After a long legal battle, parts of a vast archive on former German chancellor Helmut Kohl compiled by the notorious East German Stasi secret police were released Thursday for the first time but under heavy restrictions.
Stasi secrets about Kohl: Coming to a newsstand near you
Two files of around 1,000 pages each were made available in Berlin to a select group of researchers and journalists, under orders not to publish them, while parts of the documents referring to Kohl's personal life were blacked out.
The move follows years of legal efforts by Kohl, who led West Germany when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and supervised the unification process with the former communist east, to have the archives suppressed. Many observers have speculated that the files on wiretaps the
Stasi carried out between 1982 and 1989 could include information linked to a party funding scandal over which his career faltered in 2000.
But Marianne Birthler (photo), the head of the Stasi archives office, has that the documents are unlikely to contain any great revelations and that the years of legal wrangling surrounding them was probably all for nothing. "The fact that the documents have now been published makes this clear," she told German radio station RBB.
9,000 pages on Kohl
The Stasi Museum, once the headquarters of the feared East German secret police, in Berlin
The Stasi, widely reviled for its repressive methods and close monitoring of its citizens and officials within and outside East Germany, compiled nearly 9,000 pages on Kohl as it tapped his telephones for most of the 1980s. The German news agency DPA reported that in many parts of the documents, which include newspaper clippings, names and personal purchases have been deleted, it said, without providing any details.
The disclosure comes following a court ruling in June that the files could be made available to researchers and journalists if they did not relate to the personal life of the 74-year-old conservative former leader.
It means members of the media must get consent when they try to obtain information about Kohl, who led the united Germany until his defeat by the current chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, in 1998. Under the ruling, researchers may have access to the files but must guarantee that the information does not fall into "unauthorised hands" or be released into the public domain.
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl
Many people have argued that Kohl should not be spared the treatment given to hundreds of prominent east Germans, many of whom have been embarrassed by revelations long buried in the archives or unmasked as Stasi spies.
Lengthy legal battle
The release of the files follows a lengthy legal process to keep the information under wraps. Over a year ago, the former chancellor thought that his story would remain untold when the Federal Administrative Court ruled to impose major restrictions on the release and publication of the Stasi files.
Though the court upheld portions of an earlier ruling ordering that Kohl's files be made available to journalists, the conditions at the time made it impossible for vast amounts of the data to be obtained.
One of the major sticking points in the case for opening the files was the fact that much of the information contained in them was obtained illegally.
The court ruled in 2004 that the Stasi information garnered through wiretaps in private or working rooms was fundamentally banned from public release. The judgement applied not only to the alleged recordings and transcripts, but also to all reports, analysis papers and position papers that had been drawn from these sources.
Birthler, a former East German dissident whose archive is a huge database of citizens of East Germany and some west Germans, has called for much broader background checks on officials from both east and west using the Stasi files.
In July 2001, Kohl won a case, upheld a year later, arguing he was entitled to privacy as he was a "victim" rather than a collaborator. The decision halted a 10-year practice of allowing publication of files on public figures.
However Birthler took the case back to court arguing that a new law passed by parliament allowed the publication of records on public figures whether or not they were victims.