The Erich Loest Prize 2023, named after the writer critical of the GDR (1926 to 2013), goes to the writer and former GDR competitive athlete Ines Geipel. The reasoning of the jury is: "As a committed and combative voice in the effort to examine the mechanisms of action of dictatorships, she is an award winner that Erich Loest would have liked." Since then, a campaign has been running against Ines Geipel.
Jochen Staadt has been working for the "Research Association SED State" founded in 1992 at the Freie Universität Berlin for many years and is closely following the coming to terms with the injustices in the GDR. The political scientist has published numerous studies on the role of state security, including their fight against Axel Springer and his publishing house, in which WELT appears.
WORLD: What is going on here?
Jochen Staadt: In the Doping Victims Association (DOH), which Ines Geipel co-founded in 1999 and represented with great commitment as chairwoman from 2013, there were apparently disagreements about who was actually a doping victim. Contrary to previous statements, critics took the view that many athletes who were doped during the GDR era were themselves part of the system and acted independently. So they are not victims, they are now being wrongly awarded compensation.
WORLD: What was the result?
Staadt: Ines Geipel gave up the chair of the DOH at the end of 2018. But her opponents continued to pursue her, not shying away from using emails and defamation on social media to attack the honors she received as a writer and literary scholar. They were only concerned with degrading von Geipel as a person.
WORLD: The film “Doping and Sealing. The difficult heritage of GDR sports” on MDR, which questioned Ines Geipel’s entire life. The two former GDR athletes "Henner" Misersky and Uwe Trömer are the film's main informants. What drives these men?
Staadt: I don't know, of course, but envy, hatred and the insult of not being given enough attention seem to play a major role.
WORLD: As a historian, how do you rate the work of Ines Geipel?
Staadt: She has done outstanding things as a literary scholar, writer and enlightener of the state GDR doping system. The Association of Doping Victims, which she greatly influenced, was of course only able to achieve its goal of compensating doping victims through public relations work.
WORLD: Is she too "media horny" as critics think? And would a good broad impact be a reproach at all - or rather a proof of credibility and strength?
Staadt: There is no doubt that Ines Geipel was the figurehead of the DOH, so to speak. And the association finally reached resolutions of the Bundestag in favor of the GDR doping victims.
WORLD: You wrote to MDR director Karola Wille and program director Klaus Brink Bäumer to protest against the program. Did they both reply?
Staadt: No, not until now (Editor's note: February 20, 2023). As usual with the public service media, which always emphasize their transparency, they obviously take their time. Perhaps at some point a vague and relativizing answer will come.
WORLD: What do you suspect as the motive of the MDR? East German print media have also adopted the Geipel-critical tonality of the film in their reviews, even the “Spiegel”. What forces are at work here?
Staadt: The “Spiegel” already joined the campaign in May 2022 with what I thought was a defamatory article.
WORLD: The historian Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk, full-time project manager of the Stasi documents archive, has played a role in the dispute over Ines Geipel for years. Among other things, he suggested “postponing” the presentation of the Loest Prize. How do you see it?
Staadt: Kowalczuk seems to me to be a driving force in the campaign against Ines Geipel. In his book "The Takeover" he seems to have gotten rid of his anger at West German dominance in the institutions of the new federal states. Until then I had valued him as a friendly colleague. Perhaps he felt that he was not given sufficient consideration in East German academic life.
WORLD: What does that have to do with Ines Geipel?
Staadt: She described Kowalczuk on Deutschlandfunk as a "Jacobin of East German historiography". That seems fitting to me; one could also call him a “revolutionary guard of the reappraisal scene”. For me, however, his attacks against Geipel are surprisingly lacking in arguments. In addition, on December 18, 2019, he sent the photo of a page from Ines Geipel's victim file to former civil rights activist Werner Schulz. His lawyer denies that Kowalczuk took the picture himself.
WORLD: The "Frankfurter Allgemeine" wrote in a review of the MDR film after the broadcast: "Scientists have researched and published extensively. Athletes, trainers, officials and doctors confirmed the meticulous description in the Stasi files. With their judgments, German courts have left no doubt about the human experiments: On behalf of the state leadership, a secret, inhuman, systematic doping has been built up and refined over many years. What else is there to discover?” Yes, what?
Staadt: The state doping system in the GDR has indeed been well researched and meticulously reviewed from a legal point of view. There won't be much new to find out. In my opinion, today and in the future it is about caring for injured athletes, some of whom were still children when irresponsible sports doctors, sports officials and trainers administered "performance-enhancing" pills to them.
WORLD: Ilko Sascha Kowalczuk wrote in a tweet after the MDR broadcast: “Should the allegations there prove true, great damage would be expected for the entire social process of coming to terms with the SED dictatorship. The credibility of these decades of effort is at stake.” Does he know who he is playing into the hands of?
Staadt: Former Stasi people around the magazine “Rot-Fuchs” are involved in the campaign, particularly a Bavarian “friend of peace” who defends the GDR tooth and nail as the better German state. Werner Schulz once described him as a "leisure Stalinist". Then of course Misersky and Trömer. Her attempts to prevent Ines Geipel from being awarded literary prizes strike me as grotesque.
WORLD: Werner Schulz warned about this shortly before his sudden death on November 9, 2022, in the essay "Annulled processing". The subtitle was: "The rollback of Heinrich Misersky in the doping process". Schulz wrote that the new generation of scientists and journalists may also have had an effect of obscuring or even leveling historical truths. 34 years after the fall of the wall, nothing is as it was. Why?
Staadt: A softened image of the SED dictatorship haunts a number of niches of everyday life in East Germany, but it also plays a role in some university institutes that are looking for third-party funds. The creation of a different GDR is more worthy of support today than the mantra of conventional criticism of the system.
WORLD: A reader wrote to MDR: “It is frightening to see how the decline in democratic, historical defenses and competencies can lead to poisoning of public television. These are no small things, sport and winning at any price are the dictators’ favorite toys, the relativization of sports-political crimes is the most effective populist back door, through which the next desired relativizations can be patiently and precisely pushed on a broad scale.”
Staadt: Nothing to add to that.
WORLD: Ines Geipel himself wrote to Karola Wille: "What you get to see over 45 minutes is essentially an attempt to destroy the work done by so many in this field. I am merely the representative in this.”
Staadt: In my opinion, the campaign will not be successful because it is based on false claims and the denial of the GDR's state doping system, which is scientifically and legally comprehensively documented.
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