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East German wounds reopen as Stasi men speak out

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, May 16 (Reuters) Nearly 17 years have passed since Gotthold Schramm's world turned upside down, but his sense of outrage is still fresh.

With the collapse of communist East Germany, the former colonel in the Ministry for State Security (MfS) -- universally known as the Stasi -- found himself out of a job and reduced for a time to running a small grocery store.

Today he has found a new role. As the author of half a dozen books, he is one of a growing and increasingly vocal group of former officers presenting their own account of East German history and defending the work of the widely reviled Stasi.

''It's got to the point where people say it was a 'criminal organisation'!'' says Schramm, 74.

He repeats the phrase several times, almost spitting it out, and pauses for dramatic effect, his eyelids flickering.

''We're talking about malicious imputations that have nothing to do with the reality. If there were crimes, they must be investigated, checked, and those responsible brought to book, even if they were employees of the Ministry for State Security.

''But to suspect everybody, as is happening today, and to call the MfS as a whole a criminal organisation, that is something that the 90,000 former employees of this ministry cannot understand.'' STASI COMEBACK? Schramm's is just one voice in a resurgent debate, fuelled in recent weeks by a popular new film, ''Das Leben der Anderen'' (The Lives of Others), which swept the German Film Prize last week, taking seven awards.

The powerful drama, which was a surprise box office hit, examines the moral choices facing both Stasi officers and those who fell under their surveillance in the German Democratic Republic (DDR), as the communist state was known.

Some Germans, including Stasi victims, say former officials of the security service are waging a ''comeback'' through books, media and the Internet.

They denounce what they see as an attempt to whitewash a powerful apparatus with a network of informers that bolstered four decades of communist rule by suppressing dissent and wrecking countless lives in the process.

The issue made headlines in March, when ex-Stasi men attended a public meeting at Hohenschoenhausen, a former Stasi prison in East Berlin and now a museum, accusing directors of turning it into a ''chamber of horrors''.

''I'm very worried because it's an indicator that we have been experiencing a creeping rehabilitation of the Communist Party dictatorship for years,'' Hubertus Knabe, director of the Hohenschoenhausen site, told Reuters.

Knabe believes united Germany made a mistake by not prosecuting communist-era crimes with sufficient determination.

He notes that in the 16th year since reunification, not a single person linked to state oppression in the DDR is in prison.

''The criminal justice process basically failed,'' he says.

''CLEAN METHODS'' More Reuters PA BST0902

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