BERLIN – The Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, has approved one million euro for victims of Chile’s notorious Colonia Dignidad. Challenging the government’s original plan to help but not pay victims, Christian Democrat and Social Democrat lawmakers forced the budget commission to submit a proposal that includes damages. The government wanted to avoid such a scenario because it could open the door for further demands to pay reparations.
In a late night session, Germany’s parliament asserted its power over the government on Thursday. Daily Der Spiegel reported that lawmakers from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and grand coalition junior partner Social Democratic Party (SPD) achieved the inclusion of one million euro in next year’s budget to compensate Colonia Dignidad victims.
The sect in Chile’s south, now known as Villa Baviera and run as an agricultural community, became infamous as a concentration camp during Pinochet’s dictatorship. At the time, dictatorship opponents and even possibly random passersby were tortured and murdered near children’s sleeping quarters. Sexual abuse and economic exploitation of minors were common. Former Nazi corporal and founder of the sect Paul Schäfer fled Germany because he faced prosecution for child abuse.
Parliamentarians like Renate Künast (Green Party), who is heading a group looking into the crimes, have argued the German state bears responsibility, and hence liability, because the German embassy and politicians worked hard to look the other way. Especially Bavaria’s ruling party CSU, the CDU’s sister party, and its late leader Franz-Josef Strauss (a hero in the conservative milieu), counted among Pinochet’s strongest defenders in West Germany. The BBC reported that the Colonia Dignidad’s ‘circle of friends’ even reached deep into West Germany’s parliament via an arms trafficker. No wonder, the foreign ministry played dumb.
Der Spiegel quoted Matthias Bartke (SPD), head of the parliament’s committee for labor and social affairs, as saying that “the terrible crimes in the Colonia Dignidad could only happen because the German embassy in Chile did not intervene despite many cries for help. This inaction was one of the darkest chapters of German post-war diplomacy.”
He added, “with the funds that have now been approved, we want to make it possible for the victims of Colonia Dignidad to receive urgently needed support.”
The funds are expected to be released around mid-2019, as a commission is developing guidelines for their dispersal.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).