The East German secret police had a higher education institution to train officers in surveillance techniques. After German reunification, the alumni retained their titles.
Since its inception in then-East Germany in 1950, the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) has acted to keep the Unified Socialist Party of Germany (SED) in power. And the secret police’s efforts to this end included even a Higher School of Education in Potsdam, a city near Berlin, to train part of its staff.
About 30,000 Stasi employees passed through the Law Academy in Potsdam (and other affiliated institutions). The name, used from 1965, served as a front, because the legal curriculum was limited and the focus was ideological training in Marxism-Leninism and operational techniques/surveillance for heads of secret police units.
Still, the school has trained more than 400 doctors and thousands of graduates with a Degree of Diplom-Jurist, something like a lawyer’s degree.
“The use of academic titles was a mixture of camouflage and a tendency to feign high academic standards, which the Stasi never managed to meet due to the rather low level of education among officers and their deliberately anti-intellectual stance,” Jens Gieseke, head of the Communism and Society department at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam, tells BBC News Brazil.
The law academy students were part of one of the most sophisticated surveillance apparatusin history, used by the Stasi for 40 years to control all aspects of East German society and its citizens.
Some of his dissertations still generate controversy in Germany, as they portrayed interrogation techniques against opponents and ways to overthrow dissidents.
“Higher-level employees finished their studies with doctoral theses mainly linked to ideology and leadership. Those at a lower level, who would go to the Stasi district administrations, obtained only one diploma and studied concrete operations, such as surveillance techniques, distraction and to destroy opposition groups,” explains historian Arnd Bauerkämper of the Free University of Berlin.
When the Stasi was disbanded in 1990, it had 91,000 employees and 189,000 unofficial employees – largely civilians recruited to spy on co-workers, friends and family.
That year, with the reunification of Germany, the diplomas of the Stasi Academy were recognized and the doctorate degrees kept (and used to this day, although many former stasi members are retired). However, it was not permissible for former students with Diplom-Jurist to act as lawyers, because their diplomas did not amount to that of a law course.
“Some of the officers with such degrees were able to be admitted as lawyers before the treaty came into force,” Gieseke says.