This is the fourth post focusing on the work of East German secret police, the Stasi, who post Second World War, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
They aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post reveals that the Stasi had their own design for life.
A smear campaign was a huge part of the propaganda war with the west, and extreme measures were taken to prevent any contamination seeping into the east. Inside the GDR the Government controlled newspapers and magazines. Access to books was restricted and censorship was a constant pressure on writers.
There is a story in Stasiland by Anna Funder, of a woman who was living with her partner and they were both under surveillance. The Stasi would come over from time to time and search the apartment.
One of the officers was up a ladder searching the bookshelves when he found George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The officer looked at the cover containing a red flag and pigs, on what looked like a collective farm. He thought that meant it was all right so he put it back. He mustn’t have known that Orwell was banned in the GDR.
Training as a journalist was effectively training as a Government spokesperson. As well as using journalists to plant stories in western media, a Department X was set up to spread disinformation – fake news from the GDR. It collected sensitive information from agents in the West and leaked it to cause harm.
The Stasi manufactured documents and edited audio recordings of conversations to damage reputations and spread rumours about people, especially about them working for the Stasi.
Interference in West German politics also came to light – exclusives were given to journalists about a West German politicians link to a Nazi past, and backbenchers were bribed for votes to keep preferred people in power.
The only mass media the Government couldn’t control was the signal from Western television stations – but it tried. The Stasi used to monitor the angle of peoples antennae hanging out of their apartments, punishing them if they were turned to the West.
Popular entertainment programmes in the East where deliberately timed to appear alongside important but depressing news of protests and political upheaval in the west. A phrase came out of these times – ‘The value of the clueless’ where parts of East Germany were not able to receive TV programs from the west.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
Gary Alikivi November 2020.