ERICH HONECKER spent 10 years in Nazi prisons for his communist beliefs. This imprisonment helps explain the veteran East German leader's resistance to glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Because he and almost all of his aging Politburo colleagues suffered from their fight against fascism, they don't like the Soviet magazine Sputnik insinuating that communists didn't do enough to prevent Hitler from causing havoc. According to many who know him, Mr. Honecker took the controversial decision himself to ban the magazine.
``He hit the ceiling,'' says sociologist Irene Runge. ``The Sputnik articles hurt him personally.''
For his entire lifetime, Honecker has fought fascism. So when the extreme-right Republican Party, led by a former SS officer, won more than 7 percent of the vote in West Berlin, he was shocked. And while Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev talks about ending the era of ideological warfare, Honecker still compares communism and capitalism to ``fire and ice.''
Honecker's personal history also explains his reluctance to abandon central planning and expensive subsidies. As a young communist, he developed a hatred for the inequalities of the capitalist system.
``When I go and see Honecker, he's very much aware that 85 percent of West Germans have a higher living standard than us, but he also knows that 15 percent live much worse,'' says Jurgen Kuczinsky, a retired economist at the Academy of Science. ``He also knows that we must take care of that remaining 15 percent, whatever the cost.''
Does this old-style ideological fervor mean that the aging East German leader despises his youthful Soviet counterpart? By all accounts, no. Honecker admits that Moscow needed to make radical changes in order to revive its stalled economy, and he admires Gorbachev for his energy and enthusiasm.
``We love Gorbachev,'' says Mr. Kuczinsky. ``He recalls the idealism of our own youth.''