Germany shocked by the other lives of civil servants

Author: By Tony Paterson in Berlin

More than 17,000 staff currently employed by Berlin and eastern Germany’s five
federal states were estimated to have worked for the all-pervasive communist
police organisation, according to evidence compiled by historians at
Berlin’s Free University.

Shocking cases came to light after the fall of the Berlin Wall, including a
husband who spied on his dissident wife for years and a mother who informed
the Stasi about her son after he reached puberty because she considered him
a threat to the state.

The lengths to which the so-called “Sword and Shield” of the
Communist Party went to obtain information was graphically portrayed in the
award-winning 2006 German film, The Lives of Others. It tells the story of a
ferret-like Stasi major called Gerd Wiessler who is sent to spy on a
dissident East Berlin author and his lover by recording their phone calls.

In the film, Wiessler is depicted as a near down-and-out after the fall of the
Berlin Wall, forced to paste up street advertisements to earn a living. Yet
the researchers say reality was different for thousands of ex-Stasi workers
after reunification. Many were able to get around laws adopted by reunified
Germany in 1991, and hang on to their jobs because vetting was interpreted
differently from state to state.

Klaus Schröder, the head of the research team, said their findings exposed the
extent to which regional administrations appeared to have kept their
employment of former Stasi agents a secret. “This has achieved a
dimension no one expected,” he said.

Groups representing the victims of the Stasi’s blanket surveillance of the
former East Germany’s 17 million inhabitants said they were appalled by the
disclosures. Ronald Lässig, of the Victims of Stalinism Association,
described them as a “slap in the face for every Stasi victim” and
demanded that efforts to properly vet civil servants be redoubled.

The Stasi was one of the biggest employers in the former East Germany. It had
some 200,000 people working for the organisation full- and part-time and it
is estimated that one in every 50 East Germans had Stasi connections. About
half of the Stasi’s employees were civilians who worked as informants. But
the information they gleaned from spying on neighbours, friends and
colleagues was used to imprison people, strip them of privileges and ruin
careers.

Evidence found by both the Berlin researchers and the authors of a new book on
the Stasi, They are Still Among Us, showed that authorities in the eastern
state of Saxony allowed half of the former Stasi informers to keep their
jobs.

Saxony’s police force was said to have been infiltrated by “companies”
of former Stasi informants. The state’s conservative administration merely
ruled that those officers should be given backroom jobs and kept from direct
contact with the public. The state is still thought to employ the largest
number of former Stasi agents. Last Wednesday, Germany’s Federal Criminal
Police admitted that 23 former Stasi employees, who were given jobs after
reunification, were still working there.

The Stasi disclosures have prompted a political row. Wolfgang Bosbach, the
deputy parliamentary leader of Angela Merkel’s conservatives, demanded that
all civil servants in the east should be re-vetted. But Stephan Hilsberg, a
Social Democrat MP, said the mere fact that former Stasi employees were now
working as civil servants was not the real issue. “The problem is where
they end up,” he said, “It is perfectly all right for them to work
as janitors but if they end up in positions of authority, it becomes a
problem.”

Stasi: East Germany’s feared secret police

Stasi was the abbreviation used by East Germany’s Ministry for State Security,
with its motto “Shield and Sword of the Party”, the huge and
highly efficient secret police force which had the task of identifying and
rooting out “class enemies”.

The tens of thousands of full-time agents were augmented by hundreds of
thousands of part-time spies, making the German Democratic Republic one of
the most closely monitored societies of modern times. Every block of flats
had its part-time, live-in spook, and residents and the guests of hotels
were filmed through tiny holes drilled in the walls. After the fall of the
Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist regime, the Ministry was
dissolved. A long-running controversy over the fate of the Stasi’s files was
resolved with a decision to allow public access to them.

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