Monday, 14 December 2009

Romanian-German Informer Scandal

Last week, as Hertha Müller was picking up her cheque in Sweden, other Romanian-German writers met up in Munich for a conference on German literature in Romania as seen through the fairground mirror of the Securitate files. And while they were there the Romanian-German poet, writer and translator Werner Söllner took the opportunity to confess to having reported to the Romanian secret police on his colleagues.

Twenty years is a long time to wait. It seems his fellow writers had known for some time - which may explain why their reactions have been remarkably calm and composed. Söllner has expressed deep regret over his actions during the 1970s and indicated that he was not aware he was being used as an informer. The Germanist Michael Markel defended him, saying his comments to the Securitate were of a favourable nature and did more good than harm. And Gerhardt Csejka, a Romanian-German translator and essayist, has written an interesting piece in the Tagesspiegel, the Berlin newspaper that more or less broke the story. Csejka writes:

Despite the necessity for clarity of distinction between perpetrators, victims and non-perpetrators, it would be an unbearable blurring of the actual moral texture of the landscape of those involved and an outrageous injustice if the worst rogues were to remain unrecognised and get away unpunished, while one man who exposes himself and his guilt to public judgement, albeit at a late date, had to pay penance for the greatest swines.

It seems the moral texture here is more complex than that of East Germany's literary Stasi informers, who have generally been blackballed out of published literature. The most infamous example was the Prenzlauer Berg poet Sascha Anderson, who provided a spectacular amount of information to the Stasi even after he moved to West Berlin. Yet as the East German writer Lutz Rathenow points out in a fascinating essay, in a good few cases Anderson's reports actually benefitted those he reported on, in career terms if not in any moral sense. Rathenow, who writes that his own Stasi files take up several square-metres of shelf space, feels that this explains the ambivalent feelings of many writers towards Anderson's activities. Indeed the poet Bert Papenfuß-Gorek still works very closely with Anderson, despite the fact that he would no doubt fall into the "victim" category.

I find this issue hard to deal with, never having experienced the huge-scale observation of the Stasi and Securitate. For many of those who lived through it, there seem to be moral shades of grey - from those who unwittingly collaborated to those who obtained privileges both material and immaterial. The writer Rayk Wieland recently took an only seemingly light-hearted look at the issue in the novel Ich schlage vor, dass wir uns küssen - in which a man discovers he was a dissident poet in the GDR and reads the meticulous misinterpretations of his fogotten poems in his Stasi file. Wieland's very own informer was a pimp and a gambler making a bit of money on the side. A man easy to label an arsehole, as Wolf Biermann famously renamed Anderson.

Update: Werner Söllner gave a five-hour interview summed up very briefly in the FAZ. Hubert Spiegel shows us a broken man:

Of all the fears he reveals, this is the greatest: that now it is finally out, since he stood before friends and colleagues in Munich as if wrapped in "black cotton wool", that now he feels something approaching internal liberation under the greatest external pressure, the impression might arise that he wanted to make light of or gloss over what happened back then.

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