Espionage chills German elections List of 'moles' from East Germany is creating anxiety

August 18, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

BERLIN -- In reunified Germany, those who survive the past seem doomed to repeat it, and prominent figures are hunkered down in fear of a witch hunt following reports of a list of 2,000 East German "moles."

Although not a single page of the mysterious Communist spy roster has been published, warnings of a German-style McCarthyism have politicians, journalists, scientists and business leaders running for cover.

Unsubstantiated rumor has long been a tool of politicians, but in the supercharged crisis atmosphere of a Germany reeling from economic stagnation and neo-Nazi violence, a revisiting of the Communist era strikes fear across party lines.

To restore some sense of order in Parliament, Chancellor Helmut Kohl issued a public appeal promising that a spy hunt will not be used to sully reputations of contenders for high positions in next year's elections.

"Materials stemming from the activities of East Germany's State Security Service, or Stasi, are being evaluated in a just and legal way," Mr. Kohl said in a statement. "For me, it is self-evident that these documents should not be used for party political business."

The German public says it's tired of all the cloak-and-dagger game playing.

A recent poll by the weekly Die Woche showed that amnesty for former agents of the East German secret police is supported by 65 percent of people in the east and 62 percent in the west.

Even so, it was Bernd Schmidbauer, the Kohl administration's coordinator for intelligence matters, who first leaked word a week ago that law enforcement authorities had obtained an encoded list of 2,000 Communist agents who, over the years, had risen to positions of power in all areas of West German life.

Mr. Schmidbauer has said he would turn over the list to prosecutors but thus far hasn't produced any documents for examination.

Intelligence officials refuse to comment on the secret origin of the spy file, prompting speculation that the roster may have come from newly opened archives at the Stasi's godfather agency, the KGB in Moscow, or perhaps from sources in U.S. intelligence.

In the absence of a published list or any law like the United States' Freedom of Information Act to force release of the roster, the guessing game was afoot.

Rumors and counter-rumors cascaded all last week, pitting politician against politician and government agency against government agency with all the bureaucratic intrigue of a Watergate thriller.

Just three years after reunification of its capitalist and Communist halves, Germany is gearing up for a marathon series of historic elections: Fourteen regional elections throughout next year will be capped by voting all across Germany to elect a new Parliament, which then chooses the chancellor.

"We never had this kind of mudslinging before," said Joachim Gauck, the Lutheran pastor who emerged as a hero of East Germany's people-power revolution that toppled the Communist regime.

"I fear it will only get worse in the next half-year to year with the elections. It will be an emotional issue. Any candidate can stand up and say, 'My opponent used to work with Stasi.' "

Rudolf Scharping, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, accused Mr. Kohl and his staff of having "no respect for citizens' innocence. Their reputation and existence are threatened."

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