'Stasi links' fail to halt communist power bid

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The main political parties in Berlin are making frantic last-ditch attempts to keep the increasingly popular reformed communists out of power in the city elections on Sunday.

The Party of Democratic Socialism is presenting itself as a powerbroker in Berlin, despite controversy surrounding its candidate for mayor. Gregor Gysi, 58, who heads the local PDS, faces allegations of links with the East German secret police, the Stasi. But he is still expected to pick up nearly a fifth of the votes.

He could ease himself into power by saying sorry for all the ills the PDS had perpetrated in its previous incarnation as the communist party.

But his refusal to say the magic word has galvanised other parties into forming an alliance to block him.

The mayoral race has become dominated by the history of the city and the Berlin Wall. The communists within the PDS have been reluctant to apologise for the deaths of 1,000 East Germans who tried to escape over it. Mr Gysi said: "I was 13 when the Wall was built. I joined the party in 1967. So I'm not guilty for the building of the Wall. It is only our political opponents who want us to apologise, not the victims."

Mr Gysi has accused his "political opponents" – namely the parties based in western Germany – of dwelling too much in the past. He said the legacy of the past 11 years, during which the PDS was deliberately excluded from power, was a debt mountain of DM75bn (£24bn), an unemployment rate of 15 per cent, and continued division. "The inner unity of the city has still not been achieved," he declared. "The two parties that have run Berlin have failed."

The Christian Democrats and Social Democrats have governed the city alone or together since reunification, shunning the largest party of East Berlin, the PDS.

A series of sleaze scandals in Christian Democrat ranks scuppered the last "grand coalition" earlier this year. The Social Democrats and Greens took charge of the interim administration with the help of Mr Gysi's party.

That is when the Cold War between the parties returned. The Christian Democrats, licking their wounds, accused their erstwhile partners of "betraying the past" by striking secret pacts with the ex-communists. It is the theme that has dominated the campaign ever since.

Before the Wall fell, Mr Gysi was a prominent lawyer in the East, defending dissidents. The allegation, underpinned by a parliamentary committee, is that he kept the Stasi informed of the activities of his clients.

"This is simply wrong," Mr Gysi said. "Whenever I had an important political client, I always maintained contact with the party, namely to the Central Committee. My clients knew this, and they knew that I could achieve a few things for them this way. Anyone familiar with the GDR [East Germany] knows that a parallel contact with the Stasi would not have been possible. The party would not have tolerated it."

Forty per cent of voters in the east of Berlin accept this explanation, but people in the west are less understanding.

Klaus Wowereit, the Social Democrat Mayor, has spent most of the campaign distancing himself from the PDS. The polls predict the Social Demo-crats will gain about 35 per cent of the votes on Sunday, and the Christian Democrats will plunge to 26 per cent.

With the Greens alone, Mr Wowereit would not be able to build a majority.

Western hopes of saving Berlin from the red peril of the PDS thus rest on the invisible liberal Free Democrats gaining enough votes to reach parliament and join a three-party coalition.