Court to review access to Sweden’s ‘Stasi files’

Sweden's Supreme Administrative Court (Regeringsrätten) has taken up the case of a researcher who is applying for access to classified security police (Säpo) documents relating to Stasi contacts in Sweden.

Court to review access to Sweden's 'Stasi files'
Magdeburg office of German Stasi Archives, 2007

Säpo in November refused Birgitta Almgren, a researcher at Södertörn University south of Stockholm, access to the lists of Swedish contacts for Communist East Germany’s (GDR) Stasi secret police.

The Administrative Court of Appeal (Kammarrätten) upheld Säpo’s decision when it rejected Almgren’s appeal in February.

Professor Almgren has now taken her case to Sweden’s highest administrative court arguing that as the GDR and the Stasi ceased to exist 20 years ago the documents can no longer reasonably be argued to pose a threat to international relations or Sweden’s national security.

“Access to the documents requested is essential for research into Sweden during the Cold War and, in a wider perspective, to show how dictatorships work and how an open, democratic country can be systematically infiltrated,” Almgren writes in her submission to the court.

Almgren hopes that the documents will support her hypothesis that the GDR considered Sweden to be a “focus country” in its foreign policy and functioned as a bridge between East and West in the Cold War.

She furthermore argues that her research is more of an archiving nature and she has no intention to sensationalise the issue or expose names of those contained in the lists.

This is the second time that Birgitta Almgren has pushed the case to the Supreme Adminstrative court after her leave to appeal an Administrative Court of Appeal decision from October 2007 was rejected in December 2007.

The documents that Almgren is seeking access to form part of the so-called Rosenholz files or “Stasi lists” which ended up in the hands of the CIA during the German reunification, but were finally returned to Germany and their respective countries in 2003. The files contain details of informal contacts that the GDR had in a slew of countries.

The German parts of the Rosenholz files are open for public viewing at the Stasi archive in Berlin but the Swedish files remain classified.

In an article in the Svenska Dagbladet daily on February 22nd, Säpo’s head of information Åsa Hedin claimed that there was no such “Stasi list”, arguing that the approximately 50 Swedish names that featured in the Stasi files found after the fall of the Berlin wall have been fully investigated by the security police.

“In most cases, it appeared that the criminal charges were completely baseless. The people in question had never had access to any secret information and knew no one who had access to classified material,” Hedin wrote.

Hedin argued that that espionage crimes committed by the small number of Swedes recruited as agents by the Stasi had already exceeded the statute of limitations by the time their names had been made known to Säpo.

The decision to deny access to the files was defended “partly on national security grounds, partly in the interests of our organization and partly out of consideration to the individuals,” the Säpo spokesperson explained.

The Local has made attempts to contact Birgitta Almgren on Tuesday and Wednesday but without success.

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Stasi pastor gives up licence to preach

Aleksander Radler, the Church of Sweden pastor who was exposed as a spy for the feared East German intelligence service Stasi, has chosen to give up his licence to preach, he said in an interview with Christian newspaper Dagen.

Stasi pastor gives up licence to preach

“Through information that I passed on about students in what was then the DDR, these people were incarcerated and treated badly at the end of the 1960s. Nothing torments my conscience as much as that,” Radler wrote to Dagen.

He told the paper that it was the then most prominent East German theologian Hans-Georg Fritsche who drew him into the intelligence gathering as a young theology student in Eastern Germany.

“And for those who made the mistake to start, it was not unproblematic to get out again,” Radler wrote.

Many of the young people that Radler passed on information on were sentenced to long prison sentences in East Germany and were later refused to return to university or get a job.

Radler told the paper that once he moved to Sweden at the end of the 1960s, he continued his intelligence gathering for Stasi by reporting on high-ranking members in the Church of Sweden up until the fall of the wall in 1989.

“I should have listened to my inner moral voice and broken off with the destructive forces, despite the high social and academic costs,“ Radler told Dagen.

Radler, who says he is riddled by guilt and remorse, has now decided to give up his right to preach in Sweden, despite the fact that the Church of Sweden investigation into the matter has not yet been completed.

He describes his existence as a “double-nature”.

“On the one hand there was my work for God and then the dark memories, irreconcilable with the Christian message, on the other,” Radler told the paper.

According to a recent Stasi exhibition organized by the German embassy in Stockholm, 153 Swedes have so far been exposed as Stasi agents.

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