Controversial Stasi conference cancelled in Berlin

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A controversial conference with former top level East German spies has been cancelled in Berlin. Organizer Thomas Wegener Friis said the event was to focus on the so-called HVA, the foreign intelligence branch of the secret police Stasi in the former East Germany (GDR).

"Espionage was an important part of the Cold War and we need to understand foreign intelligence in order to understand this period in history," said Friis, an assistant professor at the Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

But the Stasi archives authority BStU in Berlin withdrew its participation in the conference at short notice, sparking its subsequent cancellation. BStU director Marianne Birthler said in a statement that no expert from her office would be allowed to take part.

According to Birthler, previous public remarks by former high-ranking Stasi officers about their tasks and activities disqualified them from being serious discussion partners or even contemporary witnesses.

The Max Planck Society, which was to host the conference, pulled out of the event as a result of Birthler's decision. According to Friis, without her participation, the conference could have no longer presented a balanced view of the issue.

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