POTSDAM, Germany -- One eastern German politician after another has fallen from grace in the face of revelations from the recently opened files of the Stasi, East Germany's once-dreaded secret police.
The implications of the files that prominent revolutionaries were too close to the Stasi have had the same effect that charges of sexual promiscuity appear to have on U.S. politicians.
But humiliation here is shared by most East Germans, who believe that westerners have no concept of what was necessary to survive in an authoritarian regime.
But many have drawn the line on assaults against Brandenburg Premier Manfred Stolpe, a national figure widely viewed as a potential German president.
Mr. Stolpe has been attacked for having too many Stasi encounters while he was a Protestant churchman negotiating with the East German regime.
The taint could spoil his chances for higher political office.
Many Brandenburg residents say the accusations are nonsense.
"It was his job to negotiate with the Stasi. The westerners just want to get rid of our Stolpe," said Angelika Bretzler, 58, an unemployed clerk who called the premier's office to lend her support.
While few eastern Germans believe there is a western conspiracy, the steady stream of accusations of Stasi cooperation followed by resignations and disgrace have begun to eat at the locals' self-respect. Many see the attacks on Mr. Stolpe as assaults on their own integrity.
"I don't think it has been a conscious attempt [by the west], but the result of all these accusations has been yet another humiliation for the east Germans," Mr. Stolpe said.
The hurt has been made worse by the replacement of fallen eastern politicians with western German retreads in the new five-state governments that make up the former East Germany.
Westerners replaced the Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia premiers who had resigned after disclosure about their contacts with the Stasi, and from the start, a western team has run Saxony.
In the federal government, no eastern German holds a top position, and almost all the leaders from East Germany's brief period of democracy in 1990 have now been discredited for their cooperation with the Stasi.
This has left only Mr. Stolpe's state of Brandenburg and the relatively unimportant poorhouse of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern run by local leaders.
Mr. Stolpe had escaped the flurry of allegations and revelations stemming from the Stasi archives, but in a recent interview he brought up the subject.
He said he met with the Stasi nearly 1,000 times over 30 years as
part of the church's effort to obtain the release of East German opposition members and to get other concessions from the regime.
Recently, the opposition Christian Democrats filed a motion in the Brandenburg state legislature for a parliamentary panel to evaluate Mr. Stolpe's dealings with the Stasi.
The most virulent attacks against Mr. Stolpe, a Social Democrat, have come from the highly politicized German news media. A conservative national television newsmagazine recently made vague misconduct allegations and called on the Brandenburg premier to resign.
While the broadcast showed that Mr. Stolpe might have engaged in some negotiations without church knowledge, it ignited a wave of support for Mr. Stolpe.
Many German commentators said that the solidarity stems from eastern Germans' conviction that western Germans cannot understand what living under the old East German regime was like.
Some say the news media have been too quick to discredit the heroes of the old revolution and have forgotten how difficult it was to oppose the old system.
"There is the tendency to play down what were previously called courageous acts -- such as the Protestant Church's policies -- and now to call them accommodation," said Hermann Rudolph, a west Berlin newspaper editor.
Unless there are revelations proving collusion with the Stasi, Mr. Rudolph said, Mr. Stolpe appears to have been no more guilty of supporting the old regime than West German leaders, who aided East Germany financially through huge loans and politically through state visits.