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Germany

Secret Police in Germany's Parliament?

Germany's federal commissioner for the files of the former East German secret police has called for an investigation of new parliamentarians to check whether they worked for the organization.

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Birthler said at least seven new parliamentarians should be checked

Marianne Birthler already said that seven new members of parliament, all of the new Left Party, are known former members of the Stasi, the former East German secret police. Birthler, the federal commissioner of the records of the National Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, added that all of them should let their files be examined.

The public had a right to know about their activities in the Communist government and that all new Left Party parliamentarians should voluntarily allow themselves to be subject to a background check, Birthler told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Halle.

She added that it was possible that there were more than the seven known former "informal employees" of the Stasi in the Left Party, which is made up of disgruntled Social Democrats and ex-communists from the former East Germany. Should any Left Party parliamentarians resist having their files made public, it would demonstrate that they still found it to be slanderous.

The freedom to uncover past wrongs

Bundesbehörde für Stasi-Unterlagen

Millions of records are housed in Birthler's agency

"They should voluntarily subject themselves to this process," Birthler said of the new Left Party representatives.

A civil rights activist who was one of the leaders of the demonstrations that contributed to the fall of the GDR in November, 1989, Birthler said she believes that the law which created her agency should be amended to allow for more open study of East Germany's dark past.

The current law, which created the agency in 1990, is more restrictive than Birthler would like. Until now, researchers have only been able to access documents pertaining to the activities of the Ministry for State Security, the Stasi bureaucracy. Birthler would like to see a more liberal law that allows for access to many aspects of life in the GDR, from statistics on consumerism to the working practices of the SED, the lone party in the GDR.

Birthler positively summed up the work of the nearly 15-year-old agency, a first of its kind in the world.

"We are recognized as a world leader in the work of coming to terms with the past through education and scholarship," she said. The agency has already processed 1.5 million requests for formerly secret files from the GDR, as well as cooperated on hundreds of research projects by historians, research scholars, and journalists.

A mandate from a broad majority

Marianne Birthler

Marianne Birthler has led the eponymous agency since 2000

Federal Commissioner Birthler took office in 2000 and is up for re-election in the coming weeks. She is hoping that whoever is elected to the post can enjoy support from all five Bundestag parliamentary groups.

"It would be very important for this office, when the future federal commissioner could rely on a vote from all parliamentary groups," she said.

The work of her agency, however, is only one contributor to a greater debate on the societal level, Birthler said.

"We are not the repair apparatus of democracy," she said, referring to the restrictive access to information on the GDR. "Education is therefore a central aspect of our work."

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