Manfred Stolpe, Prime Minister of the east German state of Brandenburg, was a leading member of the church opposition to Communism until 1989. He has come increasingly under fire, however, because of his connections with the Stasi.
Documents published in Der Spiegel magazine this week indicated that, despite his frequent denials, Mr Stolpe had met Stasi officers at a Stasi 'conspirative building' - to receive a medal for services to the East German state in November 1978.
The organisation entrusted with unravelling the Stasi legacy, the Gauck authority, said yesterday the Spiegel documents 'appeared' to be genuine, though they would have to be studied further. Gunter Nooke, the parliamentary leader in Brandenburg of Alliance 90, a grouping that emerged from the east German opposition, yesterday demanded Mr Stolpe's resignation if the latest documents prove genuine.
Mr Stolpe's Social Democrat colleagues rallied round their leader, however, insisting that they would refuse to work with Mr Nooke unless he apologised for his remarks.
This week's revelations are the most damaging so far. Der Spiegel bluntly accused Mr Stolpe of lying: until now he had insisted that the safe- house meeting never took place and claimed he did not know the medal was arranged by the Stasi.
The new evidence against him includes a note in his own diary, in November 1978; the evidence of a former Stasi officer who claims to have been present at the meeting; and, most damaging of all, a detailed attendance register for the Stasi safe house (known as a konspiratives Objekt, or KO in Stasi-speak) where the meeting apparently took place. In the KO register, Mr Stolpe's Stasi codename ('Secretary') appears on the date in question for a three-hour meeting attended by two Stasi officers.
To read Der Spiegel's account, one would think Mr Stolpe had been a calculating double agent, passing himself off as a friend of the opposition in order to serve his Communist masters. But Mr Stolpe's Stasi connections seem to have been much more ambiguous.
So far at least nobody has come forward to say they were personally damaged by Mr Stolpe's collaboration with the Stasi. 'If that happened,' said one official yesterday, 'it would be a thunderbolt. But I think it very unlikely.'
Many people are, however, known to have avoided jail or been released from jail because of his intercession. In this respect he can be seen as a modern-day Oskar Schindler in less extreme circumstances. Both men consorted actively with the representatives of a totalitarian regime while gaining individual victories on behalf of the victims of that same regime. Mr Stolpe is now known to have received expensive presents from the Stasi, including a 16th-century bible. When he was given 1,000 marks ( pounds 400) as a cash gift, however, he paid this into church funds.
Many of Mr Stolpe's dealings with the Stasi seem distasteful from today's perspective. But the disapproval is stronger in the complacent west, where nobody needed to make choices between principles and compromise, than in the east. In eastern Germany, Mr Stolpe has continued to be one of the most popular politicians - despite, or perhaps even because of, the constant attacks in the national (that is, west German) press.Reuse content