German court ruling inconclusive as former Stasi spies fight for privacy


GERMANY:FOR NINE years, Holm Singer spied on friends and work colleagues for the East German secret police, the Stasi.

The 46-year-old from Saxony delivered information that sent four people to jail; his grateful superiors gave him cash, gifts and even a trip to the Olympic Games in Moscow.

But when the Saxon town of Reichenbach put on an exhibition in February naming Mr Singer as a Stasi informer with the code name "Schubert", he secured a temporary injunction on the grounds that it was an invasion of his privacy.

Exhibition organisers were forced to remove the relevant panel or face a fine of €250,000.

Yesterday a court in the nearby city of Zittau ruled against Mr Singer, allowing the panel to be reinstated. But the court left it to a higher appeal court to address the fundamental issue at stake: almost two decades after the collapse of the GDR, do former Stasi officials and informers have a right to privacy or even a statute of limitations for what they did more than 20 years ago?

Mr Singer's Stasi informer file makes for sobering reading: he was recruited in 1980, aged 18, and ordered to infiltrate a Protestant church youth group.

This he did with startling success and apparent enthusiasm and, on the orders of his Stasi superiors, he even allowed himself to be baptised.

His resignation letter was written on November 6th, 1989, three days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Filing for an injunction in March, lawyer Thomas Höllrich said his client feared the revelation about his Stasi past would place his family at risk. Asked about the matter yesterday, Mr Höllrich said Mr Singer had not been threatened.

Announcing an appeal yesterday, Mr Singer's lawyer said he was confident of drawing on Germany's robust privacy laws to reach a ruling forbidding the publication of personal information oStasi informers without their permission.

But Marianne Birthler, warden of the Stasi archive in Berlin, says post-1989 legislation places the public right to know first.

"It was the clear intention of lawmakers that, in working through the files, the activities and the perpetrators would not proceed anonymously," she told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The ongoing Singer case reflects an increasingly bullish attitude among former Stasi officials.

Two years ago, former officers disrupted an event at a former Stasi prison in Berlin and heckled the podium speakers - former Stasi prisoners - as "liars".

"We harmed no one," said Gotthold Schramm (74), a former Stasi colonel and author of several books on the Stasi.

"The GDR was not a criminal state. With good conscience, I can say the Stasi only served the people and obeyed the laws that were the laws of that time."

A recent study by Berlin's Humboldt University shows that, of the 234 cases brought against former Stasi officials since 1989, only 79 led to convictions and only one person was jailed.

"It's been a very emotional time in Reichenbach," said town official Raphael Kürzinger yesterday. "People are relieved the court ruled as it did. But they are furious that people who spied on them in the unjust regime of the GDR are trying legal means now to stifle the truth."