Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper to the Diplomatic Corps at the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial Site

14.01.2013 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Dr Knabe,

It has been almost a quarter of a century since the GDR’s State Security headquarters was stormed and the wounds of the victims have still not healed.Meeting here in this place, we are honouring the victims and preserving for future generations the memory of the injustice perpetrated here. We are warding off apathy and oblivion.

Coming to terms with the communist dictatorship by working through its history is important to the Federal Government, for dictatorships unfortunately have not been eradicated, but rather are still able to take root. Here, in this place, human rights were trampled on.Many members of the opposition in the GDR, such as Rudolf Bahro, Jürgen Fuchs and others, were imprisoned here.Here, people were made compliant through months of imprisonment while awaiting trial and through tactics designed to destabilize them psychologically.The State Security Service, the Stasi, used the covert form of persecution. They preferred “destabilizing measures” as they were called.

For many years, this threatening scenario led to conformist behaviour in the population.Those who were willing to conform were praised, awarded medals and given other material rewards.But the subtle varieties of surveillance proved to be very labour intensive in practice.In the 70s, the policy of détente led to an increase in visits to the West. The number of full-time Stasi employees thus doubled. The system of surveillance was refined, but paradoxically the fear of the secret surveillance apparatus and its effects diminished.

The population had the feeling that they were being monitored anonymously, but citizens were left alone as long as they did not attract attention through non-conformist political activity.

However, anyone who got into trouble with the justice system for political offences felt the full effect of what it meant to be at the mercy of the state apparatus and to be powerless against its repression.The victims had no rights, were at the mercy of the system, were harassed and suffered degrading treatment.Many of the lawyers they had to choose from worked for the Stasi. Nevertheless, in the late 80s the party became a prisoner of its own propaganda.

The will to freedom expressed in the peaceful revolution by the unforgettable slogan “We are the people” brought an end to the evil world of the dictatorship.

You could almost imagine that history is repeating itself.How similar are the images of the “Arab Spring” or the elimination of the repressive system in Myanmar to the events of the autumn of 1989?

I am glad that many ambassadors from affected countries have come here to see how Germany is trying to work through the history of this evil dictatorship.

With the Stasi Records Act of the early 90s, German legislators granted researchers and journalists access to the files to facilitate a thorough analysis of the activities of the State Security Service.That brought the workings of this gigantic repressive system to light and made its significance for the history of the GDR clear.

The organization Friends of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial also makes a contribution to dealing with this ghastly historyby ensuring that the suffering endured in the second dictatorship in Germany is not forgotten.Excellencies, here in this place you can see Germany’s dark past for yourselves.What happened here renders us speechless and cries out to heaven. May nothing like this ever happen again – this is the warning we will all take with us from this visit. Thank you.

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