Michael Jackson - was the King of Pop "Bad"
for the East German regime?
SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO die first before you can receive the respect that was withheld from you while you were still breathing, and Michael Jackson is proving this every day. The outpouring of grief that accompanied the announcement of his death and that was displayed at his lavish funeral have forever drowned out the bad press he earned during his lifetime. Now word of yet another posthumous accolade has hit the newswires, and from a corner no one ever would have expected. However, this tribute was secretly issued already during his lifetime, and it is also a distinction he and I both share. Yes, it seems that Michael Jackson too was paid the honor of having a Stasi file kept on him.
According to documents uncovered by the "Birthler Office" (the government agency in charge of the Stasi files) and presented in the July 30 edition of the German tabloid Bild, the Stasi's counterintelligence division, Hauptabteilung XX, which was in charge of "securing the state apparatus" and rooting out the opposition, opened a file on the singer on May 4, 1988. The East German regime had long since begun its slow descent into oblivion, and in this atmosphere Michael Jackson's "Bad Tour" through Europe could only mean more bad news for the "shield and sword of the Party," as the Stasi called itself. For months the security service had been terrified of the potential danger arising from Jackson’s planned June 19 concert in front of the Reichstag Building in West Berlin, just meters from the Berlin Wall. Agents reported that East German “young people will do everything they can to experience the concert from the area in front of the Brandenburg Gate,” a highly sensitive zone in the divided city. The report went on to say that “unknown young people will deliberately provoke a confrontation with the People’s Police.” The agents specifically feared the arrival of dissidents from across the GDR who wanted to use this opportunity to test the government’s recent agreement with church authorities to permit greater freedom of assembly. These demonstrators actually sought arrest by the security forces in order to embarrass the government. And the more people were arrested, the Stasi warned, the greater the public relations fiasco.
The Stasi: Shield and Sword of the Party
In order to avoid such a scenario, the agents of Hauptabteilung XX urged that the concert be broadcast live in a stadium in East Berlin, far away from the actual site, with a two-minute delay in case of “political provocations.” If such a disruption occurred (for example in the form of statements by Jackson himself or provocative signs held up by concert-goers), then the organizers were to switch over immediately to a videocassette of an earlier Jackson concert.
Excerpt from Michael Jackson's Stasi file
In the end, the government decided not to pursue this gentler plan. Fortunately for the regime, Bruce Springsteen was performing elsewhere in East Berlin on June 19. Despite his own incendiary statement in front of 160,000 fans about how he hoped "that one day all the barriers will be torn down," The Boss may have unwittingly neutralized much of the potential for mayhem. Nevertheless, thousands duly assembled at the Brandenburg Gate and the regime sent the Stasi out in full force. I was living in East Berlin at the time and my fiancée and I were witnesses to this memorable scene, which I have already written about elsewhere:
One evening in June we attended a performance of Schiller’s “Maria Stuart” at the Deutsches Theater. After the performance we noticed “inconspicuous” men in civilian clothes, slouching on street corners in groups of three, eyeing the passersby. The reason was no secret: somehow everyone knew that Michael Jackson was giving a concert in front of the Reichstag that evening, just a few hundred meters from where we were standing, but on the other side of the Wall. Curious to see how the East would respond, we wandered over to Unter den Linden, in plain view of the Brandenburg Gate. Hundreds, soon thousands of young people congregated to hear the music. The Stasi agents also multiplied and uniformed policeman began appearing at intersections. We never heard a note of music that night, but soon voices arose in the crowd calling “The Wall must go!” and “Gorbachev! Gorbachev!” Now the plainclothes Stasi men came alive. They hurled the young people to the ground, shouting “What did you say? What did you say?” and hauled them off by the collar into side streets where police vans were waiting to bundle them off to Stasi headquarters. (This was one of the first open demonstrations against Communist rule, presaging the mass demonstrations that brought the regime down in 1989.) Did we join in? We could not afford to be heroes that night. We thought of our infant twins asleep in their cribs and of our pending exit visa application and caught the next bus home.
West Berlin's Republic Square, in front of the Reichstag as it
appeared in the 1980s
The Stasi’s brutal reaction did indeed prove to be a public relations fiasco for the regime. In an act of political folly that must have seemed all too familiar to Barbara Tuchman, the opposition baited the trap and the communists strode right into it. This show of force demonstrated that while Erich Honecker and his minions could still crack heads, they were unable to prevent unrest like this from taking place and certainly could not be trusted to respect agreements. On November 9, 1989 – less than a year and a half later – the regime disintegrated, concluding a sequence of events in which Jackson played a modest but essential role. And yet, Jackson did not have to deliver a grand speech like Ronald Reagan in order to rattle the Brandenburg Gate and its feckless guardians. All he had to do was show up.
Michael Jackson’s file is solely concerned with matters relating to his possible political impact within the context of the Cold War. While it may be hard for us to imagine today, it seems as if the Stasi did not believe that Jackson’s private peccadilloes were anybody else’s business but his own. Perhaps that is the one thing it actually got right.