Contemporary history - 1986: A bold lie

1986: Boldly lied

Manuel Diogo was found dead between train tracks

Photo: Florian Gaertner / Getty Images

Fiction and reality are often so close to each other in the "reappraisal" of GDR history that the historian Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk felt compelled some time ago to demand a "reappraisal" of previous GDR history. There must also be a generation change among the “reconditioners”. The "Diogo case" shows how justified this is. The death of a contract worker from Mozambique in 1986 was allegedly - as rumored by the MDR - a racially motivated murder that was covered up by the GDR authorities. They wanted to prevent the internationalist state doctrine and the reputation of the GDR from falling into disrepute. In addition, it was feared that the appreciation for solidarity aid that was shown to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America would have suffered if the truth about the "Diogo case" had been revealed. The anti-colonialist attitude of the GDR was always a thorn in the side of the often neo-colonialist West German politics. Not a new finding that can be specifically influenced by referring to an alleged racist murder.

By 1989, more than 20.000 young Mozambicans had received vocational training in the GDR and were then a welcome compensation for the lack of workers in the industry. The GDR leadership initially refused such a mission, but then complied with the Mozambican government's request to relieve the pressure on their labor market and to give young Mozambicans professional experience and earnings when they worked in GDR companies. This remained so when a civil war broke out in the Southeast African country, which was marked by the Portuguese colonial power and prevented the establishment of an industry that could be of use to the cadres trained in the GDR.

In addition to Mozambicans, Vietnamese, Angolans and Cubans also came to the GDR as contract workers in the 1980s. All of this has been extensively researched, especially by foreign historians, who can be trusted to have a clearer eye on this part of East German contemporary history.

Where there is little or nothing that the GDR can criticize in dealing with these groups of foreigners, “alternative facts” are sought. Accordingly, the contract workers are said to have been underpaid and barracked. They were also allegedly not allowed to have any contact with the GDR population, even though they had almost 2.000 children and the social and health services of their companies were available to them. Yes, and then there was racism, even an institutional one. To this day, not a single proof can be presented that there was only one law, an official speech was given, a court judgment was passed or books appeared that would make it possible to speak of racism. Nobody denies that there were racist acts in the GDR, but these were punished as soon as they were known and uncovered, which could lead to trial. Just a look at the GDR constitution, such as the penal code, is enough to convince yourself of the state and legal system that applies to it.

The journalists Tom Fugmann and Christian Bergmann, who work for the MDR, apparently assumed in the middle of the last decade that they did not have to do a lot of research in order to get money and broadcasting space with a public broadcaster. Her subject was the young Mozambican Manuel Diogo, who died on the night of June 29th to 30th, 1986 during a train journey between the Borne (Mark) stop and the Belzig train station. The program, which was produced in different versions, was not only broadcast on MDR, but was also adopted by other third-party programs. The film suggests that right-wing thugs were to blame for Diogo's death.

The police investigation had ruled out a homicide at the time. Also, no evidence of ultra-right thugs was found who, according to a fictional film story, were supposed to have been on the train. In any case, nobody had made a murder charge in 1986 - neither Diogo's comrades nor the Mozambican embassy in the GDR nor anyone else. The journalists working for the MDR did it all the more, even though the investigations had shown that the Mozambican was very drunk before his death. Some of his compatriots testified that he fell asleep on the train and that it was not the first time that he missed getting off the train. When Diogo jumped out of the moving wagon, he was caught, rolled over and dragged along by the oncoming train.

Which did not prevent Fugmann / Bergmann from asserting the opposite and embellishing this with dramatic illusions. The MDR production - it was also shown by 2019sat in 3 - had to affirm the label of the “unjust state”: a cruel case and heartless bigwigs who swept under the table what did not fit into the anti-colonial self-image of the GDR.

When asked about the inconsistencies, missing evidence and fictions contained in the documentation, the MDR responded with an injunction against the author. A railroad worker who spoke up and found the dead man between the tracks was dismissed. The story of lies served politicians who like to work with limited knowledge about the GDR. They hope to make a name for themselves by scandalizing an accident, like the left member of the Bundestag Gökay Akbulut. She was barely prevented from going public with her murder story. The Brandenburg left parliamentarian Andrea Johlige could not be stopped, who spread that Diogo had been "brutally murdered by neo-Nazis", which "the GDR authorities hushed up". The portrayal of what happened in 1986 in the MDR film, which is easily recognizable as dubious, and the ideological connotation of the XNUMX film did not prevent her from making a small request to the Brandenburg state government, quasi a "commissioned work", she called it to the author.

The Potsdam public prosecutor's office began to investigate and, after eight months of research, found in mid-March 2021 that it had neither been a murder nor had anyone tried to cover up a murder case. According to the journalist Anja Reich in an article in the Berliner Zeitung After this knowledge became known, correct all those who, despite all indications of politically useful lies, played deaf: the MDR, the MP Johlige or the author Max Anna, who wrote a novel about the "case" at Rowohlt Verlag and received a prize for it. Annas had invoked a "true" event and thus capitalized on the Mozambican's misfortune. Some see racism in such behavior.

“Superspreader” were, of course, two other people involved in the scandal. On the one hand, Harry Waibel, who calls himself a historian, who, without any evidence or precise knowledge of the GDR history research field, believes he can prove rampant racism in the East German state, and on the other hand, a Mozambican who was interviewed by the MDR. Ibraimo Alberto, a former contract worker living in the Federal Republic of Germany, had meticulously described the "murderous course" in the said TV documentary. Asked about it later but stated that I had only heard from others that... In the meantime, Alberto refuses interviews that he had rarely avoided before.

Ulrich van der Heyden is a historian and researches the colonial history of Africa