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The communist secret police services of Central and Eastern Europe kept detailed records not only of their victims but also of the vast networks of informants and collaborators upon whom their totalitarian systems depended. These records, now open to the public in many former Eastern Bloc countries, reflect a textually mediated reality that has defined and shaped the lives of former victims and informers, creating a tension between official records and personal memories. Exploring this tension between a textually and technically mediated past and the subject/victim's reclaiming and retrospective interpretation of that past in biography is the goal of this volume. While victims' secret police files have often been examined as a type of unauthorized archival life writing, the contributors tothis volume are among the first to analyze the fragmentary and sometimes remedial nature of these biographies and to examine the subject/victims' rewriting and remediation of them in various creativeforms. Essays focus, variously, on the files of the East German Stasi, the Romanian Securitate (in relation to Transylvanian Germans in Romania), and the Hungarian State Security Agency.
Contributors: Carol Anne Costabile-Heming, Ulrike Garde, Valentina Glajar, Yuliya Komska, Alison Lewis, Corina L. Petrescu, Annie Ring, Aniko Szucs.
Valentina Glajar is Professor of German at Texas State University, San Marcos. Alison Lewis is Professor of German in the School of Languages and Linguistics, The University of Melbourne, Australia. Corina L. Petrescu is Associate Professorof German at the University of Mississippi.
Aber so sehr es eine Freude sein kann, sich zu erinnern oder erinnert zu werden, ist leider auch das Gegenteil häufig der Fall.
[As much as it can be a joy to remember or to be remembered, it is unfortunately also the case that quite often the opposite is true.]
—Jana Döhring, Stasiratte, 7
THIS INTRODUCTORY COMMENT IN THE FOREWORD TO JANA DÖHRING'S Stasiratte (Stasi Rat, 2012) underscores the Janus-faced nature of memory. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the confrontations that East Germans have had with their secret police (Stasi) files. More than twenty-five years after the dissolution of the oppressive regime that ruled the German Democratic Republic for forty years, the legacy of the Stasi files continues to impact personal biographies in myriad ways. The peculiarity of the Stasi remains a source of fascination, and the Academy Award–winning film Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others, 2006) made the surveillance activities of the East German secret police a household concept for millions of international viewers. Writers were the first to thematize the Stasi openly in the immediate post-Wall years: Reiner Kunze (1990), Erich Loest (1991), Christa Wolf (1993), Gunter Kunert (1997), and Jurgen Fuchs (1999) all incorporated aspects of their own Stasi files into their essays and fictional works. By bringing these “secret” documents into the public sphere, these writers were attempting to reclaim their biographies, for the Stasi's characterizations of them represent a biased interpretation of their biographies. The Stasi intentionally manipulated information in order to make these cultural figures conform to a specific category—namely, dissident behavior that was viewed as harmful to the state—in a practice that Alison Lewis has proposed resulted in the creation of hostile biographies of others. Most critical attention has been paid to victims of the Stasi, when they have chosen to publish the information contained in their files. Former Stasi employees and Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (unofficial informants, or IMs) have also made their side of the story public. Notable cases here too have involved writers, such as Christa Wolf and Sascha Anderson.
CHRISTA WOLF's Störfall: Nachrichten eines Tages (1987; Accident: A Day's News, 1989), written between June and September 1986 and published in 1987, relates a day in the life of an unnamed female narrator as she struggles simultaneously to comprehend the enormity of a nuclear disaster and to pass the hours as her brother undergoes surgery for a brain tumor. Penned shortly after the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, this narrative pits public debates about technological advancement against the private concerns that citizens had about the safety of newly emerging technologies. The narrator herself embodies the juxtaposition of public versus private as she ponders how to behave, even what to discuss with others, as she goes about her daily routine in the wake of uncertainty about the dangers of the nuclear fallout. The text confronts the intrusion of nature, science, and technology into everyday life on a private level in the form of her brother's medical treatment and on a public level in the form of media broadcasts and announcements about the status of air, water, and soil contamination after the accident. There is a clear link between the narrator and Wolf, though the text begins with a disclaimer to the contrary: “Keiner der Figuren dieses Textes ist mit einer lebenden Person identisch. Sie sind alle von mir erfunden” (Störfall, n.p.; None of the characters in this book is identical with a living person. They have all been invented by me, Accident, n.p.). In a letter dated December 19, 1986, Wolf declared: “Dieses Jahr gab es Tschernobyl. Ich war zu der Zeit allein in unserem neuen mecklenburgischen Bauernhaus, am gleichen Tag, als die ersten Nachrichten eintrafen, mußte sich mein Bruder einer Gehirnoperation unterziehen. Ich habe diesen Tag beschrieben, Du wirst es wahrscheinlich im April lesen können, der Text heißt Störfall.” (This year, Chernobyl happened. At the time, I was alone in our new farmhouse in Mecklenburg; on the same day as the first news reports came in, my brother had to undergo a brain operation. I described this day. You will probably be able to read it in April. The text is called Accident.)
THE UNPRECEDENTED DECISION to open the archives of the GDR's Ministry for State Security (MfS or Stasi) in 1992 added a unique layer of documentary evidence to the memories of East Germans who had suffered at the hands of the Stasi. As Alison Lewis has written, the main objective for granting former GDR citizens access was to provide them “with evidence of the wrongs that had been committed against them.” Certainly, the Stasi had never intended for these files to become public. By allowing victims to read their files, the Stasi Records Law empowered them to take control of their biographies. In the course of reclaiming their biographies, victims weigh the information contained in the files against their memories. This process, as Jeffrey Wallen suggests, pits the “voice of the victim against the hand of the bureaucrat.” This clash between the spied-upon and the government-sanctioned spies figures prominently in the life and work of dissident East German writer Jurgen Fuchs (1950–99) in both the GDR and post-unification Germany. Fuchs's literary works as well as his civil rights activism were recognized internationally: Internationaler Pressepreis (1977), Kritikerpreis fur Literatur (1988), Stipendium der Deutschen Nationalstiftung (1998) and Hans-Sahl-Preis (posthumously).
Memory and archive are integral elements in Fuchs's writing, and a quest for truth and transparency resonates throughout this controversial dissident author's life and literary texts, which play with archival forms. In his earliest book-length works, which were only published in the West, Fuchs draws on his memories of conversations and interrogations. Gedächtnisprotokolle (Memory Protocols, 1977) thematizes his expulsion from the University of Jena, shortly before he was to have completed his degree. Vernehmungsprotokolle (Interrogation Protocols, 1978) recreates entirely from memory the interrogations conducted during his imprisonment at the Stasi remand prison at Hohenschonhausen. In both, Fuchs plays with the authority of the protocol as a form of official documentation. Since the only source for these literary protocols is his own recollections, this forces readers to ponder the genre's legitimacy as accurate recordings of official accounts.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fuchs published regularly about the methods of the Stasi, using excerpts from archival documents to support his arguments.