Hans Modrow: Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier kondolierte halb anonym

On February 10, 2022, Hans Modrow, a politician affiliated with the SED, PDS, and Die Linke parties, and the penultimate Prime Minister of the GDR in 1989/90, passed away. According to an article in the Berliner Zeitung on September 19, 2023, at that time, no representative from the federal government attended the funeral, let alone any recognition or consideration for Modrow, or even the thought of organizing an official memorial service for him.

Nun hat Modrows Witwe Gabriele Linder in einem Erinnerungsbuch, auf das sich besagter Artikel bezieht, offenbart, dass ihr – ohne Absender auf dem Couvert – eine Kondolenz des Bundespräsidenten zuging, die von einem Fahrer abgegeben wurde.

Phänomenale Leistung

The question of why condolences were conveyed under cover and semi-anonymously can be answered without too much speculation. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who usually talks and confesses a lot, did not want to attract attention in this case. The risk of being shredded by the media was significant and real. How could he, as the head of state, dare to publicly honor a committed socialist who had not renounced his beliefs and took pride in never even considering it?

Steinmeier hat eine angemessene Reaktion auf den Tod Modrows offenkundig nicht als opportun empfunden. Das ist für ein Land, das zusehends Demokratie mit Stimmung verwechselt, nicht verwunderlich. Es bedarf einer über die Möglichkeiten eines und speziell dieses Bundespräsidenten hinausreichenden Zivilcourage, um unumwunden zu sagen oder zu schreiben, dass es entscheidend Hans Modrow zu verdanken war, wenn im Herbst 1989 beim Umbruch in der DDR und der offenen Grenze, die nicht nur Staaten, sondern Systeme trennte, kein Schuss fiel. Niemand kam zu Schaden. Und das bei einem Sicherheitsapparat, den das heute vorherrschende Gesichtsbild als hochgerüstet und brutal, skrupellos und rücksichtslos kolportiert. War das so, hat Modrow eine phänomenale Leistung vollbracht, wenn er diese Kräfte damals in Schach hielt. Trifft es nicht zu, ist einer der Fäden gerissen, an denen die seit 1990 betriebene Delegitimierung der DDR hängt.

Sieger der Geschichte

Both interpretations, however, cannot undermine Modrow’s personal integrity, with which he understood how to lead the GDR through self-sacrifice and downfall until April 1990. This weighs more heavily than the term of office of his successor Lothar de Maizière (CDU-East). The course was set and remained so. The GDR citizens knew what awaited them. That was different in autumn 1989.

Ultimately, the same shabbiness is evident in the treatment of Hans Modrow as it was with Erich Honecker after his downfall. During his visit to West Germany in September 1987, Honecker was courted for five days. In East Berlin, top politicians from West Germany and West Berlin continued to praise the „constructive dialogue“ with the leader of the GDR: the governing mayor Eberhard Diepgen (CDU), as well as SPD politicians Björn Engholm, Hans-Jochen Vogel, and Herbert Wehner, or CDU leaders like Lothar Späth and Wolfgang Schäuble, to name just a few.

But then the friendship between Helmut Kohl and Boris Yeltsin sealed Honecker’s extradition in the summer of 1992 from Moscow to Berlin-Moabit. He had to go to the same prison where the Gestapo had already taken him in 1935. Why let sensitivity towards history prevail as the „winner of history“? This was considered unnecessary and still serves as a lesson in decency and conscience. An attempt was made to deceive history about what it cannot be deprived of: its incorruptibility, which can pinpoint who acts and why. What happened to Honecker is no different from the disrespect towards Hans Modrow. One can only hope that more East Germans will become aware of this.

Regarding the topic of civil courage, there is something else worth mentioning: In 1957, it was Hans Modrow, as the Secretary of the FDJ Central Council, who advocated for the DEFA film „Berlin – Ecke Schönhauser“ directed by Gerhard Klein. The film portrayed a realistic image of East Berlin during the time of the open border and instead of being banned, it became a success in the GDR cinema. However, this act of civil courage in an unjust state cannot be compared to what is expected in a democratic state today.