Policing a Socialist Society: The German Democratic Republic

By Nancy Travis Wolfe | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Ministry for State Security

The real target of western critics who castigated the GDR as a police state was the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, Mrs). 1 The role of this organization of "secret police" (the usual designation in the western press) evoked comparisons with the Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolizei) of the National Socialist era which implemented policies of Hitler's party; on behalf of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) the MfS subjected individuals to four decades of snooping. Not only western analysts but GDR citizens, too, saw it as the most hated and feared institution in the country. Some referred to it as a Moloch, a monster that demanded continual sacrificial victims and threatened to devour everything. Others called it "the Company" (die Firma) or "the People-owned Company of Look, Listen, and Grab" (VEB Guck, Horch und Greif). 2

After the revolution of the fall of 1989, when GDR citizens could at last speak openly, the MfS was designated "a state within a state" which had arrogated such power to itself that from the "House of 3000 Rooms" (the MfS Central Office on Normannenstraße in Berlin-Lichtenberg) it could dictate policy for the country. The extent to which this was true has been difficult to ascertain, inasmuch as the MfS was, in fact, a secret service. In the fall of 1989 and early in 1990 information emerged piece- meal as former members of the MfS (Stasi) and persons with access to internal documents began to reveal details. During these hectic months, the media were the major, although not necessarily reliable, sources of information. 3


SECRECY

Efforts to describe the functions of the MfS before the revolution are hampered from the outset by the lack of statutory basis; the law creating

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