Policing a Socialist Society: The German Democratic Republic

By Nancy Travis Wolfe | Go to book overview
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English language texts; there is, naturally, a plethora of source material on the GDR criminal justice system written in German, Russian, and other foreign languages. General notes regarding sources are given at the beginning of a discussion. An extremely useful source for current news about Germany (East and West) is the German Tribune (published by Friedrich Reinecke Verlag GmbH, Hamburg); this weekly publication prints English translations of articles appearing in German newspapers.

All translations from German are by the author, except for those in English-language books which had already been translated. The use of German words has been kept to a minimum, but given the German penchant for long words, it is necessary to use abbreviations in the book. The ones most frequently used are listed under "Abbreviations."

The paucity of printed material available has led the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences to solicit curricula and bibliographies for comparative courses; the immediate success of the publication, for which I submitted the section pertaining to the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), prompted the ACJS to issue an additional volume that provided similar materials pertaining to other countries. Further evidence of a growing interest in comparative criminal justice can be seen in the large number of sessions and paper presentations in professional conferences. For example, at the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology during each of the past few years, more than a hundred papers pertaining to international systems have been presented.
The People's Police are also referred to as the DVP or VoPo (a term often used in FRG literature). Members of the Ministry for State Security are often referred to as Stasi (an abbreviation of the term Staatssicherheitdienst, which means state security service (SSD). There were, of course, other agencies in the GDR responsible for preventing crime or apprehending violators, such as the Customs, Border Troops, and the National People's Army (under certain circumstances).
I have lived in the GDR for nearly two years. In 1985 I stayed in the GDR for three months under a grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board to study the legal system, particularly the social courts. In the summer of 1986 I returned for five weeks to continue this study and to examine the institution of "social accusers" and "social defenders." From May to December 1987, I was in the GDR (with grants from the Fulbright-Hays Training Act and from the International Research and Exchanges Board) to make a study of lay judges similar to the research done in the FRG. In the summer of 1989, I returned for one month with a grant from the American Philosophical Society to investigate the policing system. Again under IREX I stayed in the GDR from January to July of 1990 to complete the manuscript for this book.
Naturally, the nature of police work necessitated secrecy on certain points. For example, when an officer outlined the problems arising from the sudden transfer of billions of FRG currency into the GDR, he could not explain the specific measures to be taken to prevent theft.


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