The issue of former members of the East German secret police, the Stasi, occupying positions in German public life has long been a hot topic in post-Cold War Germany. Now it turns out that the civil service in the states of the former East Germany is apparently riddled with former Stasi employees.
According to a report in the Thursday edition of the Financial Times Deutschland, around 17,000 former Stasi employees are still working in the civil service -- despite background checks.
The newspaper gives figures for the numbers of Stasi still working in the civil service in former East German states. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania there are 2,247 ex-Stasi members in the civil service; in Brandenburg, 2,942; in Thuringia, 800; in Saxony-Anhalt, 4,400; in Saxony, 4,101; and in Berlin's administration, 2733.
"There's more to this than anyone knew," Klaus Schroeder, a historian from Berlin's Free University who specializes in the East German regime, told the FTD.
Schroeder told the newspaper that background checks on civil servants were "very standardized and superficial." For example, Stasi body guards were often treated very leniently as they were considered to be politically harmless, he said.
A new debate about the fate of former Stasi employees erupted in Germany last week after it emerged that around 100 former officers of the feared East German secret police were working at the State Office for Criminal Investigation (LKA) in Brandenburg. According to the German news agency DPA, there are still hundreds of former Stasi employees serving in the police forces of the eastern German states -- even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
On Wednesday, Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) stated that after German reunification in 1990 they too had taken on some former Stasi employees -- and 23 of them still work there today. However the Interior Ministry stressed that that information wasn't new. "Every individual case was very carefully checked," a spokesperson for the ministry said.
Former Saxony Interior Minister Heinz Eggert told the regional newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung that extensive checks were undertaken in his state. Around 1,000 police officers who had previously worked for the Stasi were dismissed after reunification, while 600 left of their own accord -- and this at a time when the state was short of 2,000 police officers, he said.
Reacting to the revelations about ex-Stasi in the civil service, experts and former East German civil rights activists have demanded concrete steps. Gerhard Ruden, who is responsible for the Stasi archives in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, believes that civil servants need to be submitted to new background checks. "It's a question of political hygiene," he told the FTD.
"The fact that they (the ex-Stasi employees) are working in the civil service is not the problem," Stephan Hilsberg, a Bundestag member for the center-left Social Democrats who specializes in civil rights, said in remarks to the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. "The problem is where they end up." It's acceptable for them to work as janitors, he says, but if they end up in positions of authority, then it becomes a problem. The same goes for the education system, Hilsberg argued. A former Stasi employee could easily work as, say, a mathematics teacher, but it would be unacceptable for them to teach politics or history, he told the newspaper.
The Stasi secret police was one of the most repressive intelligence agencies in history. It kept the East German population under close supervision through its network of around 200,000 "unofficial collaborators" -- ordinary people who spied on their neighbors, co-workers or even on their own families.
The fate of former Stasi employees has occupied Germans since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Researchers continue to comb through the enormous Stasi archives for information about informants and their victims, and there have been several prominent cases where it turned out that well-known Germans had worked for the secret police.