Thursday, July 19, 2012

Democracy

Saw Michael Frayn’s Democracy last night at the Old Vic. A 2003 play, strangely an English playwrite took on the story of popular West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant Günter Guillaume… who was an East German spy.

Brandt became West German Chancellor at the height of the Cold War and did a lot to ease tensions between the East and West through his policy of Ostpolitik. He is also remembered for laying a wreath for the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an act of humility that had not yet been done by a German leader.

When it was discovered his personal assistant was a spy, Brandt’s government collapsed. Guillaume was supervised by spymaster Markus Wolf, who later stated that the resignation of Brandt had never been intended, and that the planting and handling of Guillaume had been one of the largest mistakes of the East German secret services.

What’s nice about the play is the human story. These two men spent a lot of time alone together and surely must have become close. It was an extraordinary deception. In 1956, Guillaume and his wife emigrated to West Germany as sleepers to penetrate and spy on West Germany's political system. It was an example of just how good they were at infiltrating their Western rivals on the other side of the Iron Curtain. One of the smaller countries in the world, the Stasi were the largest spy organisation after the KGB. 

It made me nostalgic for the days when I did Cold War tours in Berlin and got to tell people these stories everyday. A couple of old blog posts containing some bizarre Stasi facts here:





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