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Germany: East German Stasi Harassment of Emigres Revealed in Files

(Mar. 26, 2013)

More than 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the wrongdoings of the Staatssicherheitsdienst, the East German secret police agency commonly known as Stasi, continue to be uncovered through research in the files of the agency that were preserved after the demise of the East German regime. In January 2013, Sandra Pingel Schliemann, a governmental researcher, accidentally found a Stasi directive on how to deal with emigration petitioners (Stasi gab Weisungen für den Umgang mit Ausreisewilligen [Stasi Gave Instructions for Dealing with Emigration Petitioners, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, Jan. 29, 2013, at 5).

According to Schliemann’s findings, which were confirmed by the Stasi Files Commissioner for the State of Mecklenburg, the secret directive was issued in 1977, and it advised the Stasi offices on how to deal with assets belonging to those who petitioned for emigration and also on how to coerce them into quitting their jobs, while forcing them to state that they gave up their employment voluntarily. It is expected that the discovery of this document will assist émigrés from East Germany to amend their claims for social security payments in current-day Germany. Often these petitioners had to wait for months or years until they were allowed to leave East Germany, and during that time they often were unemployed. Until the recovery of this document they had a difficult time proving that they lost their jobs involuntarily (Zufallsfund: Bewiesen: Stasi erpresste DDR Ausreisewillige [Found Serendipitously: Now Proven: Stasi Blackmailed Those Wanting to Emigrate], MDR.DE (last updated Jan. 29, 2013)).

Many, though not all, of the Stasi records were saved when the East German regime fell in 1989; people stormed the Stasi offices to stop the ongoing destruction of the files (Dezember 1989: Sturm auf Bezirksverwaltungen und Kreisdienststellen / Beschluss zur Auflösung des AfNS [Storming District Administrations and County Offices / Decision to Dissolve National Security Office], BSTU BUND, (last visited Mar. 22, 2013)). Germany enacted legislation to provide for the preservation and the use of the files (Stasi-Unterlagen-Gesetz [Stasi Files Act] (Dec. 20, 1991, repromulgated Feb. 18, 2007, as amended), BUNDESGESETZBLATT I at 162 ).

The Stasi Files Act permits individuals to view the records that the Stasi had compiled about them. The Act also permits research for historical purposes. The privacy of the persons mentioned in the law is protected by restricting information about the identity of former informants to official inquiries of courts and governmental agencies for specified purposes. The records are under the custody of the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Files (Der Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik [the Federal Commissioner for Stasi Files website] (last visited Mar. 22, 2013)), who is assisted by state commissioners in the eastern states of Germany.