A Berlin court ruled on Wednesday that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Stasi file could be released to researchers. It could contain revelations about his role in a slush fund scandal.
Kohl's lawyers: prepared to take the case to the highest level
Helmut Kohl and Marianne Birthler, the head of the Stasi archive center, crossed swords again on Wednesday in Berlin’s higher administrative court. This time Birthler won.
For years now, the former German chancellor and the head of the authority that administers secret police files from the former East Germany have locked horns over whether journalists and researchers should be given access to material compiled by Stasi agents who spied on Kohl during his 16 administration.
In 2001, a German federal administrative court in Karlsruhe ruled that Kohl’s file must remain under seal because its release would violate his privacy.
Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl
However, the Berlin court ruled on Wednesday that Kohl’s 7,000 page file should be made public based on an amendment to the federal law governing access to the Stasi archive passed last year. The change -- opposed by Kohl's former colleagues in the opposition Christian Democratic Party -- allows information concerning prominent people to be published "as long as it refers to their historical role, function or exercise of office."
"We see ourselves affirmed in our view," the director of the Stasi file archive, Hans Altendorf, said. But he pointed out that Kohl's file could not be given to researchers or journalists until the ruling was final.
Even before the court adjourned, Marianne Birthler predicted it would not put an end to the matter. "It’s clear to all of us that the matter will end up before the federal court in Karlsruhe once again. In other words, we won’t obtain full clarity on the issue any time soon," she said.
Marianne Birthler, the head of the authority that administers the Stasi files
Indeed, Kohl's lawyers said the former chancellor would appeal the ruling. Kohl has made it clear he is prepared to pursue the issue at the highest judicial level, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. Kohl and his lawyers contend the ban on releasing personal data should be upheld and that the recent legal changes are unconstitutional.
"The law on the Stasi files was primarily meant to protect the privacy of people who were spied on and investigated by [the Stasi] so they wouldn't again become the Stasi's victims," Kohl said in a recent interview with the Welt newspaper.
A smoking gun?
Kohl's file is suspected of being mainly made up of transcripts of telephone conversations the Stasi, the East German secret police, got from eavesdropping on him. The Christian Democrat's file could provide insight into the slush fund scandal he and other party members were implicated in. The scandal ultimately led to the former chancellor's resignation as the honorary chairman of the CDU in 2000.
If the court's ruling against Kohl is upheld, the decision would have sweeping implications. Until now, investigations into the Stasi archives have largely been restricted to uncovering informants from the former east. The focus has recently shifted to unmasking West German spies who worked for the East German secret police -- a development that some fear could uncover explosive revelations about prominent Germans if they are unable to block access to their files.
But another ruling in favor of Kohl would also face criticism, since it could exacerbate rifts between east and west in a country still trying to come to terms with its recent history. Many eastern Germans argue that Kohl should not be spared the treatment given to hundreds of prominent East Germans who were spied on by the Stasi and who, after reunification, were embarrassed by Stasi file revelations long hidden in the archives.
A speedy conclusion to the case is unlikely, especially since the two sides are willing to take it to the Constitutional Court.