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New research findings about Stasi suspects in Sweden

For a year, Birgitta Almgren, professor of German at Södertörn University, has had permission to research the Swedish security police (Säpo) archives on Stasi suspects in Sweden. The aim has been to analyze Stasi's methods of infiltrating various sectors and recruiting Swedish citizens. Birgitta Almgren is happy to talk more about her research in English and German.

In her earlier book, Inte bara Stasi: relationer Sverige-DDR 1949-1990 (Not just Stasi: Sweden-GDR Relations 1949-1990), Birgitta Almgren analyzed overt relations between Sweden and the GDR. In her new book, Inte bara spioner... Stasi-infiltration i Sverige under kalla kriget (Not just spies: Stasi infiltration in Sweden during the Cold War), she gives an account of covert connections between Stasi and Sweden and the people behind the documents. This book presents case studies of the some 50 individuals in Säpo archives who were suspected of operating in Sweden during the Cold War.

Decision by Supreme Administrative Court gave access to archives Her research received a great deal of attention in 2010 when she was first denied access to these documents but was later granted access by decision of the Supreme Administrative Court.

"The decision by the Supreme Administrative Court, which may set a precedent, entails that Säpo can be less restrictive in opening its archives to research. This is something they themselves welcome," says Birgitta Almgren.

The conditions attached to her access to the Säpo archives-such as not being allowed to publish any names from the documents-do not restrict the aims of this research, as she sees it.

"The main thing for me as a researcher is not to hunt down the guilty parties. It's not so simple as saying that all of them are traitors and culprits."

Persuasive rhetoric What's more important is to discuss why people did what they did, and in what political and ideological context this could happen. One of Birgitta Almgren's driving forces as a researcher is to examine what role language played in constructing menacing future scenarios. She has seen clear and frightening connections between Stasi's machinery of persuasion and both older and very topical examples of doomsday rhetoric.

"The scary thing is this is universal. You could take certain sections from Stasi's reports, change a few words, and wind up with the same type of formulations that Anders Behring Breivik uses in his texts when he describes what he regards as a threat to civilization," says Birgitta Almgren. There are also clear linguistic connections to Nazi ideological infiltration in the 1930s and 1940s in Sweden and elsewhere, but then communism was the threat. For the East German intelligence service during the Cold War, the threats were imperialism and capitalism.

Who becomes a spy? What motivates people to place themselves in the service of a dictatorship? The picture Birgitta Almgren has acquired through her research into Stasi's modes of operating is rich in nuance. In the title of the new book she establishes that Cold War Stasi collaborators were not simply spies-they were also contact persons and sympathizers-and were sometimes just as much victims as perpetrators. People who were often driven by a will to do the right thing, to work for peace, and in this endeavor saw or became convinced that communism offered the promise of a brighter future.

The book "Inte bara spioner... Stasi-infiltration i Sverige under kalla kriget" (Not just spies: Stasi infiltration in Sweden during the Cold War), was published on September 15 (in Swedish) by Carlsson bokförlag (http://www.carlssonbokforlag.se email: info@carlssonbokforlag.se).

Birgitta Almgren works at CBEES (the Centre for Baltic and East European Studies), Södertörn University in Stockholm, Sweden, and her work is funded by Östersjöstiftelsen (The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies).

Contact Birgitta Almgren tel: +46 (0)8-608 43 66, e-mail: birgitta.almgren@sh.se

Eleonor Björkman, Press Officer, tel: +46 (0)8-608 50 62; mobile: +46 (0)70-286 13 32, e-mail: eleonor.bjorkman@sh.se

idw :: 27.09.2011