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Merkel book sparks scrutiny over Communist past

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2013-05-14

A new book detailing the early political life of Angela Merkel has accused the austerity-driven German chancellor of working as a propagandist for the East German Communist youth movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Known today as “The Iron Lady of Europe,” it’s difficult to imagine Angela Merkel peddling propaganda for East Germany’s Communist youth league. But according to a new book, “The First Life of Angela M.,” the conservative chancellor served as a senior member of several Communist organisations before reunification in 1990.

Published in Germany on Monday, the book by journalists Günther Lachmann and Ralf Georg Reuth is unlikely to prove easy reading for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU), which is preparing for September’s general election – in which Merkel is seeking a third term in office.

According to the book, 58-year-old Merkel was active in various political organisations while studying for her doctorate and working as a researcher at university. The list includes the Free German Youth movement (the FDJ, the official youth wing of the German Democratic Republic, or GDR), the major workers’ union, and the Society for German-Soviet Friendship.

The First Life of Angela M.

The revelation most likely to cause embarrassment to Merkel is her post as propaganda functionary at the FDJ. Until now, Merkel had only mentioned her duties as “culture functionary” at the youth wing.

‘Falling back on memories’

The book also portrays Merkel as a symbol of anti-reunification following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The woman who boasts today of an economically triumphant unified Germany, it says, would have preferred in 1989 to see the GDR remain an independent and socialist state, reborn as the German Federal Republic.

Merkel’s political rivals have been quick to press the chancellor on the accusations, which have been widely publicised in the German press. On Monday Merkel denied the claims, saying that she never mentioned certain things because “nobody ever asked” her.

“I can only fall back on my memories,” she said. “If something else turns up, then I can live with it. What is important to me is that I never kept anything secret.”

CDU state parliament leader Mike Mohring, a fellow conservative, defended Merkel on Monday, telling reporters she “never went too far” in her work for the FDJ when he was questioned over any potential links Merkel could have had with Stasi intelligence services and the regime itself.

But for specialists of East German political history, the chancellor’s involvement with the FDJ and other youth outfits is far from surprising. “Being a member of these organisations was almost obligatory for a young science student hoping to make a career for themselves in East Germany,” Stefan Wolle, head of science at the GDR Museum in Berlin, explained to German news magazine Focus.

For Wolle, Merkel’s upbringing should be seen as testament to her strength in the political sphere. As the daughter of a pastor in a strictly anti-religious environment, Merkel was faced with an immediate handicap, Wolle explained. The fact that she succeeded within Communist regime affiliated groups can only be a positive thing, he said.

 

Date created : 2013-05-14

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