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Author Christa Wolf Reflects on the Debate about East German Literature (September 27, 1993)

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Suddenly the topic then changes to the state security police problem after all. Whether it is important to bring it up again and again and to grapple with it. There are different opinions; I sense an aversion to the topic, and in that context I try to control myself sharply because I am not impartial. So I say, when the keyword reconciliation has been uttered, that there can be no reconciliation without knowing the facts, and even while I am saying it, I ask myself if I really think that or if I have only read it. This is one of a growing number of topics, by the way, about which I have no firm opinion. I would like to hear whether or not the people actually want a discussion of their past at all (but can one really “want” it if it is embarrassing and painful, or is it one of the typical German Protestant austerities to assume that after confession of guilt and remorse, forgiveness and catharsis will follow? – Until now it has always gone otherwise in history). Some say that they did want to think about the past, they just did not want the discussion to take place in this fashion: conducted by the West without sensitivity and differentiation; the practices of the Gauck Commission in my case are brought up as evidence for the fact that the state security police files are being used as instruments. I attempt to argue against it by saying that we actually have to get to the point of answering for our own lives, regardless of how difficult others make it for us, regardless of how much guiltier others are, but I know that those are unreasonable demands that have nothing to do with the lives of most people. As the discussion goes back and forth, I get the impression that they are again waiting for aphorisms from me about how things are supposed to go from here. I understand every sentiment and opposing sentiment from the audience; it is as if I had never been away, it is as if they had experienced during that time the same process that I did; and now I have to guard against an attitude of expectation to which I do not want to respond; I protest (what a beautiful word!) against any manifestation of nostalgia for the German Democratic Republic that permits one to beautify what one has said and done or, for the most part, not done during the recent decades, identify situations in which we (I say “we” and mean a small group of friends) really were quite alone, until the time when the manifestations of the state’s disintegration became more and more apparent, the dangers were reduced, and more and more people came into conflict and finally into opposition. That was the normal course of events and nobody could reproach anyone for it, I least of all, but neither would I forget how despondent I sometimes was during the last years of the German Democratic Republic. Nor would they be any more likely to bring me to the point of sanctioning the manner and the haste with which everything that smelled like the German Democratic Republic and was therefore disreputable was dealt with. And while I say that, I see us with the eyes of those outside: inhabitants of a quarantined barrack, infected with the state security police virus. For the first time I believe I really understand what advantages that view brings, psychological advantages, for one must not become involved with these infected people. It is self-protection when you do not let them get close to you, and it is obvious that you can dispose of them at will. Then it dawns on me what harm this kind of “appraisal” causes, causes for both sides, and I hear myself saying, more forcefully than I want to, but even for that, for humiliation and settling things, it takes two. Why did we not resist (but how? the opposing voice in me asks)? Why did the people from Bischofferode walk through the country and nobody go with them? (It is clear to me, and the next day I can read it. Those are the sentences that they quote in the newspapers everywhere.)

Somebody asks the beautiful question of whether or not the state security police records are the guilty conscience of the nation. I say: No, only in Germany could one arrive at the idea that records could take the place of conscience. After I read my records, I knew that those records do not contain “the truth,” neither about the one for whose perusal they were assembled, nor about those who filled them with their reports. They contain what the state security people saw or were supposed to, had to, were permitted to see. They reflect a growing paranoia of the smallest intellects; the very language that they used was not adequate to record “truth,” their very formulation reduces people to objects that they made use of. A few pieces of information can be drawn from them, frequently pieces of outdated information even about the informants, to whom the records grant no development and whom they now nail down on a point that they have perhaps overcome (which is why the decoding of the cover names of the many Interior Ministry informers who surrounded us in earlier periods did not interest us). I am quite happy that I can say that candidly, since, of course, I had my own Interior Ministry records published. I say: No, literature must probably present “the truth” about that time and about our lives.

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