Where were we? Ah yes – at the storming of the Stasi Headquarters in Berlin in January 1990. In an almost seamless transition, Ralph Hope’s book starts with the storming of the regional Stasi offices in Dresden. Across the road from which, a KGB officer on his first foreign posting, was waiting for a call authorising the use of a nearby tank regiment to intervene. The officer’s name? Vladimir Putin. That call never came.
The Stasi was officially disbanded on 30 June 1990, leaving 100,000 East German spies redundant. What was Germany to do with them? The KGB were sent home and communist parties outlawed in other countries, freed from the communist yoke during the implosion of the USSR. German reunification meant concessions. The GDR-ruling SED (German Social Unity Party) was first renamed PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism), and then in 2007 merged with the western left-wing party, Die Alternative, to form Die Linke (The Left). Yet to ensure transparency, the Stasi archive was opened. Anyone who wanted could access their file, and discover which unofficial collaborator snitched on them. Sometimes it was better not knowing, and, interestingly only 3 million of the 17 million former GDR-citizens have done so. On the other hand, the systematic decomposition (Zersetzung) of lives by Stasi persecution, be it through execution, torture, forced removal of children and other methods, has resulted in only 182 charges, 87 convictions and 1 prison sentence. It’s hard to argue against Hope’s point that Germany has been conciliatory towards ex-Stasi, who are entitled to a state pension, because their employment with the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit is recognised. (Whereas their victims who were not allowed to work in the GDR are penalised further with reduced pensions.)
These grey men, particularly those formerly of higher rank, were and remain resourceful. EU privacy law now works in the favour of those who wish to fade into the background. A list of 91,000 Stasi officers exists, but cannot be published. Those who have been charged with offences have successfully argued that what they were doing was not unlawful in the GDR.
Yet some prominent members of the Stasi are well known and were / have been assimilated. Alexander Schalck-Golodkoski (deceased), head of the GDR Commercial Coordination Unit, responsible for bringing foreign currency into the country, who after the change (Die Wende), lived a quiet life in Bavaria, and had access to more money than he should have; Stasi Captain Matthias Warning is currently CEO of Russian pipeline company Nord Stream. There are others …
So far, so good. Or not. Hope’s book takes a thoroughly chilling turn in the final third, when he approaches topics such as the harassment of tour guides (and Stasi victims) by ex-Stasi at the GDR Memorial Hohenschönhausen in Berlin, and ongoing attempts at historical revisionism. Some reviews suggest that Hope, an ex-FBI agent is biased at best, paranoid at worst. I’m not going to call it, for the dangers of not learning from history are all too apparent to me, given that mindsets wishing to turn the clock back have this week once more brought war to Europe.
One final thought: I found Hope’s comparison of cancel culture and doxxing with the Stasi’s Zersetzung (systematic psychological decomposition of the individual) not at all far-fetched.
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