastern Germany. She said an open debate could serve to allay suspicions.

In particular, Zimmer urged that PDS candidates in next year's state elections in Thuringen and Saxony should be completely open to questions about the past in east Germany. She said it is not enough for a PDS parliamentary candidate merely to say that he or she had no responsibility for crimes committed by the east German regime. In Zimmer's view, total openness would help the PDS win a share of governmental responsibilities in both Thuringen and Saxony next year, probably as a coalition partner of the Social Democrats.