Outrage Over 'Banner of Labor' German Mayor In Trouble for Awarding Communist Medal

The mayor of the eastern German town of Prenzlau was so pleased with one of his officials that he awarded him a vintage East German "Banner of Labor 1st Class." He has responded to the public outcry by saying it was a joke -- but faces calls to emigrate to North Korea.

The mayor of a small town in eastern Germany who used to be an informant for the Stasi secret police is in trouble for awarding a communist-era medal to a fellow official.

Symbols of a bygone era.

Symbols of a bygone era.

Hans-Peter Moser, mayor of the town of Prenzlau in the far northeast of Germany, awarded a vintage "Banner of Labor 1st Class" to the head of the town's cultural affairs department, Eckhard Blohm, last week as thanks for organizing Prenzlau's 775th anniversary festival.

Moser, 45, said it was a joke but the case has outraged opposition councillors, and a senior district official has threatened to launch disciplinary proceedings.

"I think disciplinary action would be totally exaggerated because what happened here was a joke which evidently backfired," Moser told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I have apologized for it and there's nothing more I can do."

"We had a festival procession the day before which also featured pictures of the German Democratic Republic so I had this spontaneous idea because such a medal was available," Moser said. "Of course I'm aware that we don't live in the GDR anymore and I don't celebrate those times."

Fellow councillors didn't see the joke. "Moser should think about emigrating to Cuba or North Korea," Matthias Genschow, a councillor for the conservative Christian Democrats, told Bild newspaper, which ran the story under the headline "Mayor Gone Mad?"

Karl-Hermann Seefeldt of the center-left Social Democrats said Moser had insulted the people of Prenzlau.

Ex-Stasi Informant

Moser is a member of the Left Party, which emerged from the Communist Party that ruled East Germany. Before he ran for office he publicly declared that he had been an unofficial informant for the Ministry for State Security -- the infamous security service that pursued dissidents.

The Stasi had 91,000 full employees and a network of around 189,000 civilian informants, known as Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IM), German for unofficial employees, to spy on neighbors, co-workers and even relatives.

"I was an IM and I made that public long before the mayoral election and explained what happened and that I'm convinced I harmed no one," said Moser.

He issued a statement on Tuesday saying he hadn't meant to belittle the town's festival committee. "I sincerely apologize for the situation which I now regard as thoughtless clumsiness on my part."

Vestiges of Communism

It may have been light-hearted, but the "Banner of Labor" award comes at the wrong time. As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches this November, there's heightened sensitivity in Germany to any vestiges of the regime that locked up political prisoners and exposed them to psychological torture in secret jails.

A report earlier this month that more than 10,000 former Stasi employees still work in civil service jobs such as teaching and the police force across eastern Germany today sparked outrage among the estimated 200,000 people who were harassed and locked up by the Stasi.

Figures collated by Berlin's Free University showed some 10,000 to 15,000 former fully paid-up members of the Stasi remain in public employment in eastern regional authorities. That doesn't include the unofficial informants.

Professor Klaus Schroeder, the social scientist who collated the figures, said many ex-Stasi officers hadn't been vetted properly in the 1990s and that Germany was repeating the mistakes it made after World War II, when Nazis were allowed to remain in public jobs.

Mario Röllig, a former Stasi prisoner, said last week that Germany "is failing to confront the history of the second German dictatorship."


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