15 January 2010

20 years since the end of the Stasi

Twenty years ago today the power of the Stasi in East Germany finally came to an end when its headquarters in Berlin were stormed and occupied by demonstrators - even as the ruling SED was disintegrating the Stasi had been renamed the Office for National Security (AfNS). At the end of 1989 the GDR government under pressure from the Round Table agreed to dissolve the AfNS, but then proposed two new bodies an office for the protection of the constitution, and a foreign intelligence service, but on 13 January the Round Table rejected also these proposals. Meanwhile there was concern that the Stasi officers were continuing to destroy the records and files of their activities. On 15 January a large crowd gathered outside the Stasi headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg and then stormed the building. There is an article (in German) on the evangelisch.de Web site about this. Much remains unclear about the events of that day, did the demonstrators include agents provocateurs, or Stasi personnel seeking to use the confusion to carry on their work of destruction, or even foreign intelligence agents seeking to grab the Stasi files for themselves? The occupation of the headquarters however marked the end of the Stasi as an institution, a process that began when its distruct headquarters in Erfurt were occupied in December. There now began a slow process of literally piecing together the files and documents that remained, and a political debate on what to do with the files. It was the first freely elected GDR parliament that agreed that the archives should be preserved and made available under certain conditions to victims of Stasi actions but also to researchers. So began a debate as to whether they should not be better kept under lock and key. Those in favour of access argued that only by having access to teh files would it be possible to deal openly and come to terms with the past. Martin Sabrow of the Institute for Contemporary History in Potsdam (now a professor at the Humboldt University), has written about the debate here.


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