Few in Germany mourn as exiled Honecker dies

Click to follow
ERICH HONECKER, the former East German leader who organised the construction of the Berlin Wall, died yesterday at the age of 81 after a long battle against liver cancer.

The long-expected death came at about 7am local time in Santiago, Chile, where Honecker fled at the beginning of last year after German judges ruled he was no longer fit to stand trial on manslaughter charges.

In a terse statement, Dieter Vogel, spokesman for the German government, said: 'Honecker failed in his political goals. His policies brought suffering to countless people in Germany. Out of respect for the dead, it is fitting to say little more about his role in post-war German history.'

Egon Krenz, Honecker's successor as East German leader, pleaded for a more charitable interpretation of his mentor's life, saying that at least he had given East Germans bread and work.

Few ordinary eastern Germans are likely to mourn Honecker's passing. To them he is the man who from 1971 to 1989 led a state in which many felt imprisoned. In 1961, Honecker personally supervised the building of the Berlin Wall, a monstrous barrier at which scores of East Germans were killed trying to flee west.

When Germany united in 1990, the government in Bonn initiated legal proceedings against Honecker in connection with the deaths at the Wall. Attempts to bring him to trial, however, seemed doomed to failure - and even farce. In early 1991, Honecker fled to Moscow to avoid arrest. Then, when Communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, he sought refuge in the Chilean embassy in Moscow.

After months of diplomatic activity between Bonn, Moscow and Santiago, it was finally agreed that Honecker must return to Berlin to stand trial. After just two months in the dock, however, he was set free because of his failing health.

Two former aides were dismissed from the joint trial on grounds of age or illness, but three remaining middle-ranking officials were convicted of manslaughter and received long prison sentences. Like Honecker, all had denied any wrongdoing.

Since his release in January last year, Honecker and his wife, Margot, have lived with his daughter Sonja, who married a Chilean.

To the end, Honecker remained a convinced Communist, raising a clenched fist defiantly before the cameras at every opportunity. Not once in court did he express any regret for the victims of the shoot- to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall.

Obituary, page 10

Longford and Germany, page 13