Thousands of people were spied upon, imprisoned, and otherwise harassed by the East German dictatorship.
Yet, as Evelyn Finger (G) recently reported in Die Zeit, their demands for compensation in the unified Germany earn grudging and miserly responses. Dissidents who were locked up in East Germany’s notorious prisons (such as Bautzen I and II or Hohenschoenhausen) got only 50% of the compensation payments that the innocently imprisoned in West Germany got.* The dissidents had to jump through bureaucratic hurdles to get even these meager payments, and sometimes faced West German officials who told them, face to face, things like, "well, people didn’t exactly get sent to prison for nothing in East Germany." In many cases, people whose lives were transformed or broken by long terms of imprisonment under brutal conditions saw their claims for compensation reduced or denied outright.
Meanwhile, the loyal apparatchiks who ran the East German state are doing well. As Anna Funder reported in her book Stasiland, many of the loathsome secret service agents were able to transform their connections and security expertise into lucrative post-unification jobs. Loyal servants of the East German state earned pension rights, of course, and have filed countless lawsuits in German courts to make sure they receive every penny they’re entitled to under the complex laws designed to integrate the former East into Unified Germany. In everyday life, they strive to keep their former official position a secret. However, when it comes to official state-employee pension claims (which are objects of quasi-religious veneration in Germany), they will hire damn good attorneys and fight all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court. Margot Honecker, the "People’s Education Minister" under the dictatorship of her husband, Erich Honecker, recently won a 45,000 Euro back payment after prevailing on a pension claim.
Finger’s explanation for the West’s relative indifference to those who defied the system is damning:
Since East German prisoners were sentenced according to valid laws — the injustice that was then considered justice — they had certainly broken some law. That is the logic of the West German official bureacracy. The legal order that was in effect then (even if it was a dictatorship) cannot be described as a perversion of the legal order. Otherwise, it might occur to someone to question the current legal order.
This may sound corny, but I will own the sincerity: this article made my blood boil. It made me want to put on an armband and join a protest march. Think of it: simpering conformist apparatchicks –sniveling worms, spineless desk-criminals — live on comfortable pensions because they displayed enough cold, inhuman good sense to blindly obey. Meanwhile, the misfits, the dissidents, the outsiders, those everyday heroes who took a chance, spoke their mind, obeyed their conscience — they must cope with the damage left behind by imprisonment, harassment, and exclusion on their own. This fact, if true, irritates my sense of justice like a malfunctioning belt-sander.
Now, I know my way around the German media to some extent, but I might be missing something here. Can I rely on Evelyn Finger? Does he/she** have some hidden ideological axe to grind that might cause him/her to distort the facts? Is the situation really this bad? Please let me know in comments, before I start designing armbands and writing indignant letters to politicians.
* Wonkish note: One problem with many European criminal-justice systems is the relatively long stretches people spend in jail awaiting trial. However, they are compensated for this time, assuming they’re later provent innocent.
** For the Anglophiles: Evelyn is an English name that can be given to women or (much more rarely) men. It’s pronounced "EEV-len" in British English, and "Ev-A-len" in American.