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Long Shadow of Stasi Still Darkens Aspects of German Life

Marcel Fürstenau (nda)February 12, 2006

Despite being disbanded 16 years ago, the legacy of the East German secret police -- the Stasi -- continues to taint people in the public eye. 2006 has already seen a number of allegations arise.

Stasi files will continue to reveal prominent Germans with links to the secret policeImage: AP

It is 16 years since the notorious and hated Stasi, the secret service apparatus of the communist former East Germany, was disbanded as democracy once more embraced the eastern regions of a divided country. Time enough for a nation wounded and scarred by the actions of an oppressive agency which thrived on the fear of neighbor watching neighbor to heal. Or one would think.

In fact, the shadow of the Stasi continues to stretch and darken the land with what appears to be a gradual yet constant stream of allegations and scandals linked to prominent Germans and their supposed dealings with the DDR's secret service.

The year is barely two months old and the list of the great and good who could have potentially been not so great and bad includes popular socialist politician Gregor Gysi, the Olympic ice skating coach Ingo Steuer and public broadcaster ARD's sports journalist Hagen Bossdorf.

Gysi, one time leader of the former communist PDS party and now joint leader of the renamed left wing alliance Left Party's parliamentary group, finds himself the subject of on-going allegations that he once worked for the secret police. These claims are nothing new. Gysi has successfully defended himself against such claims in court on numerous occasions.

Gysi vows to fight loosening laws on public access

Gregor Gysi, Die Linke
Gregor Gysi wants reporters to be banned from accessing his filesImage: AP

But now, investigations by journalists into the suspected Stasi backgrounds of a number of prominent Left Party members, including Gysi who made his name as a lawyer defending opponents of the communist regime which was toppled in 1989, threatens to unearth damaging information.

Gysi wants to prevent journalists getting their hands on sensitive former Stasi files which are currently declassified but not yet available to reporters or the public. Presently, files can only be viewed by the individual about whom the intelligence was compiled.

Marianne Birthler, the official in charge of the files, wants the law changed to allow more transparency.

"The public has a right to know which members of parliament worked for the ministry of state security," Birthler said, using the official name of the Stasi.

Unlike Gysi, there is no doubt about the secret service involvement of figure skating coach Ingo Steuer. Documents show that the former World Champion pairs skater was employed by the Stasi from 1985 to 1989 and spied on other athletes during that time.

Ice skating coach's fate in the balance

Eiskunstlauf-Trainer Ingo Steuer erwirkt Einstweilige Verfügung gegen Olympia-Ausschluss
Ingo Steuer worked for the Stasi for four years in the EightiesImage: dpa

Steuer was initially dropped by the German National Olympic Committee (NOK) after the documents came to light but a Berlin court overruled the decision and he will travel to the Winter Olympic Games in Turin as coach to Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. It is debatable whether he will be there to watch the pair when they compete as the NOK intends to appeal the decision this week.

Steuer was one of 160 sportspeople investigated for possible Stasi ties. Ski-jumping coach Henry Glass was also excluded from the German team for Turin but has not contested the decision. A third German official was also omitted although their identity has yet to be revealed.

Tour de France reporter denies Stasi links

ARD journalist Bossdorf's case went before a Hamburg court after claims surfaced of his alleged involvement with the Stasi while he was student. The court at the time said that it could not suppress such reports coming out.

It was left to Bossdorf's superiors to take action. But after issuing a statement in December backing the journalist, no more has been said. A further statement said that a decision would be made this month. Bossdorf has vehemently denied the allegations.