Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 106-109
[Access article in PDF]
Edward Peterson, The Secret Police and the Revolution: The Fall of the German Democratic Republic.Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. 286 pp. $67.95.
Edward Peterson's disappointing book is divided into eight chapters, the first two of which deal with background on East Germany and on the country's State Security Ministry (Stasi) through 1986. The remaining chapters provide a chronological treatment of reports that the Stasi offices in Schwerin and East Berlin gathered on the East German population from 1987 to 1989, with an emphasis on the events of 1989. Peterson contrasts the population reports from the Stasi office in Schwerin, which was responsible for a largely rural population, with those of the headquarters in East Berlin. Each chapter therefore discusses both Schwerin and East Berlin. The penultimate chapter deals with the final months of the Stasi in 1989-1990, and the last chapter offers conclusions.
Peterson has based his account on archival materials from the regional Stasi archive in Schwerin and from the main Stasi archive in Berlin, drawing mainly on situation reports from both archives. The situation reports from East Berlin were produced by the Central Evaluation and Information Group (Zentrale Auswertungs- und Informationsgruppe), a key unit within the Stasi that collected and evaluated information from "unofficial informants" among the general population. The group regularly prepared summaries and analysis for the leaders of the Stasi, the Socialist Unity Party (SED), and the government.
Peterson's account is clogged with questionable assertions and major gaffes. He claims that "Soviet soldiers prevented revolt [in East Germany] until 1989" (p.1), leaving the informed reader to wonder about the mass uprising that swept through East Germany in the summer of 1953. On p.2, Peterson refers to the "Berlin uprising of 17 June," although on the next page he correctly notes that the revolt, far from being limited to East Berlin, spread to at least 373 cities. He does not provide acitation for his claim that K-5 (the forerunner of the Stasi) was founded on 16 August 1947 (p.19). A more plausible estimate for the founding of K-5, presented inJensGieseke, Die hauptamtlichen Mitarbeiter der Staatssicherheit (Berlin: Ch. Links,2000), p.5, is January 1947. In addition, Peterson mentions far too many individuals andevents without first introducing or describing them or even giving their full names—among them, Kurt Hager, Nikolai Ryzhkov, Ivan Agrusov, Sputnik, Department III, Schlaucher, Margot (presumably Honecker), Schatta, General Siegfried Gehlert, Markus ("Mischa") Wolf, Ehnke, Karsten Voigt, Peter Glotz, and Schoppe.
There are other major problems with the text. When discussing reports from the Central Evaluation and Information Group from January 1989, Peterson makes no mention of the Luxembourg/Liebknecht demonstration (pp.152-153), which was a key event on the path to the revolution. We know that the Central Evaluation and Information Group prepared a report on the demonstration, because the report appears in the documentary appendix of a well-known book on the Stasi by Armin Mitter and Stefan Wolle, Ich liebe euch doch alle ... : Befehle und Lageberichte des MfS Januar-November 1989 [End Page 106] (Berlin: Basisdruck, 1990). Equally confounding, Peterson seems to have come across no Stasi records of the massive demonstration on 4 November 1989 in East Berlin, even though Mitter and Wolle have identified numerous Stasi sources on this subject. Structurally, Peterson's analysis of the Schwerin situation disappears from the narrative in the penultimate chapter without explanation, despite the fact that it had been (along with East Berlin) the core of the text to that point.
Peterson also has been careless in his handling of documents. He refers to State Security Minister Erich Mielke's now famous banana quotation as "we can't afford to buy bananas," whereas the original German actually reads: "ich konnte auch keine Bananen essen und kaufen, nicht, weil es keine gab, sondern weil wir kein Geld hatten, sie zu kaufen," which is properly translated as "I was not able to eat and buy bananas, not...