THE RESIGNATION of Lothar de Maiziere as minister in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's cabinet is only the latest example of the reach of the now-disbanded East German secret police, or Stasi, into the affairs of present-day Germany. Since the fall of the East German Communist regime, spy charges have been flying nonstop; many have struck home. Even East Germany's short-lived elected government was plagued with scandals linking dozens of parliamentarians with the secret police. Now Mr. de Maiziere, former East German prime minister, is leaving his cabinet post and his position as deputy leader of Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats amid charges, which he denies, that for years he was a Stasi informer against the East German Protestant Church.
It was plain all along that Germany would have to find a way to resolve the thorny problem of the dossiers the Stasi compiled on millions of East and West Germans over 40 years. But it was not fully appreciated just how far the poisonous influence of that infamous spy agency would penetrate the new body politic. In the first week following the birth of a united Germany, nine spies were arrested; hundreds have been taken into custody since the beginning of the year. Most stunning is the success of Stasi in confounding Western intelligence. Imagine learning that the 28-year veteran FBI agent responsible for catching and turning KGB agents into double-agents had been a KGB agent himself for years. Or that a 17-year CIA veteran who prepares the president's most sensitive weekly top-secret intelligence briefing had been on the KGB payroll for 23 years.
Now come calls for granting unconditional amnesty to former Stasi agents. After all, some argue, hundreds of thousands of Germans worked as informers for the intelligence service. They were in every walk of life. Hunting them down only opens wounds and exposes them and the nation to endless recrimination and dissension. Chancellor Kohl is said to favor a one-year amnesty, if only to give the moles in the German government a chance to leave their burrows permanently. Germany has been at an analogous place before -- in the time of denazification. Once again, Germany must come to grips with a dark inheritance.