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Frequently asked questions about the future of the BStU
Where does the process of transformation stand?
On March 13, 2019 the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records delivered his 14th activity report pertaining to his work in 2017 and 2018 to the German Bundestag. He also handed in a concept paper (PDF, 371 KB, File is barrier-free / accessible) on the future of the Stasi records as commissioned by the German Bundestag.
Basis for this concept paper was the Bundestag resolution “Unwaveringly continuing reappraisal of the SED dictatorship” (Print Material 18/8705). In it the BStU was mandated to prepare together with the Federal Archives a “joint, authoritative concept for the permanent preservation of the Stasi records by transferring the Stasi Records Archive into the Federal Archives”. This concept is the basis on which the German Bundestag will make respective decisions. The German Bundestag plans to do this in its current session.
What are the central points of the concept paper on the future of the records?
Its central idea is that through the consolidation of the technology, competence and resources of the BStU and the Federal Archives the future of the Stasi Records Archive is permanently secured. Necessary investments into archival storage, digitization and building construction can be approached as a joint effort. To sum it up: The Stasi Records Archive will be a new separate division at the Federal Archives, with archival repositories at historic sites. The current entity of all records the Stasi had amassed by 1989 will stay completely intact as a testimony to the work of the Ministry for State Security.
At the site of the Stasi Records Archive in Berlin-Lichtenberg a new centre of excellence to support the conservation of records with restauration and digitization workshops will be built. This centre of excellence will be a part of a future “archive centre on the SED dictatorship” which will also house the holdings of the central GDR authorities and of the “Foundation East German parties and mass organisations” (SAPMO) that are part of the Federal Archives’ holdings. The archive centre additionally serves to support the development of the historic site “Stasi Headquarters. Campus for Democracy”.
The concept paper envisions for the future regional structure of the Stasi Records Archive a consolidation of archival sites. In each of the East German Federal States the regional records will have one archive building. The full service for citizens however will continue at all sites, including those that in the future will not hold records. Among the services offered are information about the Stasi with exhibitions and events a.o. as well as consultation, filing forms for access and reading records.
The research department at the Stasi Records Archive will continue its development in the direction of a specific source research department. Its research will improve and support research capabilities for science, education and media and thus accommodate the increasing demands of a changing science field. Consultation and filing access requests will be expand through a simpler parallel process of research in the holdings of the MfS and other East German state institutions.
Will access to the Stasi Records change?
The Stasi Records Act (StUG) will remain the legal basis for access to the records. However changes to the StUG are necessary to adequately represent the institutional change. Also the Federal Archives Law (BArch) will have to be amended accordingly.
What advantages do users have through the implementation of the future concept?
The records will be secured and remain open and accessible. Over time the investment in the preservation of the records and the improved digitization will result in easier access. As part of the Federal Archives the Stasi records will be even stronger integrated into the structures for the preservation of the national written heritage. Additionally, users of all kinds can contribute even better to the reappraisal of the SED-dictatorship, because the Stasi records are more efficiently embedded in the context of all the documentary holdings of the East German history.
Where will the Stasi records be in the future?
About 50 kilometers of the total of ca. 111 kilometers of Stasi records are contained at the historic site of the former Ministry for State Security’s headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg. They will remain at this site. The other 61 kilometres of records are distributed among the twelve archival sites in the Eastern Federal States. None of these sites currently fulfils the standard criteria for archival locations. Among the criteria for the investments in future sites for archival locations is an integration of the site into the landscape of memorial sites that has evolved in the past 20 years. Feasibility studies have been ordered for four possible sites in four Federal States (in Erfurt, Leipzig, Halle, Rostock). The studies are meant to clarity if and how an archival building is feasible in cooperation with a memorial site. The development of a site in the Federal State of Brandenburg is under assessment.
What does digitisation of records mean for archival storage places in the long run?
Digitisation allows for access to the information contained in the records independent from physical storage sites. In a more distant future it is foreseeable that access to the Stasi records will also only happen digitally, including anonymization where necessary according to the Stasi Records Act. The Stasi records however, as testimony to the repression in a surveillance state, but also as evidence of an act of conquest in the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 contain a deep symbolism. By embedding them in the landscape of memorial sites of the Federal States they will be additionally anchored as physical evidence and an object of demonstration in the national culture of remembrance.
What are the continuing plans for the Stasi headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg?
The Federal Commissioner launched the idea of a “Campus for Democracy” at the former Stasi Headquarters in 2012. This idea was picked up on in the aforementioned 2016 Bundestag resolution by recommending the continuing development of the site as a “site for reflection about dictatorship and resistance”. The Federal State of Berlin supports the development with its 2018 resolution “to set the course for the Campus for Democracy in Lichtenberg”. Jointly with a whole group of civil society partners such as the ASTAK, that runs the Stasi-Museum at the site, the Robert-Havemann-Society, that in 2016 opened the permanent open air exhibition “Revolution and Fall of the Wall” at the site as well as moved their archive of the East German opposition to the site, and victims organisations and other civil society groups also the Stasi Records Archive will contribute its part to the development of the site by distinguishing the archive as a place of learning.
What happens to the twelve branches of the BStU?
In the course of the discussions about the future of the BStU the Federal Commissioner has been in talks with the governments of the Federal States since 2015. The State governments have signaled the huge importance of maintaining regional branches and regional holdings of the Stasi records as symbols of the Peaceful Revolution. They reiterated this point through a resolution in the Bundesrat in February of 2017. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt first considerations have been made on how to embed the regional Stasi records into the landscape of memorial sites in the States. For a concrete implementation of these considerations it is necessary to find adequate properties. Feasibility studies are currently underway.
In four locations in four Federal States (Erfurt, Leipzig, Halle, Rostock) feasibility studies were ordered to find out if and how it would be possible to erect a new archival building in cooperation with a memorial site. For a site in Brandenburg, an assessment is in the planning stages. The long-term plan envisions on archival site per Federal State in connection with the respective memorial sites as well as all service offerings such as information, consultation, filing a request and accessing records at all current sites.
Will there be continuing vetting?
The records can be used for the process of vetting also when the Stasi Records Archive is integrated into the Federal Archives.
What are the next steps after the concept paper?
The German Bundestag made the concept paper available to all members for further discussions in the parliament as a Bundestag print material (No. 19/8201). In the following months the concept paper will be deliberated in the special working groups of the different factions of the Bundestag and within the government coalition. Additionally, the concept paper will receive a thorough presentation and consultation before the committee for culture and media of the Bundestag before summer recess.
On the basis of these consultations the government coalition intends to set the course for the basis of the future work of the Stasi Records Archive through resolutions by the Bundestag. According to the current coalition treaty these resolutions are supposed to be decided in the current legislative period. Once these decisions are finalized a concrete plan including a time frame can be developed.