Knowing the secret police - £1m research project will shed light on East German society

A new study led by Newcastle University aims to uncover what the people of East Germany actually knew about the Stasi.

The German Democratic Republic’s feared secret police were one of the most extensive intelligence agencies to have ever existed. Officers spied on the population using a huge network of informers.

Most academic research has focused on what the agency knew about the East German population and how they gathered this information. Now, Knowing the Secret Police, flips the focus of previous studies and will instead look at what the East German people knew about the secret police.

Project lead Dr Anselma Gallinat, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Newcastle University, said: “We want to find out what the people who lived in East Germany knew about the Stasi, how they found out this information, how they shared it and how they used it during their everyday lives.

“Since Germany was reunified in 1990, the story that is told of life in East Germany is one of dictatorship which operated through oppression and fear. But life for the people who lived there was much more complex than that.
“There are also stereotypes about people who grew up in the East, for example that they lack civic skill because of their upbringing. But these people had to use creativity, imagination and courage to navigate life in the regime. We hope our research will highlight this side of the story.”

The £988k Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded study will focus on how information was shared, for example in the workplace, in religious settings and other social networks.

Also involved in the project are Dr Joanne Sayner, Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Heritage Studies, at Newcastle University and Sara Jones, Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham.

The research includes key German project partners: the Federal Agency for Civic Education in Bonn and a local branch of the Federal Agency for Stasi-files in Magdeburg.

The project gets underway this month October.