In 1996, former GDR author Joachim Walther published his landmark study, Sicherungsbereich Literatur: Schriftsteller und Staatssicherheit in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Security Zone Literature: Writers and State Security in the German Democratic Republic, Berlin: Ch. Links). This 888-page book documents and analyzes how the Stasi went about implementing and enforcing the SED Party’s cultural policies in the realm of literature, how it monitored and tried to influence and control GDR writers. Walther, who worked as an editor for the publishing house Buchverlag Der Morgen Berlin from 1968 to 1983, had been forced to resign from that position due to his opposition to censorship and related issues. He began working on this meticulously researched documentary study shortly after the “Wende” (change in direction) and was given full access to the files of all former GDR writers. In brief, his assignment was to use these documents to determine the nature of the relationship and level of collaboration between GDR writers and the secret police agency.
In the introduction to Sicherungsbereich Literatur, Walther comments on the reasons why GDR writers and artists were willing to work with and for the Stasi: “A special factor in the readiness of writers and artists to collaborate with the Ministry for State Security was the belief in utopia, along with ignoble reasons like careerism, envy, craving for power, and need for recognition.”(10) He confirms my own conviction that high-level SED Party officials and Stasi officers overestimated by far the importance of literature in their society and the power of free speech; and that explains why they went to extraordinary lengths to suppress freedom of expression.
When Sicherungsbereich Literatur was published in 1996, I immediately purchased a copy and spent a couple of hours browsing through it. At one point, I skimmed through the index from A to Z, looking for the names of writers and other persons I knew. When I reached Z, I found “Zipser, Richard 533, 544, 546, 589, 598.” Five references to me, incredible! And then I proceeded to read the following reports from or about these informants: Uwe Berger, Fritz Rudolf Fries, Anneliese Löffler, and Paul Wiens. The first of these is meant to illustrate the form and content of an unofficial collaborator’s report.
[Uwe Berger: IM “Uwe”]
1) The lyric poet Uwe Berger, alias “Uwe,” handwritten on August 11, 1976: “June 22, 1976. In accordance with instructions, I called Sarah Kirsch. I told her that Dr. Richard Zipser had mentioned her twice in his conversation with me. Specifically, he said she had recommended me, and that she and I are GDR authors of the literary genre that is his favorite. Sarah Kirsch answered cautiously. ‘When he was at my place, I gave him a number of names; yours was also one of them. He had asked me whom else I might be able to recommend.’ We then exchanged a few unimportant sentences. I tried to find out about her opinion of Zipser. But she only agreed with me when I said it might become a very valuable book. She thanked me for my call and waited for me to end the conversation. The motivation for my call was weak. Further initiatives of this sort could make Sarah Kirsch suspicious. My friendly rapport with her remained intact.” (533)
[Fritz Rudolf Fries: IMV “Pedro Hagen”]
In 1978 monthly meetings were held. [Stasi officer Gerhard] Hoffmann noted that the collaboration had become significantly more trustful; the IM would occasionally report “of his own accord,” for example about Sarah Kirsch and the American literary scholar Richard Zipser. In 1979 “Pedro Hagen” was re-registered as an IMV [a higher level of informant than IM and IME]. Report on meeting of March 6, 1979: “The IM was open-minded, interested, also provided information unreservedly on the issues that were raised.” (544)
At the next meeting on March 12, 1981, “Pedro Hagen”—who in the meantime was re-registered as an IMB [a higher level of informant than IMV]—received the cover address “Käthe Martin,” to which he was supposed to send a postcard from every place he stayed in the USA. In addition, he was handed 500 West German marks in an EG-container and given instructions on how to go about opening and destroying the container. The IM acknowledged receipt of the 500 West German marks in writing. After his trip it says in the evaluation meeting report of May 19, 1981: “He initiated activities in the USA that enabled him to proceed as instructed and demonstrated perseverance, e.g., in the efforts he made to contact Dr. Zipser.” (546)
[Anneliese Löffler: IM “Dölbl”]
After “Dölbl” had written reader’s reports in the summer of 1978 on Günter Grass (“Der Butt” [“The Flounder”]) and Klaus Poche (“Atemnot” [“Shortness of Breath”]) and delivered reports on the USA Germanist Richard Zipser as well as Franz Fühmann and on some of her students, her report file breaks off abruptly with the reader’s report dated August 13, 1978 on Poche’s novel, without any reference to archiving or completing that piece of work. This would suggest that the remaining parts have been destroyed, so that it is not possible to make a reliable statement about the duration of IM “Dölbl’s” informant activity beyond the year 1978. (589)
[Paul Wiens: IM “Dichter” / “Poet”]
According to the name index of his report file, he provided information from 1967 on about (among others) Bella Achmadulina, H. C. Artmann, Amfried Astel, Rudolf Augstein, Jurek Becker Wolf Biermann, Heinrich Böll, Nicolas Born, Volker Braun, Heinz Czechowski, Hilde Domin, Adolf Endler, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Efim Etkind, Konrad Franke, Fritz Rudolf Fries, Barbara Frischmuth, Franz Fühmann, Lew Ginsburg, Peter Gosse, Peter Härtling, Stephan Hermlin, Stefan Heym, Walter Janka, Uwe Johnson, Gustav Just, Heinz Kahlau, Rainer Kirsch, Sarah Kirsch, Lew Kopelew, Ludvik Kundera, Günter Kunert, Reiner Kunze, Alain Lane, Jurij Ljubimow, Erich Loest, Frank-Wolf Matthies, Christoph Meckel, Karl Mickel, Irmtraud Morgner, Heiner Müller, A. W. Mytze, Bulat Okudshawa, Fritz Pleitgen, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Boris Polewoi, Hans Werner Richter, Andrej Sacharow, Klaus Schlesinger, Christoph Schlotterer, Peter Schneider, Hans Georg Soldat, Alexander Solshenizyn, Erwin Strittmatter, Klaus Wagenbach, Joachim Walther, Berta Waterstradt, Christa Wolf, Gerhard Wolf, Richard Zipser and other German, French, Hungarian, Yugoslavian and Soviet authors. Moreover, the poet was also an informant in his private life: In his IM-file there are private letters from the year 1972 to Irmtraud Morgner, to whom Paul Wiens was married from 1971 on, with the notation: “from ‘Poet,’ hand over at meeting.” (598)