DAfter long discussions, the Bundestag decided with a large majority that the Stasi files should be transferred to the Federal Archives in the middle of next year. The fact that the files were preserved at that time is thanks to GDR citizens who occupied the headquarters of the State Security in Berlin on January 15, 1990 and thus prevented the destruction of millions of files that documented the spying of their own population by the SED regime. Since then, those affected have had the opportunity to inspect the files and find out what information the state spies have collected about them.
According to the text of the law, the transfer serves to “permanently secure the Stasi documents”. Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters (CDU), who presented the law to the Bundestag on Thursday, said that the incorporation into the Federal Archives was “not the end of the line”, but rather the “continuation of the processing under pan-German auspices”.
The transfer does not change the access regulations to the files. Anyone who wants to see their files can, as before, also submit an application, which is then checked in accordance with victim protection. Scientists and journalists can also request access to files in this way. By transferring them to the Federal Archives, the documents should in future also be available digitally and thus presumably much faster. This could shorten the waiting times, which often last for months.
In addition, the files will no longer only be available in the branch offices of the authority in the new federal states, as was previously the case, but also at the branch offices of the Federal Archives in West Germany. The SPD MP Martin Rabanus praised the “making available” of the documents in East and West as an all-German project.
Authority is dissolved
So far, the files have been managed by an authority founded specifically for this purpose in 1990, which is subordinate to the Federal Government’s special commissioner for the Stasi files. When the documents are moved to the Federal Archives, this authority is dissolved. According to the newly passed law, the current commissioner Roland Jahn is to be replaced by an SED victim commissioner who, like the military commissioner, is based in the Bundestag.
The ombudsperson should stand up for the concerns of the victims of the SED dictatorship and thus contribute to the appreciation of the victims. Katrin Budde (SPD), chairman of the committee for culture and media, said on Thursday in the Bundestag debate that the commissioner would give victims and their relatives a voice. Victims’ associations had spoken out in advance for the change in the law.
The AfD, which was the only parliamentary group to vote against the request, criticized, among other things, that there should have been such a victim ombudsman much earlier. Establishing this office only 30 years after reunification was a “fig leaf to appease critics and victims”, said AfD MP Götz Frömming. Instead, his group calls for the establishment of a special day of remembrance for the victims of the SED dictatorship. The left abstained from voting on the grounds that the law still had too many loopholes. Left-wing MP Simone Barrientos criticized the draft as leaving open how research into coming to terms with the SED dictatorship should be specifically promoted. On the matter, her group agreed to the law.
In addition to transferring the received files to the federal archive, the law also stipulates the reconstruction of 40 to 55 million torn file pages that are stored in more than 15,000 bags in Magdeburg. So far, documents have only been reconstructed from around 500 of these bags. The fact that the reconstruction was included in the legal text shows that this legacy is still being taken seriously, according to CDU politician Christoph Bernstiel.