Steinbrück gets unintended Stasi boost
East German secret police kept file on Merkel challenger, apparently intending to recruit him as informer
Social Democratic top candidate Peer Steinbrück: according to a Stasi file, the thirtysomething Steinbrück reportedly “considered himself a Marxist” but was “clearly an adherent of the democratic socialism purveyed by the West German SPD”. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters
German Social Democrat (SPD) Peer Steinbrück’s struggling campaign to unseat Angela Merkel as chancellor next month has been given a boost from an unlikely quarter: the Stasi.
The vanished East German secret police kept a file on Steinbrück during his visits to East Berlin in the 1970s and 1980s, apparently intending to approach him to work as an informer.
The Welt newspaper group got wind of the file and splashed details across its weekend edition and again on Thursday under the headline: “How close was Steinbrück to the Stasi?”
The answer: not very close at all. The 50-page file, which Steinbrück received on August 9th and published on his website yesterday, contained reports filed on him by a cousin’s husband after several visits.
During their conversations the thirtysomething Steinbrück reportedly “considered himself a Marxist” but, the informer added, was “clearly an adherent of the democratic socialism purveyed by the West German SPD”.
Steinbrück dismissed the “real existing socialism” on offer in East Germany as “soviet socialism”, the report continues.
Steinbrück said yesterday he found no remarkable information in the file “except on the people who spied on me during my visits”.
“The denunciation that I was a Marxist is, at best, the stuff of political cabaret,” he added. In several newspaper reports Die Welt has insinuated that Steinbrück’s contacts with the Stasi may have been more far-reaching than his file suggested and that it had other material suggesting links to the Soviet Union’s KGB.
Before they could act, however, Steinbrück released the file in full. Rather than damage him, the Stasi documents and the campaign by Die Welt could have the opposite effect.
According to the file, he told his East German friends he would have to end his visits after the 1976 election, and stop corresponding in 1981, after he began working for the SPD government in Bonn “to which”, the file notes coldly, “he stands fully and completely”.
Three decades on, the file is filled with many such nuggets of unintended praise for Steinbrück that are very welcome in an election campaign.
His apparent left-wing sympathies will come as a surprise to many, particularly in his own party, who placed the 66-year-old firmly in the SPD’s centre-right wing.
Indeed party left-wingers have never forgotten how Steinbrück once attacked them as “cry-babies” for criticising decade-old welfare reforms.
Steinbrück’s struggle to get his election campaign off the ground has been attributed to his difficulty squaring his own political convictions with a social justice programme formulated by the left-dominant SPD.
He insisted yesterday that he had never been approached directly to work for any other foreign intelligence service, in particular not the Stasi.
Merkel has said she was once approached by the Stasi, but told them she was an inveterate gossip and unable to hold her tongue. The Stasi never called again.