INT: Just to move on to the kind of the latest kind of...
SH: (Interrupts) I mean, to come back to that give me... show me one place where a whole government is concerned with a book of a writer and enough... is concerned enough to suppress it. (Unintelligible) importance. Let them print what they want, the stupid fellow. That is the attitude today. At that time they took it seriously and that gave the author, of course, a feeling of self-importance. That was one of the things, not only that you felt suppressed, you felt recognised, as I said.
INT: Just to move on in terms of time, by the end of the eighties and the changes started occur and one of the people associated with that change was Gorbachev. What hopes did you think that the people have in the eighties when Gorbachev started to kind of put pressure on Honecker to reform the GDR?
SH: Well, we certainly hoped very much that perestroika would win out and that there would be changes here and that... We knew all along that socialism could flourish only with a certain amount of freedom and democracy. So if now Gorbachev could impose freedom and democracy on the system here, that this might be only to the good and I disapproved of the fact that the government here and the tops of the party here refused to adopt the few reforms that Gorbachev put over in the field of media and the field of culture and so on. And this was one of the reasons that the system here broke down that quickly and without a fight, because it had become so brittle that it collapsed just.
INT: Continue interview with Stefan Heym. This is roll 10278 and it's still the nineteenth of July 1996. Herr Heym, I would like to kind of go just back of a couple of questions as we talk, so start at the early period then move chronologically through again.
INT: I would very much like to ask you for that early period when you were kind of in America, you returned to the GDR and what kind of optimism you actually came back with and what kind of thoughts you actually had when you were over there in America and then coming back, how that felt.
SH: Well, I certainly hoped that in the Eastern part of Germany, what was just beginning to be called the German Democratic Republic, you would develop a system of socialism with freedom and democracy in it, because I believed that this new form of social relationships and this new form of production could only succeed if you had freedom of initiative and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and freedom of criticism, which, by the way is what Marx demanded in the beginning of the whole thing.
INT: So what did you actually experience when you came?
SH: Well, when I came I was surprised to find that not all people were enthusiastic about the new thing. You mustn't forget that even in West Germany in the beginning, people wanted kind of socialism. You find that in the early plebiscites that you had there, in the early decisions of the parliaments then, especially in the state of Essen. So when I came here I was kind of disappointed to find that a great many people 't like the system that much and in fact, the system was run so that people couldn't really love it and that's where the development begathat then took its first climactic experience in June seventeen 1953. But you must not also forget that a great number of people in the East German parts as well had been Nazis only eight years ago and so the change of mind was not altogether there. And the blow up of June seventeenth was the result of two basic facts. The one that the government, which called itself a workers' government, had actually done things that the workers could not possibly stomach, ten per cent increase of production demanded for no additional pay, and the fact that quite a few Nazis were still around and were very happy to act against the leftist government when they had an opportunity and saw it.
INT: Did you at that time experience the Cold War already? Was that something you were aware of?
SH: Well, we didn't call it Cold War at the time, but I suspected very much that the West had something to do with it. And if you read my novel that I wrote about it, you can find these various streams of development depicted there.
INT: Just to go on a bit and kind of talk briefly again about the eleventh plenum and how that came about and how it developed?
SH: Well, you mustn't forget one thing, that this eleventh plenary session of the Central Committee of the SED Party in the first place was intended to be a plenum on economic questions, which could not take place because a few days before that event, the Minister of Economics, Arper was his name, committed suicide or he was a Minister or was he a member of the... he was a member of the Politburo in charge of economics, I don't... don't know exactly, you know, what was Arper? (Background response) Yeah, he was suddenly out, so they couldn't have a plenum on that and they took the next best thing they found, culture. And there of course they had also a number of developments that they didn't like and so they went to town on that and I remember one of the high points of the plenum was Honecker's attack on Havermann and myself and to be attacked by the chief of the whole works was a very singular experience and but I'm proud to say I didn't buckle under, but I defended myself at the first opportunity I had, which was a meeting of writers in which I proved that Honecker had based his whole attack on me on either false information or outright lies, which of course he didn't like much, but it was an answer, a valid answer.
INT: We spoke a bit about the events in Czechoslovakia later in the sixties. What kind of contact did you have and what kind of support did you give to Czech writers, Czechoslovakian writers and how influential or connected was that?
SH: Well, before the '68 events in Czechoslovakia, we knew of course that something was brewing there and I and other East German writers had gone frequently to Prague to talk with the Czech colleagues and we sympathised with them and showed them our sympathy and we showed it to them too after the Soviets moved in. And after a number of them were driven out of the country, out of Czechoslovakia, I'm proud to say that we didn't break up connections, but had been visiting them also in their place of exile and we tried to give the Czech people and the Czech intellectuals all the support we could. Of course, there couldn't be at that time mass demonstrations or demonstrations of groups in East Germany, but as an individual that was done. I remember, for instance, the plight of Stefan Hamlien, who on the day of invasion went to the Czech Embassy here and put in his name in the book that they had lying there for visitors on that day as an act of demonstration of support.
INT: What kind of exchange of ideas did actually go on between the Czech writers and the East German writers?
SH: Well, we knew what they wanted and what they felt and we felt that was good and the (unintelligible) on the part of the East German government was that we would be trying to do the same thing they were doing in Czechoslovakia. And actually, in that time, there were produced a number of films and a number of books there that were quite successful here too and they wanted to block that kind of thing, government and the party. So there were quite a few contacts and the idea of a socialism with a human face was something that I absolutely could support, because it was my idea from the very first. You must have, if socialism was to succeed, a socialism with lots of democratic elements in it.
INT: Then the Warsaw Pact troops moved into Prague and could you kind of express your outrage or what did you actually do to show your support and what did the East German were able to do to show...
SH: (Interrupts) I think they showed it in what you might call...