Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Stasi Files: Getting Banned by East German Secret Police in the 80s

By Lucy Komisar

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has called forth a plethora of memories and celebrations. Here are mine.

I visited West Germany in 1983 as it held massive demonstrations against the U.S. plan to station medium range missiles on German territory. The peace movement – objecting to the Ronald Reagan hard line against the East — had another view of how to bring down communism from within. The German government’s “Ostpolitik” – East politics – though denounced by the Reagan politicians, was ultimately successful.

On several occasions I went to East Berlin on day visas (good till midnight) as a tourist to see people of the peace movement of the other side. Leaders on both sides knew each other and shared the view that militarism would not lead to peace or freedom.

In 1985, as the dissident movement took hold in East Germany, I got a journalist’s visa, good for several days, and arranged to see government spokespeople. More importantly, I arranged extensive contacts with the opposition.

My contact with the government turned out rather surreal. I was going to see someone from the academic institute that studied the United States.

Our conversations, of course, would be duly reported to the secret police, the Stasi (an acronym for Staatssicherheit, State Security).

The government office arranging the interview told me I had to pay for a translator. I protested vehemently. “The people studying the United States speak very good English. If you want to send someone to take notes of our discussions, do it, but don’t ask me to pay for it!” After I refused to back down, they didn’t.

But they did something else I didn’t find out about till later. They rifled my red Samsonite suitcase which I had left locked in my room at the Hotel Metropol on Friedrichstrasse. (I learned later that hotel was where the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal frequently stayed).

A year later, when I tried to cross the border from West to East, the stone-faced guard told me, “Ihre Enreise in die DDR ist nicht erw├╝nscht.” Your entrance into the GDR (German Democratic Republic) is not desired.” I loved the passive construction.

A few years after that, I was a member of a group of U.S. journalists invited by a West German institute to participate in a seminar that included a day-trip to East Berlin to see the U.S. ambassador and visit the GDR’s U.S. studies institute. I told the organizer that she’d better make sure I’d be allowed over the border. “Oh, no problem,” she declared, brushing aside my qualms.

The day of the visit arrived. We took the S-Bahn – the rail line we could board in West Berlin but which sped through boarded up East German stops till it arrived at Friedrichstrasse. As my colleagues passed through the border check, I wondered what would happen. When my turn came, a government-issue stern-faced guard perused my passport, did some checks, and returned to announce, “Ihre Enreise in die DDR ist nicht erw├╝nscht.”

I waved to the lady in charge of our group. “Well???? Do something!” The guard directed me to a bench. Forty-five minutes later, I was waved through.

I went to the first appointment, with the U.S. ambassador, Richard Barkley. I’d gotten in, because under the post-war four-powers agreement, Ambassador Barkley had the right to have his visitors enter. “Well, what have you being doing?” he inquired, with a grin. I had contacted him before my trip, because in New York I played tennis with his ex-wife Brigitte and had sought a private interview in addition to the group meeting. I had the private interview, though not in the way I’d expected.

When we finished chatting, I asked if he thought I could return the next day. “Ask the ministry of interior,” he replied, and dialed the number. I thanked the GDR official for letting me into his country and asked what would happen if I attempted to cross the border the next day. “I wouldn’t advise it,” he replied.

I used the rest of the day to visit some of the dissidents I’d seen before. Then I left Friedrichstrasse at minutes before midnight.

After the Wall was torn down, I was at a dinner given by the German Consul General in New York for Rev. Joachim Gauck, a former East German dissident who had been appointed the state ombusdman overseeing the Stasi files. I told him I thought I might have some. He said, “Write me a letter.” I did and got back about 300 pages!

Some of it was absurd. Government press releases I’d picked up in Romania and Bulgaria and other East European countries I’d been to before East Germany. Copies of my address books for Stockholm and Paris, which I was visiting.

But there was a lot more. There were pages indicating that I’d been followed by Stasi informants and officers who had written about my contacts with East German dissidents. A year later, I returned to Berlin and visited some of the people who I’d talked to and who had turned me in to the GDR secret police. The article I wrote for the Wall Street Journal follows. After that are English translations of selected pages, plus a link to copies of pages from the files, in German.

Read the rest of the article at The Komisar Scoop.

Lucy Komisar is the only American reporter whose beat is the secret underbelly of the global financial system — offshore bank and corporate secrecy — and its links to corporate crime; tax evasion by the rich and powerful; empowerment of dictators and oligarchs; bribery and corruption; pay-to-play politics; drug, arms and people trafficking; and terrorism.

Her dozens of articles on the subject since 1997 have appeared in publications as diverse as The Nation magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

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