Last East German leader Hans Modrow demands access to West's intelligence files

Germans who lived in the GDR have been able to view the files kept on them by East Germany's notorious Stasi secret police. Now, East Germany's last prime minister is demanding to see what the West knew about him.

Hans Modrow, the last prime minister of communist East Germany, has taken the German intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), to court, the latest measure in a five-year claim to see what the West's spymasters had unearthed on him during the Cold War.

Politics | 22.03.2017

Modrow, now 90 years old, told Germany's top administrative court on Wednesday that, as a historian and writer, he needed to see what West German intelligence knew about him in order to chronicle his stories from the era. The former leader of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) intends to release a biography.

Read more: GDR's victims continue fight for justice and recognition

"How am I supposed to write it down properly if the western files about me remain sealed?" he asked the Leipzig court.

Hans Modrow's five-year quest to gain access the BND files on him has been chronicled in the book "Ich will meine Akte!"

According to the court, Modrow has already had two claims rejected by BND. In May 2015, he requested to know all the personal information West German intelligence had kept on him. Two months later he issued another claim, this time demanding to see files. Modrow's process has been openly documented in a book entitled "Ich will meine Akte!" (I want my dossier), a copy of which the former GDR leader brought to the courtroom. 

The BND, which served as the foreign intelligence service in West Germany during the Cold War and continues to operate in today's unified Federal Republic, has admitted it kept files on Modrow between 1958 and 1990. However, it has only released a handful of documents, citing the need to protect its sources.

In Germany, archived documents can only be publically disclosed after 30 years. However, sensitive intelligence files can be kept secret for up to 60 years.

Modrow welcomed West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the East immediately after the Berlin Wall fell

Hypocrisy?

Modrow is demanding that Germany's intelligence services lay open their archives, just as the former East German secret police, or Stasi, was forced to do shortly after the collapse of the former East Germany.

Under Germany's 1992 Stasi Compliance Law, former East German citizens are allowed to apply to see what records the notorious Stasi secret police kept on them. Crews remain hard work restoring files that Stasi officers destroyed during the final days of the GDR.

Read more: Berlin 24/7: Berlin's forgotten victims of communism

In 2015, the German government began making the Stasi's files publically available online.

However, the federal government did not enact any similar legislation that would have implicated West Germany intelligence. The BND argues that, because its West German services continue to operate, its Cold War-era document remain protected by existing laws.

Career politician in the East and reunified Germany

Modrow started his political career in the 1950s as a member of the Free German Youth, a socialist movement, and the youth wing of the Socialist Union Party (SED) — East Germany's ruling party.

After a long career in East German politics, Modrow became leader of the communist state shortly after  SED chief Erich Honecker was toppled in October 1989. Modrow remained in power until the country's first fully democratic elections in March 1990, the SED was voted out of office for the first time.

Read more: The German thriller - from the fall of the Berlin Wall to reunification

Following German reunification, Modrow went on the serve in the Bundestag and the European Parliament as a member of the SED's succeeding party, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), which later became the Left Party.

In 1993, he was found to have committed electoral fraud during the Dresden municipal elections in 1989. The judge found Modrow guilty of understating the percentage of citizens who refused to vote for the SED, sentencing him to nine months' probation.

Modrow did not deny the crime but disputed the court's jurisdiction over crimes committed in East Germany.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Checkpoint Charlie

Probably the best known Cold War border crossing was located in the center of Berlin. In 1945 this was where the American and Russian sectors met. The crossing remained after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, and then served for foreigners to cross between East and West Berlin. Today a private museum depicts the city's division and escape stories - those that succeeded and those that failed.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Buchenwald Soviet Special Camp 2

The repression of political opponents began in 1945 with the establishment of special camps, like the one in Buchenwald near Weimar. Here the Soviet secret police imprisoned nearly 30,000 people, often arbitrarily, in a former Nazi concentration camp. The remains of the camp today has exhibits documenting the conditions and stories of theses inmates as well as a memorial near the mass graves.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

The Ministry for State Security

When East Germany was founded in 1949, the new government took charge of all prisoners. From 1950 the Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, was responsible for political prisoners. It had its headquarters in Berlin's Normannenstrasse until 1989. Today it is a museum that includes the preserved office of Erich Mielke, the last Minister of State Security.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Postplatz Square in Dresden

On the June 17, 1953 there was a widespread uprising against the repressive East German government and the country's economic conditions. There was also strike action and protests in Dresden. This tank track on Postplatz square marks the brutal suppression of the uprising with Soviet tanks.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Stasi remand center in Berlin Hohenschönhausen

The suppression of the 1953 uprising was followed by a wave of arrests. The Stasi, who had not seen the protests coming, responded with force. For political prisoners, the central remand center in Berlin's Hohenschönhausen district was often the first stop. Since 1994, it has been home to the biggest research and memorial site in the former East Germany.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Former Stasi prison Bautzen II

Bautzen II was the most feared of all Stasi secret police prisons in East Germany. Along with the remand center in Hohenschönhausen these "Stasi slammers" have become the embodiment for state repression. Visitors get an impression of prison conditions from inmate's biographies as well as sound and film recordings of the jail.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Juvenile detention center Jugendwerkhof Torgau

In 1964, the East German Ministry for Education under Margot Honecker created the juvenile detention center in Torgau. Behind five-meter walls, military style rule was imposed and offences severely punished. This memorial site today confronts what was the most brutal of all disciplinary institutions for juveniles in East Germany.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

Emergency Reception Center Sandbostel

Beginning in 1952, parts of the former Stalag prisoner of war camp near Bremen were used as an emergency reception center for refugees from communist East Germany. Sandbostel became a camp for male East Germans under the age of 24 who had succeeded in escaping to the West. As many as 800 refugees were housed here at any given time.

Remembering when Germany was split in two

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall became an international symbol of separation and servitude. After its fall in 1989 the original wall all but vanished from the city. The Berlin Wall Memorial, created to commemorate those killed trying to escape, contains one of the last pieces. This is where the official anniversary commemoration will take place on November 9.