Scholar bites back at Stasi 'innuendo'

November 4, 2005

An expert on the former East Germany has published an angry rebuttal of claims that he assisted the Communist state's secret police in the 1980s, when he was a peace activist publicly supporting dissidents of the regime.

John Sandford, professor of German studies at Reading University, was accused by intelligence expert Anthony Glees in The Stasi Files (2003) of holding "hidden discussions" with the Stasi. At the time, he was opposing the regime's human rights abuses as a leading member of the East German wing of the campaign for European Nuclear Disarmament (END).

Professor Sandford recently published an essay attacking Professor Glees' scholarship and accusing him of "snide insinuations" and "offensive innuendo".

Professor Glees, professor of politics at Brunel University, hit back this week, defending his work. He pointed out that, "like all people named in my book, Professor Sandford did not make any complaint, legal or otherwise, at the time" it was published.

Professor Glees' book is based on his access to the Stasi's secret files, which were opened up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and reveals the extent of espionage by the German Democratic Republic in Britain during the Cold War.

In the chapter "The Stasi's British assets", Professor Glees dedicates seven pages to what he calls "the Sandford story".

He reports that Professor Sandford and his colleagues in the specialist East German wing of the END were targeted by the Stasi, which was able to get information from END meetings on GDR dissidents.

The Stasi papers reveal that Professor Sandford held a private meeting with an East German Embassy official, Hans-Hendrick Kasper, who was known to have Stasi links, at a neutral venue outside the GDR Embassy in 1984.

Professor Glees goes on to ask: "If Sandford was not passing on confidential material to Kasper, why were private meetings in a neutral place necessary?"

He adds: "Sandford had assured Kasper that he was personally sympathetic to the GDR. Why, if not to assure him that he was on Kasper's side?"

Professor Glees said that Professor Sandford declined to answer questions about this meeting.

In his rebuttal, published last month on Reading University's website, Professor Sandford says he was originally interviewed by Professor Glees in 1998 in relation to a planned BBC programme. He says he declined to answer a series of questions in a 2001 follow-up e-mail after concluding that the professor did not have "an open mind".

Professor Sandford argues that Professor Glees has given too much credence to the flawed and partial Stasi records to piece together a preconceived "sinister tale", filling gaps in the records "sometimes by confident assertion, sometimes by sneering innuendo" to support his thesis.

Professor Sandford admits that he had one meeting with a GDR London Embassy official in November 1984. He said the meeting was arranged after he had been refused entry to the GDR to meet an East German Peace Council member in 1984.

It was held primarily to discuss the confusion over his refused access, he said, but also as an opportunity to promote END aims with a GDR official.

The meeting was approved by the END, and details were reported to anEND meeting, as Stasi files confirm, Professor Sandford said.

He attacks Professor Glees for making references to "private", "hidden" meetings, and for repeatedly referring to "meetings"in the plural, when there was just one that was openly arranged.

Professor Sandford told The Times Higher that he did not complain about the book at the time it was published because he initially believed that "it was so patently shoddy that it didn't deserve to be graced with further publicity".

But he said that as time passed, more and more of his colleagues urged him to put the record straight. Since he had recently retired, he decided to write up the notes he had made on the book.

Professor Glees said he had accurately related what he had found in the Stasi files and what Professor Sandford told him.

Peace activists were not 'useful idiots'

Anthony Glees borrows a phrase from Lenin - "the useful idiots" - to describe a group of scholars and campaigners who, he claims, allowed their broad sympathy for the Communist East German state to be manipulated by its secret police, the Stasi, during the Cold War in the 1980s.

"They failed to understand that they were being manipulated by the ruthless and cynical secret police, always concerned to act in its own interests,"

Professor Glees told The Times Higher .

"Instead of concluding that East German Communism, with its long history of human rights abuses, was rotten to the core, they remained doggedly committed to it and believed that it could be reformed from within... they tried to work with the East Germans, but were in fact duped by them."

John Sandford replied that he and those of his colleagues - to whom Glees's Stasi Files refer - were peace activists who took their cue from German Democratic Republic dissidents and the East German peace activists whom they were supporting.

"They regarded themselves as socialists and wanted to work within the regime to change it, not work against it.

"Remember, no one envisaged at the time that the GDR would disappear, so we saw it as a fact of life we had to work with."

Professor Sandford said he had not actively "co-operated" with the GDR in any way.

"There were parallels in what we did with the work of current human rights organisations today - we publicised the existence of dissidents so people outside were aware of their existence and the GDR authorities could not shut them up."

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