The history of East Germany was closely intertwined with the development of its security services, specifically the Stasi. In an era of totalitarian countries dominated by repressive state agencies, the Stasi stood out for its size and the sheer breadth and depth of its surveillance. Films such as Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) encapsulated post-unification attitudes and conceptions of both life in East Germany and the activities of the Stasi.
Despite its notoriety, the legacy of the Stasi is contested in modern Germany. Former West Germans, and Westerners more generally, closely align the East German state and the Stasi, framing a “Stasi State”. Those in the former East Germany, however, resent the patronizing attitudes and conflation of the two institutions, preferring to focus on the social elements of the East German state. Uwe Spiekermann, of the German Historical Institute, succinctly sets out the impressions of many when considering East Germany and its culture of surveillance: “In retrospect, the Stasi has become a symbol for the GDR [East Germany].”
The East German State Security Service, or Staatssicherheitsdienst in German (abbreviated to Stasi) was formed in 1950. It purported to be the state’s “shield and sword” and closely monitored much of the population for the next 40 years. Some of the figures are startling. By the end of the 1980s, Stasi files were kept on six million out of 18 million inhabitants. When the Stasi archives were opened in the 1990s, files were discovered that stretched for 178 kilometers. Over the course of East Germany’s existence, up to two million people acted as spies, and 90,000 people worked at the Ministry, not to mention the numerous “unofficial” informers.
East Germany also had a much-feared foreign intelligence arm of its intelligence services, the HV A (German: Hauptverwaltung A or central department), which proved expert at infiltrating West German society and running operations in numerous other countries. But why did the Stasi form, and how did it prove so effective? Answering those questions requires understanding the unique circumstances in which East Germany was formed, as well as politics in Germany at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War.
The Stasi: The History and Legacy of East Germany’s Secret Police Agency examines the history of one of the most notorious agencies in history. You will learn about the Stasi like never before.