Former spooks "handling Stasi files"

11th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

11 December 2006, Berlin (dpa) - Former members of East Germany's now defunct secret service have been found working for the agency charged with investigating the organization's murky past. Marianne Birthler, the ombudswoman overseeing millions of highly sensitive Stasi documents, was stunned recently to learn that more than 50 members of her staff used to be employed by the Stasi. Worse, there have even been hints that some of them might have tried to obstruct research at the government-backed organizatio

11 December 2006

Berlin (dpa) - Former members of East Germany's now defunct secret service have been found working for the agency charged with investigating the organization's murky past.

Marianne Birthler, the ombudswoman overseeing millions of highly sensitive Stasi documents, was stunned recently to learn that more than 50 members of her staff used to be employed by the Stasi.

Worse, there have even been hints that some of them might have tried to obstruct research at the government-backed organization which employs more than 1,900 people in Berlin and other eastern German cities.

Birthler, a former minister in the Brandenburg state government, concedes her advisory board knew several former Stasi members were hired in the early 1990s, when the archives were opened to the public by the German government.

But she claimed the board was unaware of the "dimension of the problem" until the Berlin daily Der Morgenpost published a story, alleging that 50 of her staff had been employed by the Ministry of State Security, as the Stasi was known, and that two additional members were former "Stasi informers."

A shocked Birthler said: "I had thought the number involved was lower."

The newspaper's revelations came as the German government was busy debating the organization's future.

Opening up the East German Stasi secret police files, under laws first passed by the Federal Republic at the time of reunification in 1990, meant flinging open one of the most appalling chapters in East German history.

More than 2 billion pages of information are contained in the personal files, which were piled nine storeys high in the former secret police headquarters in Berlin's Normannenstrasse.

Throughout the communist state's 40-year history, the Stasi maintained six million files on Germans - east and west - and employed 90,000 full-time officers and 180,000 unofficial snoopers to watch over the east's 16 million citizens.

Even the Protestant Church, thought to have been a haven for dissidents, was found to have had 3,000 Stasi spies, some of them bishops, among its then 40,000 clerics.

Joachim Gauck, an ex-pastor from the former East Germany, was appointed the initial custodian when the files were first opened in 1992. Soon his workers were being deluged with applications from East German citizens and also from West German individuals, anxious to learn what the Stasi had written about them.

Gauck apparently knew about the decision to employ former MFS workers, but Birthler has been loath to criticise her predecessor.

As to the decision to hire ex-MFS people, Birthler says it was taken long before she was chosen to succeed Gauck in 2000, and that under German labour laws their open-ended contracts could not be terminated, as all had been frank regarding their previous State Security employment, she said.

Unhappy about the present situation, she hints that in a few cases staff members might now be switched to other "less sensitive" jobs within the organization.

When the Stasi archives could be viewed for the first time, millions of "victims" lost no time in applying to see their files. Some people were kept waiting for months, even years. But now with fewer applications being made, they are processed fairly quickly.

Civil rights activists and prominent dissidents during the communist era were the first allowed to see their files. Many contained reports thousands of pages long.

Wolf Biermann, the famous balladeer who was refused re-entry into East Germany after a concert he gave in the west in the 1970s offended East German officials, found his Stasi file was almost half a million words long.

Earlier this month the German parliament voted to extend for five years the requirement for background checks on legislators and senior state officials to ensure they have no links with the Stasi.

Currently, Stasi-era themes are popular in Germany. Earlier this month The Life of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), a film about an East German state security officer in pursuit of a well-known writer, won the European Film Prize for best picture.

Ulrich Muhe won a best actor award for his role as the Stasi officer in the Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck-directed movie, which also picked up a prize for best script.

DPA

Subject: German news

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