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Germany

Left Party Leader Wins Privacy Case

A Berlin court issued a provisional ruling suppressing the publication of Gregor Gysi's Stasi files. The leader of the new Left party argued its publication would be in breach of his professional secrecy.

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Is Gregor Gysi trying to hide something?

With less than two weeks to go before the elections, the Left party's star candidate Gregor Gysi, a fast-talking former lawyer in communist East Germany, has won a partial victory at Berlin's administrative court. Judges approved his application for a temporary injunction against publication of the file compiled on him by the East German secret police, or Stasi. A final decision will be made after the elections, once the court has examined further evidence.

Marianne Birthler

Insisting on the accurate understanding of history: Marianne Birthler

Marianne Birthler, head of the German authority responsible for the Stasi archives, was unwilling to comment on the content of the documents it wanted published, but according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, they contained information on Gysi's conversations with a former client, East German dissident Robert Havemann. Gysi justified the request his file remain classified by citing he was bound to professional discretion.

The Kohl precedent

The erstwhile leader of the former Communist party, the PDS, Gysi has repeatedly been beset by accusations of Stasi collaboration over the years -- and has always rejected them out of hand. This wasn't the first time he took the matter to a court, nor the first time a court ruled in his favor. But his detractors from within the former dissident scene are still convinced Gysi was working together with the Stasi, and eagerly await the inevitable investigation Gysi will face if he enters parliament.

Stasi-Akten über Kohl werden herausgegeben

Helmut Kohl didn't want his Stasi files to be made public

Many have drawn parallels between Gysi's case and that of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl who spent years fighting to have his Stasi file suppressed. Last year, a court ruled that the files could be made available to researchers and journalists if they did not relate to the personal life of the former leader.

But speaking in Berlin on Monday, Birthler said the two cases had nothing in common with one another, arguing that Kohl had been a victim of Stasi subterfuge, whereas Gysi appeared to have been a collaborator.

Hendrik Thalheim, Left party spokesman defended Gysi's efforts to keep his file under wraps by pointing out that the files in question were primarily about Robert Havemann, and Gysi's were therefore not the only interests at stake.

"Gregor Gysi is sworn to professional secrecy and cannot allow publication," he said.

An accurate understanding of history

Bundesbehörde für Stasi-Unterlagen

Documenting the history of a communist dictatorship: the Stasi archive

Sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin wall, interest in the Stasi's extensive archives remains voracious. Some 1.5 million people have requested access to their documents, a figure that Marianne Birthler described Monday as "the most astonishing result of our work."

The era of spectacular revelations might be over, she said, but a day-to-day dealing with the past is as important as ever.

"In an age when public awareness of the mundane breaches of privacy and freedom under a dictatorship are fading all the time and the image of East Germany is becoming increasingly harmless," Birthler said, "an accurate understanding of history with the help of Stasi documentation is ever more crucial."

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