Germany’s records of repression

Fifty years after the Berlin Wall was erected, the spectre of the Stasi continues to loom over Germany – Published on Al Jazeera, by Mei-Ling McNamara, August 23, 2011.

… Piecing together the past:

After reunification, a new government came to power and the Stasi files were reopened again in 1992. Over the next two decades, tens of thousands of people have requested access to the files on them in order to piece together a past that was shrouded in secrecy and subterfuge. Many apply in order to prove they were unjustly imprisoned, to clear their criminal record and claim compensation for any time spent in jail. 

Last year 80,000 people, more than double the number of the previous year, applied to see their files.

The person recently appointed to head the archive in March 2011 is journalist and former East German dissident Roland Jahn. Thirty years ago he was in a Stasi prison. Now he is responsible for the 111 kilometre of files that remain in the secret Stasi files.

Yet for many, justice is still not being served. Many ex-Stasi officials have never received punishment for their crimes, while some remain in positions of power in Germany or have retired with handsome pensions. Yet ordinary citizens who have been victims of the secret police’s tactics still remain traumatised by their treatment, while many live in poverty as a result of their legacy.

Unmasking the perpetrators:

As the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall is recognised, the spectre of the Stasi remains. While the files were only meant to be open for 10 years, nearly 20 years later calls by victims asking for their perpetrators to be identified are growing louder.

Jahn says time may be running out for the former Stasi who believe they have escaped prosecution. As a new project is underway to reconstruct over a million pages of files, many senior Stasi and collaborators may soon be brought to justice and a chapter in Germany’s history may finally be closed.

This episode of People & Power by filmmaker Glenn Ellis tells the story of infiltration and reconciliation, and of one man’s efforts to uncover the true faces of the Communist legacy in Germany. (full text).

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