The German Democratic Republic Ministry for State Security’s operational activities had been stopped due to many district administrations having been occupied by angry citizens at the beginning of December 1989 and due to the Berlin Central Administration having been seized by demonstrators and occupants on January 15th 1990. Following January 15th 1990 when these documents were taken over, this archive was submitted to the GDR State Archive Administration and the buildings were guarded by the police and Civil Committee members.
The Ministry for State Security’s files already played an important role during the Peaceful Revolution and the subsequently led fierce debate regarding the files being opened and finally, when the Socialist Unity Party (SED) dictatorship was reappraised. It was right that people warned about focusing too much on the Ministry for State Security and its files as the Ministry for State Security was no independent actor but a Socialist Unity Party power instrument.
The goal was to unlock the knowledge about power structures, address openly the injustice and make the information accessible which is indispensable for reappraising, thus turning around the purpose for which they were originally intended and used. The timely opening and use of the secret police files without any archive blocking period furthermore represented a legal challenge as this situation meant getting onto hitherto unknown societal-political territory of which there had been no historical example. The Stasi Records Act (StasiUnterlagenGesetzes, hence the abbreviation StUG) of 20 December 1991 laid down the foundation for a comprehensive reappraisal by using the Stasi files which is a process that has not been completed yet.
The Ministry of State Security’s central search mechanism was a huge index card system. The central card files contained information collected by the Ministry for State Security, which was regarded as interesting – be it for whatever reasons. These card files listed people (the so-called F 16), files (the so-called F 22), code-names (the so-called F 77) as well as streets and important objects (the so-called F 78). The fact that it was possible to take over these files in a virtually undamaged shape played a decisive role for the subsequent use of the archive for reappraisal purposes. Today, this card file classification forms the central search method applied for finding out whether a person was monitored by the Ministry for State Security and whether there are files on this person.
The overall volume of the rescued documents from the former Ministry for State Security was comprised of:
- Documents: approximately 111 so-called file kilometers, with approximately 41 Mio. index cards
- Filmed documents: if converted, this would correspond to approximately 47 km
- Sacks with torn documents: 15,000 of which containing reconstructible documents
- Audiovisual media (photographs, lms, videos, audio tapes): approx. 1.7 Mio.
- Furthermore several computer files, as the Ministry for State Security had been using IT since the 60s as well.
This meant that people had to deal with one of the largest archives in Germany.
Institution in charge of the archival records
The Ministry for State Security archives became the agenda of the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service (der Bundesbeauftragte für die StasiUnterlagen der ehemaligen DDR, hence BStU) who was elected for a 5-year period (eligible for a maximum number of 2 periods) by the Bundestag (Federal Parliament). Yet they remained decentralized, located at their hitherto sites in Berlin and the former Regional Administrations. The BStU is not subject to a subject-specific supervision, but only to legal supervision by the federal government (§§ 35 ff. StUG). As far as fundamental issues are concerned, he is advised by an advisory committee (§ 39 StUG), the members of which are appointed by the federal parliament and individual federal states.
As the main issue this act stipulates that the BStU has the exclusive competence to store and take custody for the Stasi-files, which is closely linked with the duty of disclosure and duty to hand over all external Stasi-files (§§ 7 ff. StUG) as well as the use of these files exclusively for the purposes speci ed in the act, i.e. the use is strictly bound to a specific purpose (§§ 4 subs. 1, 29, 32 subs. 4 StUG).
The rush of applicants that arose in January 1992 surpassed all prognoses. By March 1992, already 200,000 applications had been filed and in 1995, there were already more than one million. In 2016, an overall number of 64,000 applications were filed.
With regard to the future of the Stasi-files the German Bundestag (parliament) decided on 9. 6. 2016 to promote and consequently support the reappraisal of the Socialist Unity Party dictatorship and to take care that the existing access options according to the StUG will be maintained in the future. This decision was preceded by a recommendation of 5. 4. 2016 by an expert commission assigned by the German Bundestag. This recommendation says that the Stasi file archive is to be incorporated into the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv), while still retaining a certain organizational independence and remaining on its historical site in Berlin.