Joachim Gauck: This is my first visit to this country, and I've already had two very memorable encounters with the past. The first was in the archive holding what remains of KGB files, in the form of case records. It was very interesting for me to see what is available and what has been destroyed. My first impression was that 80 percent [of the archives] have been destroyed. The second encounter was a visit today to the Museum of [Soviet] Occupation, which attempts to show younger people the grief caused by the history of this country as a Soviet republic. I myself come from the German Democratic Republic [GDR, or East Germany] and I am naturally stirred by this dark shadow of the past, by the repression and death of so many innocent people. So I think it is very important that this museum exists.
RFE/RL: The opening of the Stasi archives revealed strong similarities between the secret services in Nazi Germany and those in the GDR. Do you see this as a basis for comparison between these two regimes?
Gauck: In Germany, we've learned that equating these two totalitarian systems is fruitless. In Germany, we have reason to regard National Socialism as the worst evil. But if I were an intellectual in Moscow, Tomsk, or some other part of the former Soviet Union, maybe I'd be more interested in the injustices that took place during the Soviet period, these millions of dead, these millions of people who were murdered or deported in violation of their rights. In addition, there's the feeling [in the former USSR] that many of the past perpetrators now occupy prominent positions. This has given me the conviction that every country needs to pay the highest attention to its own wrongdoings. In this sense, there is much to do in postcommunist countries.
RFE/RL: Do you think that, like Nazi criminals, perpetrators of crimes under Soviet rule should be prosecuted?
Gauck: The issue is not simply to delegitimize communism because of the many victims and criminal acts. In this Soviet empire, the wheel of recent political history has been turned backward. All the values that the democratic movement represents in liberal countries -- human rights, civil rights, freedom, autonomy of the law -- has been taken away here. So in the whole postcommunism region, we see a decades-long history of political impotence, arrogance of power, and a consistent failure to legitimize the government though free and fair elections. This has generated a feeling of impotence that we still notice today. 'There's nothing we can do,' says the state's inhabitant. The state's inhabitant is not a citizen, he's a prisoner of the state. This heavy burden has shaped people's mentality. I think that this, aside from the processing of the crimes, is another very important problem.
RFE/RL: In Soviet times, a great number of Georgians studied at universities in East Germany -- in Jena, Berlin, or Leipzig, for instance. Some of their files are likely to be kept in the Stasi archives. It is possible for these Georgians to access their files?
Gauck: One can get access to the files in Germany for several reasons. Individuals can consult them to shed light on their personal fate. Files can be issued for lustration, and on legal grounds for criminal prosecution or rehabilitation. Researchers and media representatives also have the right to access Stasi files, as long as these files are not about victims but about perpetrators, officers, employees, cases or information given by the unofficial collaborator. These rules apply not only to German citizens. Within the framework of these rights, foreign researchers and journalists can also make an application.
RFE/RL: You used to be a pastor of the Evangelical Church in East Germany. Religious figures in communist states are, as a rule, opposed to the regime. But churches are also known to have often been infiltrated by agents of the Stasi. What can you tell us about your experience?
Gauck: The churches were significantly more independent in the GDR and Poland than in other Soviet republics. They had more possibilities. This is why the influence of the party and the KGB was much more extensive in the former Soviet Union than in the GDR. In the Stasi files, I know only of one case in which the Stasi encouraged a young communist woman to enter the church, get baptized, and study theology, with the aim of eventually having a direct agent in the church. She finished her studies in 1989, then came the revolution and the opening of the archives. So the plan didn't work in the end. But such cases are very rare. In the Orthodox Church, however, the state's influence was so strong that such enrollments, when communists were planted in the church and then promoted up the hierarchy, were very common."
RFE/RL: In Georgia, the church exercises a strong influence on public opinion. The same can be said about intellectuals, some of whom are likely to have collaborated with the KGB. What consequences would the adoption of a lustration law have for these people? Could disclosing the past of these respected people provoke a shift in society's values?
Gauck: In East Germany, in Poland, and in most other postcommunist countries, the influence was stronger and unofficial collaborators, or agents, were enlisted. But a special way of doing this emerged. Normally, an unofficial collaborator signed a contract: "I engage myself to stay silent and inform the organ." Then, in the 1970s, came a new development. The Stasi chiefs said: "Church people will not sign anything, it hurts their dignity. We'll work with them in a soft way, as well as with some artists and professors who don't feel like signing." But these people should ask themselves: perhaps they are not traitors, but they nonetheless provided information that was of use to the secret services.