birgitta-almgren

Interviews Birgitta Almgren. Politically Loaded Words

In this interview professor Birgitta Almgren discusses her study on Nazi-German infiltration in Sweden and the offshoots, in Cold War Sweden, of the GDR’s policies. She is now requesting that the Swedish law courts make it possible for her to continue her research by granting her access to the so-called Rosenholz files. In a comment professor Åmark argues for a release of the Stasi-material.

Published on balticworlds.com on mars 24, 2010

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A simple Internet search for Birgitta Almgren’s book Inte bara Stasi …: Relationer Sverige–DDR 1949–1990 [Not just Stasi ….:  Sweden-GDR Relations 1949–1990] clearly shows that the work has received a type of wide-spread public attention not often granted a research report. Its title appears in editorial columns, in newspapers’ cultural sections, in blogs, and in bookstore catalogues, as well as in private messages, lectures, and debates with the author herself. She tells me, on the winter’s day when we meet at Södertörn University, that she had to refuse many invitations.

Whether she has received the kind of attention she wishes is another matter. Södertörn University no longer offers basic German language instruction. Today, Birgitta Almgren tutors PhD students. She is also the head of a research project financed by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, “Contact and Conflict: Rhetoric and Politics around the Baltic Sea”. This seems to build on a way of thinking that she developed several years ago, when she gave an interview to the journal Dagens Forskning [Today’s Research]. Language, she explained, was to be used for acquiring knowledge in specific fields, be it engineering, history or music.

“The book Not just Stasi is, after all, built – from beginning to end – around language. But the debate has, for the most part, concentrated on the political issues and the people involved”, she says.

In both democracies and dictatorships, words can, of course, include subtexts and associations, and be invested with contents that are colored by the messenger. But it is probably a privilege peculiar to democracies to be able to unveil hidden meanings of words. A few years ago, Birgitta Almgren wrote a book on German attempts to influence Swedish culture and education during the Nazi era, Drömmen om Norden [The Dream of the Nordic Region].

“An additional book was no part of my original plan. But I was struck by how many of the words used during the Hitler era re-appeared in the GDR: words such as honor, renown, duty, sacrifice.”

The analyses show the power of language, how words both guide and misguide and how positive words such as peace, freedom and democracy are perverted to mean the opposite of what they normally mean.

The first word likely to arrest the reader’s attention occurs in the book’s prelude: die Schokoladenseiten. In East Berlin, a young female guide tells Birgitta Almgren that she feels that visitors only get to see the “chocolate sides” of the GDR. That East German peace demonstrators were bussed to the West was something the guide did not – understandably enough – dare to reveal. It is, among other things, to such people that the book title Not just Stasi refers: people who thought for themselves, independently. They existed, of course, in many different places, including positions of power within the GDR, for instance the church.

But what about all the Swedish teachers who took part in the GDR-sponsored language courses – did they think independently?

“There was, of course, a political message in the instruction. But the teachers were not starry-eyed”, is her opinion. The documents show that they constantly posed critical questions.

One might even be able to say that a teacher who had done some background research could learn a good deal from a course taken in the GDR, aside from the language itself.

Competition between the two German states made this a golden age for stipends for such courses. Of course, this does not mean that many were not curious about a school system that, like GDR’s, claimed to give all children equal opportunities: students were not segregated according to whether they had chosen academic or vocational lines of study. In reality, GDR schools practiced a very strict selection process; certain students were early on singled out for the elite schools. This was something that worried Stellan Arvidson, a Swedish schoolman who held a professorship at the University of Greifswald and one of the GDR’s most faithful adherents. His criticism of the elite schools was brought up even in the GDR’s politburo (the party leadership, in other words the government of the country).

Stellan Arvidson was a social-democratic MP and for many years chaiman of the Swedish Writer’s Union and of the Society of Friendship Sweden–GDR (Vänskapsförbundet Sverige–DDR, 1969–1987). As secretary of an official school commission, set up by the Swedish government after World War II, and as a public debater, he also occasionally took a leading role in sponsoring a new version of Sweden’s own non-segregated school system. Birgitta Almgren has documented that Arvidson and his life-long friend Britta Stenholm invited Swedish and East German ministers to informal discussions in their home in Stockholm. The purpose was, according to Almgren, to exchange experiences and to give the guests from the GDR an opportunity to provide information on East German schools.

There were others who sympathized with the GDR but who had greater reservations concerning the country’s respect for freedom of speech and of art. These included the author Peter Weiss, a German exile in Sweden, to whom Almgren devotes an entire chapter. His view of the GDR was, in many respects, positive, although he embarked on a collision course with the country’s leadership when he asked that his defense of Solzhenitsyn be printed in the party newspaper Neues Deutschland – a demand that could not be met. Nor did the GDR allow the publication of his novel Die Ästhetik des Widerstands until after Weiss’s death, in 1983. The East German leaders faced a dilemma. They could claim, as a sympathizer, a world-renowned author – but one who obviously did not wholly adhere to the party line. The problem was not eased by their conclusion, based on the play Trotzki im Exil, that Weiss was, in fact, a Trotskyite. The play’s premier performance was in West Germany’s Düsseldorf, in 1970.

It is an interesting fact that Swedish public opinion, including that of the left and large parts of the Swedish Communist Party (SKP, after 1967 VPK), reacted most strongly when individual GDR citizens were badly treated.  The GDR was massively criticized when, for instance, the artist and poet Wolf Biermann was expelled from the country and deprived of his citizenship, when the civil rights activist Rudolf Bahro was jailed, or when people were kept, by the Wall, from traveling abroad.

But other questions, many of them fundamental, Swedish media neither clarified nor discussed; indeed, they may have been little known. For instance, in the book Rapport från Neustadt, DDR [Report from Neustadt, GDR], published in 1969, journalist Hans Axel Holm describes the GDR’s party system. Four parties were represented in Neustadt. The bulk of the representatives came, of course, from the dominant SED (created after the fusion of social-democrats and communists, under communist leadership, in the Soviet Zone in 1946). This division of parties had not changed for the past eleven years, and was determined not through elections but through agreements within the umbrella organization National Front.

What did Stellan Arvidson think about this?

“He was moved by social pathos, and believed fully and firmly in the GDR as a socialist alternative”, is Birgitta Almgren’s opinion.

The documents show that Holm’s book was criticized within the GDR. This was not because the book was found tendentious, but rather because the opposite was true: it reported documents, tape-recorded conversations and lessons.

One can say something similar about Not just Stasi. The documents are at the center of the book; they illuminate many questions. One of these concerns Faust’s pact with Stasi. Rüdiger Bernhardt, professor of literature at the University of Halle, was recruited by Stasi in 1977 as an “informal collaborator” with the obviously equivocal code-name Faust. The Swedish Institute and other Swedish organizations that used his literary services during the 1980s were not aware of this. There were great problems, once, when the Swedish Institute added something to his pre-determined program: a seminar in Rönninge, south of Stockholm, which included the West German Goethe Institute. Bernhardt was not able to participate because he had not received permission for this extra activity from the GDR. After the fall of the Wall, Bernhardt wrote a retrospective article in the Swedish journal Moderna språk [Modern Languages] about literature in the GDR, which was, he wrote, “strictly supervised by the authorities”. In 1993 he was invited as opponent in a dissertation act at Stockholm University; the dissertation’s subject was the author Christa Wolf. Birgit Stolt, professor at the University’s German department, had as vice-chair of the International Association for Germanic Studies received information about his Stasi past, and wanted to change opponent; but Bernhardt was given the benefit of the doubt and was permitted to complete his mission.

The doubts are now resolved, but it is the task of the reader to draw his or her own conclusions; the same applies to the many Stasi documents cited or referred to in the book over more than 500 pages.

“The language reflects, to a large part, the rhetoric of the Cold War”, says Birgitta Almgren.

There seems to have been a struggle between the two German states. Sweden became an important target in the GDR’s propaganda, a bridge between East and West. But it was not until 1972 that Sweden granted the GDR diplomatic status. The Stasi reports deal with the political attitudes towards the GDR within political parties, academic institutions and schools, as well as among prominent individuals in Swedish cultural life. An important part of the effort consisted of exhibitions that allowed the GDR to put itself on the geographical, political, and cultural map. These included the GDR’s “cultural weeks”, for instance, in the mid-Sweden town of Västerås in 1977, when the popular Brecht/Weill singer Gisela May as one of the stars. The Västerås weeks could indeed be used as a case study when it comes to the actions of Swedish authorities, reactions in the press, and the attitude of the general Swedish public, towards the GDR – as well as an indicator of the intentions of the East Germans behind the event. But the fact that Swedish MPs, as well as other politicians and pundits within Sweden’s cultural sphere, were willing to help arrange, and that local county administrations were willing to co-finance these so-called GDR-days, opened an arena to the GDR for its political ambitions and a possibility to attract mass-media attention in a neutral country that was seen as a buffer state between East and West.

In a wider perspective, Not just Stasi also demonstrates how dictatorships work and how an open, democratic country can be infiltrated by the use of systematic strategies. ≈

Note 1: Massive support for Birgitta Almgrens request to read document

A Swedish Administrative Court of Appeal has just turned down Birgitta Almgren’s request, made as a professor at Södertörn University and as leader of a state-financed research project, to be allowed to read documents in the archives of the Swedish security police (Säpo) on Swedish Stasi agents. Her request won massive support from Sweden’s most important newspapers. Swedish Television also aired the case, emphasizing how odd it is that while other countries are opening their archives and facing up to their past, Sweden has chosen to keep such documents secret. Professor Almgren notes that after the end of Hitler’s dictatorship, it took a good many decades before Swedes were ready to acknowledge that Nazism had not been only a German problem. Many, today, are equally reluctant to admit that Stasi can have a history outside the GDR. If we are to fully understand totalitarian ideas and structures, we need written documentation and knowledge. Thanks to the courageous actions of East German citizen activists’, the Stasi archives could be saved; they function as a symbol of the peaceful revolution. This is not a question of condemning actors retrospectively, nor of justification or of distributing blame. Rather, it is question of showing what is actually written in the documents, what significance this could have had at the time, and also, perhaps, of what we can learn from history. Almgren has appealed against the ruling to the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court. ≈

Note 2: Swedish Academy gives Birgitta Almgren personal award

In March 2010, Germanist Birgitta Almgren, who holds a chair at CBEES, Södertörn University, was given a personal award of 100,000 Swedish crowns by the Swedish Academy — the institution that bequeaths the annual Nobel Prize in Literature — for her studies of Nazi-German infiltration in Sweden and of the offshoots, in Cold War Sweden, of the GDR’s policies.

When the award was published, the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary said, in an unusual statement, that he found it “extremely odd that a researcher of Almgren’s high repute was not allowed to complete the important and thorough mapping process by gaining access to the Säpo archives’ information on the fifty or so Swedes who worked for the East German Stasi. In most countries, this request would have been entirely uncontroversial, but not here. The Swedish state’s secretiveness about some aspects of Cold War history is, sadly, constant, irrespective of the political color of the ministry.”

Note 3. Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden  has granted certiorari

On April 21, 2010, it was reported that the Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden has granted Birgitta Almgren certiorari. This means that her appeal of the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal to reject her request for access to the Rosenholz material will be taken up by the Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden. A decision on the substantive question can be expected very soon.

Note 4. No release of Stasi data in Finland

The Supreme Administrative Court in Finland has set aside a decision by the Helsinki Administrative Court that the Finnish Security Police must release the so-called Tiitinen List with data on 18 Finnish citizens who are alleged to have been in contact with agents of Stasi, the security service of the former East Germany. The Court believes that disclosure of the list could jeopardize Finnish national security by making those who collaborate with the security police reluctant to provide information in the future. Nor can it be ruled out that the list of names is still useful for the work of the security police, the court contends.

The list came into the hands of the Finnish security police from Germany in 1990 and is named after its director Seppo Tiitinen. The president of Finland at the time, Mauno Koivisto, decided on Tiitinen’s suggestion that decided nothing would be done with the list.

Read more: http://svenska.yle.fi/nyheter/artikel.php?id=186199

Note 5. Victory for Södertörn researcher!

On June 24, 2010 Regeringsrätten, Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court, reached a verdict, marking a victory for Professor Birgitta Almgren’s research. After analyzing German Nazi infiltration of Sweden in Drömmen om Norden [The Dream of the Nordic Region, 2005], her current project, Inte bara Stasi [Not just Stasi…, 2009], which is funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, deals with Sweden and the GDR. Both the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) and the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal had rejected Professor Almgren’s request to obtain the classified documents from the GDR’s foreign espionage that the CIA sent to Säpo. The dossier, known as the Rosenholz file, contains information about Swedish agents, unofficial collaborators who signed contracts with the East German security service (Stasi). But the Supreme Administrative Court decision went against Säpo and the Administrative Court of Appeal, reprimanding them while granting her access on condition that she maintain strict confidentiality (chapter 18, § 2 of the Swedish Official Secrets Act 2009:400).

In her petition, Almgren stressed that knowledge of Sweden’s relations with the GDR is of paramount importance and of great public interest, especially with respect to Swedish actions in relation to dictatorships today. It would be regrettable if serious scientific research that can shed light on these relationships were blocked. The European Parliament has adopted a resolution (2./4 2009) in which it criticizes member states for persisting in maintaining classified status for documents after the collapse of the communist countries, and therefore calls on these states to open their archives to researchers. Professor Almgren’s research analyzes how dictatorships work, the role of language in infiltrating an open democratic society – still a highly topical issue today. She has already accessed the documents in Berlin about the German agents who operated in Sweden. She intends to study this material in relation to the Swedish source material. The Rosenholz file will allow researchers to move on to the Stasi dossiers that contain information about payments, rewards, background checks, and personally signed contracts where the agents provide motivation for cooperating with the Stasi.

According to the Supreme Administrative Court ruling, Professor Almgren may therefore have access to the documents with certain restrictions: no documents may be copied, the identity of agents must not be disclosed, and all memos must be destroyed by June 30, 2011 at the latest. The Court emphasized the desirability of greater transparency in Security Service operations, but the information must be handled with maximum confidentiality. If she discloses information that she ”is duty-bound by …order or provision… to keep secret, ” she may be liable for breach of confidentiality. Despite these restrictions, the Supreme Administrative Court ruling nevertheless is a major step toward greater transparency by opening the archives to researchers.

Today, Birgitta Almgren tutors PhD-students.
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  • kimmoelo

    The Stasi debate is also a debate on how to cope with the past

    A lively debate has been occasioned by Professor Birgitta Almgren’s demand for access to material from the former GDR’s ministry of security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MFS, or Stasi) and its division of foreign intelligence (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, HVA). Almgren believes that the Swedish authorities are alone in not wanting to release such material. In a debate article in Dagens Nyheter, Almgren writes that “every country but Sweden is making the archives available for research into contacts that existed with the GDR” and that “other countries are trying to come to terms with their history”.

    Almgren seems not to have noticed the confrontation with the recent past taking place in the neighboring country to the east. The Finnish Stasi debate is surprisingly similar to the Swedish one. And the similarities are not just in the public debate as such but also the arguments of the authorities about why the Stasi material should be kept confidential. In Finland, as in Sweden, this material is in the custody of the security police. And the Finnish security police, SUPO, has not been willing to give this so-called Rosenholz material to researchers or journalists.

    On February 17, 2010, the administrative court of appeal in Stockholm said that the material from Stasi that the Swedish security police, SÄPO, possesses could damage its intelligence work if released. The wording is nearly identical to that of a decision of the Helsinki Administrative Court from the beginning of February. The court rejected opening the Finnish Rosenholz material to the public on the grounds that this could jeopardize SUPO’s international collaborative work.

    A contributing factor may have been an asymmetry in the debate. “Which social elites are being protected by the police?” was the title of Almgren’s opinion piece. Suspicions of this nature are repeated in the Finnish debate. The unwillingness of the Finnish authorities even to give researchers access to GDR material has been interpreted to mean that there are one or more people up there at the top who need to be protected, that is, people in the political elite who are still active.

    It gives the material a very particular significance. The argument of Almgren and several others is based on the idea that the material is being kept secret not on historical grounds but for reasons involving our own age, and the future. In other words: the core issue is not historical, it is geschichtspolitisch. If the material is made available, it can be used for political purposes now – a scenario that undoubtedly gives rise to a number of not merely methodological problems.

    Birgitta Almgren is surely correct in her assertion that the documents can hardly harm national security. The same applies to Finland. But Almgren does not seem to have considered the possibility that the most fundamental reason for not releasing the Stasi material is not what it contains. It may simply be about assurances that Finnish and Swedish security organizations have granted in order to come into possession of this material. We must remember that the Rosenholz material was originally classified in Germany as well. Only after lengthy negotiations with US security agencies could the material be de-classified. And only after experts had examined the material could it be made publicly available. In Germany, this handled by a special governmental agency, the Bundesbeauftragte für die Stasi-Unterlagen (BStU).

    Let us assume that the reason that the Stasi material has not been released in Finland and Sweden are obligations that security agencies have assumed. If one takes into account the broad public pressure that exists in both Sweden and Finland – could this be a reason for the two countries to follow Germany’s example? That is, that one tries to get the right to de-classify material and then lets specialists go through the material to ensure that it will get used appropriately in the future? It could be given for example to the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet), which has many years of experience in dealing with historical material. In my view, such a solution could eliminate problems and misinterpretations based on insufficient critical insights into the source material.

    * * *

    Although I believe that Almgren is right to demand access to the Stasi material for research purposes, she has put forward a claim that needs to be corrected. In her opinion piece she says that “the documents that SÄPO refuses to release are the extremely valuable Rosenholz files on contracted Stasi spies. This so-called Rosenholz card file was acquired by the CIA in the turmoil during the collapse of the GDR. It was then turned over to the concerned countries along with photos, personally signed obligations and contracts, reports, pay slips and other evidence of payment.”

    This is not correct. As Helmut Müller–Enbergs has shown in his detailed treatise “Rosenholz”: Eine Quellenkritik , the material here is a card file, not documents, contracts, or photographs. There is no reason for me to describe in detail the contents of the Rosenholz card file; the main point is that it contains only personal data (the so-called F16 card file), the operations card file (the so-called F22 card file), and statistical forms. The key, which connects the F16 and F22 card files, is called the registration number (Registrierungsnummer), which works the same way as in modern relational databases. Several people might have been linked to one and the same operation (that is, one card in F22 file), but only one of them has been the HVA’s “source” or contact person. Some original documents do not contain the Rosenholz card file, contrary to the impression given by Almgren. Such documents, like other material on operational efforts, are to be found in the operations folder, which is not part of Rosenholz card file. This folder is in the BStU archives in Berlin – if it exists at all. It should be noted that up to 90 percent of the HVA’s archives were destroyed during the last days of the GDR’s existence.

    * * *

    In Sweden, in contrast to Finland, it has been argued that releasing the Stasi material could help us gain new insights into how dictatorships work. Professor Klas Åmark has noted that with material from HVA, we learn about “what kind of people they attempt to recruit, what kind of reports they want, where they look for information”. Such knowledge could help us to protect ourselves today and in the future. Almgren refers to “concrete situations and actual events that can best illustrate and clarify the workings of dictatorships.”

    One undeniable fact is that, today, research into dictatorships has entirely different materials and a different perspective than it did twenty or thirty years ago. Researchers are for example able to examine Stasi’s operational instructions, as well as dissertations produced at the Stasi university-college. So we know already quite a bit about how dictatorships work and how intelligence agencies acquire information. On the one hand, there are now hardly any gaps in our knowledge of the functional logic of the dictatorship – or of HVA – that the Rosenholz card file could fill in. But since this material has acquired almost mythic dimensions, its release would be a societal ritual of purification and lead to our having to work through our recent history.

    If we really are interested in how dictatorships function, questions like “why” and “how” should be in the foreground. What gets people to cooperate with dictatorships? How is someone enlisted (or forced) into such cooperation? Answers to such general questions are not to be found in the Rosenholz card file, but in operations folders, directives, and instructions. There one can see recruitment techniques and methods, but also the reasons for joining. And this material is already available to anyone who is interested! For such research, the Rosenholz card file is not needed. But if we are interested in biographical or personal aspects of a person’s path towards becoming a source for the HVA, the Rosenholz card file opens the way to the people behind the “source”.

    There is also a question concerning research ethics. On the one hand, as a researcher, I have no difficulties understanding that my colleagues would like to have as much material made available as possible. In this matter, I agree with them: without relevant materials, we’re groping in the dark. On the other hand, I realize that this may have tragic consequences for certain people, if the material is handled without proper critical skills. One possibility is to do what is done in Germany, a country that has learned to get along fairly well with its own recent history – namely, allow diverse research form the basis of broader, public discussions. The less we know about our recent history, the more likely we are to be subjected to geschichtspolitische manipulations. The more openly we discuss our recent history, the better we can understand the current situation.

    * * *
    Kimmo Elo
    Lecturer in political science at the University of Turku. His research interests include German politics, European integration, the GDR, intelligence, among other things.

  • kimmoelo

    The Stasi debate is also a debate on how to cope with the past

    A lively debate has been occasioned by Professor Birgitta Almgren’s demand for access to material from the former GDR’s ministry of security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MFS, or Stasi) and its division of foreign intelligence (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, HVA). Almgren believes that the Swedish authorities are alone in not wanting to release such material. In a debate article in Dagens Nyheter, Almgren writes that “every country but Sweden is making the archives available for research into contacts that existed with the GDR” and that “other countries are trying to come to terms with their history”.

    Almgren seems not to have noticed the confrontation with the recent past taking place in the neighboring country to the east. The Finnish Stasi debate is surprisingly similar to the Swedish one. And the similarities are not just in the public debate as such but also the arguments of the authorities about why the Stasi material should be kept confidential. In Finland, as in Sweden, this material is in the custody of the security police. And the Finnish security police, SUPO, has not been willing to give this so-called Rosenholz material to researchers or journalists.

    On February 17, 2010, the administrative court of appeal in Stockholm said that the material from Stasi that the Swedish security police, SÄPO, possesses could damage its intelligence work if released. The wording is nearly identical to that of a decision of the Helsinki Administrative Court from the beginning of February. The court rejected opening the Finnish Rosenholz material to the public on the grounds that this could jeopardize SUPO’s international collaborative work.

    A contributing factor may have been an asymmetry in the debate. “Which social elites are being protected by the police?” was the title of Almgren’s opinion piece. Suspicions of this nature are repeated in the Finnish debate. The unwillingness of the Finnish authorities even to give researchers access to GDR material has been interpreted to mean that there are one or more people up there at the top who need to be protected, that is, people in the political elite who are still active.

    It gives the material a very particular significance. The argument of Almgren and several others is based on the idea that the material is being kept secret not on historical grounds but for reasons involving our own age, and the future. In other words: the core issue is not historical, it is geschichtspolitisch. If the material is made available, it can be used for political purposes now – a scenario that undoubtedly gives rise to a number of not merely methodological problems.

    Birgitta Almgren is surely correct in her assertion that the documents can hardly harm national security. The same applies to Finland. But Almgren does not seem to have considered the possibility that the most fundamental reason for not releasing the Stasi material is not what it contains. It may simply be about assurances that Finnish and Swedish security organizations have granted in order to come into possession of this material. We must remember that the Rosenholz material was originally classified in Germany as well. Only after lengthy negotiations with US security agencies could the material be de-classified. And only after experts had examined the material could it be made publicly available. In Germany, this handled by a special governmental agency, the Bundesbeauftragte für die Stasi-Unterlagen (BStU).

    Let us assume that the reason that the Stasi material has not been released in Finland and Sweden are obligations that security agencies have assumed. If one takes into account the broad public pressure that exists in both Sweden and Finland – could this be a reason for the two countries to follow Germany’s example? That is, that one tries to get the right to de-classify material and then lets specialists go through the material to ensure that it will get used appropriately in the future? It could be given for example to the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet), which has many years of experience in dealing with historical material. In my view, such a solution could eliminate problems and misinterpretations based on insufficient critical insights into the source material.

    * * *

    Although I believe that Almgren is right to demand access to the Stasi material for research purposes, she has put forward a claim that needs to be corrected. In her opinion piece she says that “the documents that SÄPO refuses to release are the extremely valuable Rosenholz files on contracted Stasi spies. This so-called Rosenholz card file was acquired by the CIA in the turmoil during the collapse of the GDR. It was then turned over to the concerned countries along with photos, personally signed obligations and contracts, reports, pay slips and other evidence of payment.”

    This is not correct. As Helmut Müller–Enbergs has shown in his detailed treatise “Rosenholz”: Eine Quellenkritik , the material here is a card file, not documents, contracts, or photographs. There is no reason for me to describe in detail the contents of the Rosenholz card file; the main point is that it contains only personal data (the so-called F16 card file), the operations card file (the so-called F22 card file), and statistical forms. The key, which connects the F16 and F22 card files, is called the registration number (Registrierungsnummer), which works the same way as in modern relational databases. Several people might have been linked to one and the same operation (that is, one card in F22 file), but only one of them has been the HVA’s “source” or contact person. Some original documents do not contain the Rosenholz card file, contrary to the impression given by Almgren. Such documents, like other material on operational efforts, are to be found in the operations folder, which is not part of Rosenholz card file. This folder is in the BStU archives in Berlin – if it exists at all. It should be noted that up to 90 percent of the HVA’s archives were destroyed during the last days of the GDR’s existence.

    * * *

    In Sweden, in contrast to Finland, it has been argued that releasing the Stasi material could help us gain new insights into how dictatorships work. Professor Klas Åmark has noted that with material from HVA, we learn about “what kind of people they attempt to recruit, what kind of reports they want, where they look for information”. Such knowledge could help us to protect ourselves today and in the future. Almgren refers to “concrete situations and actual events that can best illustrate and clarify the workings of dictatorships.”

    One undeniable fact is that, today, research into dictatorships has entirely different materials and a different perspective than it did twenty or thirty years ago. Researchers are for example able to examine Stasi’s operational instructions, as well as dissertations produced at the Stasi university-college. So we know already quite a bit about how dictatorships work and how intelligence agencies acquire information. On the one hand, there are now hardly any gaps in our knowledge of the functional logic of the dictatorship – or of HVA – that the Rosenholz card file could fill in. But since this material has acquired almost mythic dimensions, its release would be a societal ritual of purification and lead to our having to work through our recent history.

    If we really are interested in how dictatorships function, questions like “why” and “how” should be in the foreground. What gets people to cooperate with dictatorships? How is someone enlisted (or forced) into such cooperation? Answers to such general questions are not to be found in the Rosenholz card file, but in operations folders, directives, and instructions. There one can see recruitment techniques and methods, but also the reasons for joining. And this material is already available to anyone who is interested! For such research, the Rosenholz card file is not needed. But if we are interested in biographical or personal aspects of a person’s path towards becoming a source for the HVA, the Rosenholz card file opens the way to the people behind the “source”.

    There is also a question concerning research ethics. On the one hand, as a researcher, I have no difficulties understanding that my colleagues would like to have as much material made available as possible. In this matter, I agree with them: without relevant materials, we’re groping in the dark. On the other hand, I realize that this may have tragic consequences for certain people, if the material is handled without proper critical skills. One possibility is to do what is done in Germany, a country that has learned to get along fairly well with its own recent history – namely, allow diverse research form the basis of broader, public discussions. The less we know about our recent history, the more likely we are to be subjected to geschichtspolitische manipulations. The more openly we discuss our recent history, the better we can understand the current situation.

    * * *
    Kimmo Elo
    Lecturer in political science at the University of Turku. His research interests include German politics, European integration, the GDR, intelligence, among other things.

  • klasamark

    Release the Stasi Material!

    “We never release information that betray our sources or ways of working. In this case, there was, furthermore, concern for the individual – that is, the risk of being singled out as a traitor to one’s country 35 years after having had some innocent contact with a foreign country’s embassy.” These are the reasons given by the Swedish Security Service, as expressed by its information officer Åsa Hedin (Svenska Dagbladet February 22, 2010) for denying Germanist Birgitta Almgren access to the information about Swedish Stasi agents contained in the so-called Rosenholz Acts. Sweden has thus chosen to follow a policy that differs from that of most other countries, which have published this type of information.

    Almgren appealed the denial of access to a higher court of law, but was turned down. She is now preparing another appeal, at the final court of ap-peal for cases of this sort, the Supreme Administrative Court. This, of course, is what she ought to do, but experience has shown that the prospects of winning her type of case are minimal. It appears that, in Sweden, the authorities involved, such as the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) and the military intelligence and security service (MUST), are granted a preferential right of interpretation when it comes to ruling on issues concerning access to classified information. They always win in Sweden’s courts of law, even in cases when their argumentation is weak.

    There exists another legal course, which is rarely pursued. According to the Swedish Official Secrets Act, chapter 14, § 8, the government has the power to grant exemptions from the Official Secrets Act. Almgren should take advantage of this opportunity, as well. The government is not likely to overrule the Security Service on a controversial issue, but this course does at least have the advantage of placing the political responsibility where it belongs – with the government, not with state authorities or the courts of law.

    There is still far too much secretiveness, in Sweden, surrounding questions of this kind. The Official Secrets Act includes a ruling that keeps the archives of, for example, Säpo or MUST, classified for 70 years. In 2002, the Social Democratic Persson government made an exception to the rule and released information that Säpo had gathered prior to 1948, in order to facilitate work within the research program “Sveriges förhållande till nazismen, Nazityskland och Förintelsen” [Sweden’s Relationship to Nazism, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust]. This was all very well, but it was not enough. Historian Mats Deland has done research on suspected war criminals that came to Sweden during and after World War II. He was denied access to many of the acts that he requested. The higher courts, to which he turned, affirmed the denial of access – although the Swedish gov-ernment in 2000 declared its intention of doing everything in its power to make material connected to the Holocaust available to the public. This example illustrates the manner in which Sweden’s governments let themselves by guided by subordinate state authorities when it comes to the Official Secrets Act, despite the fact that the opposite should be the case. It is time for a revision of the Official Secrets Act, and it is time to change the 70-year rule to a 40-year rule, i.e. to apply the same time-limit that regulates, for example, material related to foreign affairs. Forty years is sufficient to protect work methods and persons. There are members of the Swedish Parliament who dislike secretiveness – they should propose leg-islative changes.

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    Where access to this sort of information is concerned, there are two possibilities. One can either grant researchers access to the material while stipulating certain conditions. Almgren is clearly willing to accept such a solution. If Almgren is allowed access to the information, similar rights must be granted to other researchers. The alternative, which is more satisfactory under existing conditions, would be to make the information public. The information is of general interest, and – contrary to what best-selling Swedish writer Jan Guillou has argued (Aftonbladet March 28, 2010) – it would be unfortunate if researchers were to become a privileged group with more extensive rights than other citizens.

    The issue, it seems, concerns approximately fifty Swedish individuals, identified in the Acts by name. Some of these individuals most probably do not even realise that Stasi viewed them as its agents. In other cases, Swedish individuals actually signed contracts with Stasi, wrote up reports and were probably paid for their efforts. Most likely, their activities did not amount to what one would usually term spying or treason, despite the assumptions that seem to be made by certain Communist-eating public debaters. “Informal co-workers”, in Stasi terminology, usually provided assessments of the political situation, which politicians, journalists or cultural workers were positive or negative to the GDR, and the like. Most often, such information must have been public knowledge, not the material of real spying activities.

    As mentioned above, Säpo wishes to protect its ways of working. The rest of us, however, need to know more about how dictatorships go to work, what sort of persons they attempt to recruit, what sort of reports they request, what kind of information interests them. It is unlikely that the bulk of intelligence work conducted by different dictatorships in Sweden involves spying on Sweden itself. It is, rather, concentrated on surveillance of their own citizens who reside here, e.g. as refugees. In many cases, Stasi was clearly out to get information about West Germany, not about Sweden. In this context, it would be useful to us Swedes to gain more knowledge of how to protect ourselves, at present and in the future. For this reason, the Stasi material should be made accessible to the public.

    /Klas Åmark
    Professor emeritus of history at Stockholm University
    Coordinator of the Swedish Research Council’s research program “Sveriges förhållande till nazismen, Nazityskland och Förintelsen” [Sweden’s Relation-ship to Nazism, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust]