The Politics of Transparency and Surveillance in Post-Reunification Germany

Sperling, Stefan
July 2011
Surveillance & Society;2011, Vol. 8 Issue 4, p396
Academic Journal
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, reunified Germany intensified its policy of political transparency in an attempt to alleviate European concerns over a new German superpower. As transparency became a means to political legitimacy, the term and the practice acquired a distinctive ethical dimension. Germany's on-going effort to come to terms with its national socialist past came to encompass the years of state socialism as well. As Germany's new-found moral legitimacy came to rest on portraying East Germany as an immoral state, the former socialist state became an object that needed to be made fully transparent. The East German secret police (Stasi) and its vast surveillance apparatus became a natural target of transparency, as it inverted the logic of transparency by which the West German state claimed to function. As one form of transparency became key to legitimacy in Germany, its inversion - surveillance - became a marker of illegitimacy. In that sense, surveillance came to justify the unequal treatment of East Germans, of their political system, and of their public life. The conflict between divergent understandings of transparency became especially clear in a debate between two political figures, one from the former East and one from the former West. The case of German reunification serves to highlight the contingency of the meaning of the concepts of transparency, surveillance, and privacy.


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