East German spying past returns to haunt nation,
Reuters (Berlin), 14 September 2003, by
The German government is resisting calls to re-examine Germany's Cold War past after the release of files revealed a number of high profile links to East Germany's infamous Stasi secret service. Interior Minister Otto Schily sought at the weekend to draw a dividing line with the past, telling "Der Spiegel" magazine there was no reason to check all politicians and senior officials for possible Stasi ties. However, many members of the opposition conservatives and liberals as well as junior government partners the Greens are demanding precisely that.
The calls follow the declassification of Stasi files seized by the CIA in one of the Cold War's last great espionage coups. The so-called Rosenholz or "Rosewood" documents include copies of 290'000 agent index cards that gave both the real name of agents for whom only codenames were previously known.
Marianne Birthler, head of the Stasi archive centre, predicted the declassification would provide details of the Stasi's western network and methods. She has proved right. Since the documents were released last month, the head of Germany's ex-communists, Lothar Bisky, and prominent German writer and journalist Guenter Wallraff have come under fire after the files named them as "unofficial" Stasi informants. Wallraff, who made his name in the 1980s by disguising himself as Turkish worker Ali" to write a book on the treatment of immigrants, has rejected accusations he spied for the Stasi. He has admitted he may have been naive in dealing with Stasi officers. Top-selling paper "Bild", famously accused by Wallraff of inaccurate reporting in a book he wrote after working as a journalist there, has given the case prominent coverage.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl told "Die Welt" newspaper at the weekend that Stasi informants were traitors. "Whoever works in politics, the economy, lobby groups or the media and previously was active for the Stasi, should withdraw from public life immediately," said Kohl, who last year won a court case to prevent release of parts of his 6'000 page file.
The meticulous note-taking of the Stasi has provided historians with a valuable insight into a dictatorship that spent $1.6 billion a year securing control. Some observers fear the documents' release will simply spur a renewed witchhunt, arguing the Stasi records are unreliable given officers often exaggerated their achievements. However, Bernd Schaefer, research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, urged openness. "The historical value is only limited, but it does mean we end up with a comprehensive record," he said. "With the complete file, you can better assess who did what, even if as evidence it is inconclusive."