World News

New Stasi archivist faces race to root out informants

BERLIN (Reuters) - As an East German dissident he was forced into exile by the Stasi. Now, almost 30 years later, Roland Jahn will become caretaker of the vast archives of the secret police force that once spied on him.

The files built by the Stasi using a network of informants that numbered one in every 90 East German citizens have been used since reunification in 1990 to root out former Stasi employees and collaborators in public service.

Stasi members are still being outed and the archive service itself recently revealed that it had found about 50 former Stasi informants still on its workforce.

But the mandate of the federal commissioner for the archives to screen civil servants for Stasi involvement expires in 2019 after being extended this year, meaning Jahn faces a race against time.

“Working with the Stasi will no longer be much of an issue in 2019 because the youngest workers (who could be former Stasi informants) would be 60 and approaching retirement,” Jahn, who is 57, told journalists on Thursday.

Jahn was an activist and journalist who was stripped of his East German citizenship in 1983. He will succeed human rights advocate Marianne Birthler as commissioner of the archives.

Last month, the eastern city Cottbus was struck by two Stasi revelations. The president of the local chamber of industry and commerce resigned after admitting he spied for the Stasi and the city’s police spokesman was fired after a similar disclosure.

An estimated 15,000 former Stasi workers are thought to be civil servants today.

“Checking civil servants is a very important issue of ‘political hygiene’ in this country,” Jahn said. “It’s a kind of changing of elites.”


“How much does the next generation know about the Stasi?” Jahn asked, adding that it was important for school children to learn about how the East German dictatorship worked. “You can’t just tell the history of East Germany from Stasi files.”

That issue and examining the Stasi’s full reach outside of the German borders are vital to understanding the how the East German state security apparatus worked, Jahn said.

One pilot project the archives have been working on will reconstruct the some 900,000 pages of Stasi files that were shredded in the final days of the East German regime.

“One needs to see what the results will bring,” Jahn said of the project. “It could cost an enormous sum (of money) to reconstruct a single page to know about one spy.”

The Stasi was a domestic secret police, foreign intelligence and investigative body founded in 1950 under Soviet guidance. Its files would stretch 111 km (70 miles), or about the distance from Berlin to the Polish border.

Jahn became a prime target of the Stasi in the late 1970s, leading protests against the state after singer Wolf Biermann had his citizenship stripped while on tour in West Germany.

In 1983, Jahn helped found an opposition group and was forced into exile in West Berlin in the same year, where he worked as a television journalist.

Editing by Stephen Brown and Paul Casciato