German Election

Searching for Scandal in Steinbrück's Stasi File

Stasi files provide a glimpse into Steinbrück's past. Zoom
DPA

Stasi files provide a glimpse into Steinbrück's past.

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In the United States, it can take some effort to derail someone's presidential campaign. In 2004, Republican supporters of George W. Bush even went so far as to create an entirely new group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In Germany, it's easier. You just have to mention a candidate's possible connection to the Stasi -- and watch the media feeding frenzy unfold.

Fortunately for Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Stasi claims are vastly easier to disprove than the bogus claims about Bush-challenger John Kerry's service during the Vietnam War -- fabrications that many among the American electorate swallowed hook, line and sinker. After all, the Stasi, former East Germany's feared secret police, kept detailed records.

And on Thursday, not long after conservative mouthpiece Die Welt published an article with the tendentious headline "How Close Was Steinbrück to the Stasi?", the former finance minister released his Stasi files to the public.

And? Well, not much really.

According to the 50-page file, which was likely based on observations made by the husband of Steinbrück's cousin, who he regularly visited in East Berlin in the 1970s and 80s, Steinbrück "considered himself a Marxist." But, the entry continues with dismay: "He is clearly an adherent of the theory of democratic socialism of the kind purveyed by the West German SPD."

KGB?

The article in Die Welt did everything it could to hint that the Stasi may have been trying to win over Steinbrück as an informant just as he was starting his career in the SPD. The piece states: "In other material, there is even an indication of a connection with the Russian KGB." The piece suggested that the newspaper possessed many more details that would soon be brought to light.

Instead, Steinbrück did it for them. The Stasi source writes of Steinbrück: "He rejects the real, existing socialism in East Germany, which he calls Soviet socialism." The informant writes that Steinbrück made "the hostile claim" that "the real, existing socialism in East Germany has nothing to do with the theories of Marx, Engels and Lenin." The entry, which was made in 1981, notes that "Steinbrück is completely behind the political system of the Bonn state," a reference to West Germany.

Still, for those in Germany who long for a swift boat of their own, one entry from Dec. 3, 1975 could be of interest. "Steinbrück has gained a very positive impression of life in the DDR," the Stasi informant wrote of the guest from the West. "He said it is a quiet, agreeable life, without the hecticness that exists in West Germany. He was particularly interested in the books on offer, especially those on politics and philosophy."

Even that, though, won't likely be enough to build a smear campaign around. And Steinbrück himself seemed a bit disappointed on Thursday. "I was unable to find any essential information," he said. "The only thing I learned is who spied on me during my visits to the DDR."

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