With the fall of the Iron Curtain at the end of 1989 came the collapse of the communist regimes of the Eastern bloc and of their institutions. Among them, the ‘secret’ political police of socialist republics were probably the most well-known, including in the West. East-Germany’s Stasi, Romania’s Securitate, Czechoslovakia’s StB, Poland’s SB or Hungary’s ÁVH have been the subject of many myths and common preconceptions, sometimes reinforced by fiction.
Interview with Emmanuel Droit. Historian, professor at the Institute of Political Sciences of Strasbourg, France, Emmanuel Droit has just published a book that thoroughly examines the issue of the Eastern bloc’s secret police, from 1955 to 1989.
Secret political police were not invented by communism. They already existed, for instance, in a number of previous authoritarian regimes like Tsarist Russia, interwar Central and Eastern European monarchies, Nazi Germany or Italy under fascism. In what way do the communist regimes’ secret police stand out from the ones that came before them?
That’s an excellent question. You’re right to remind that these secret police have a long history and have emerged in the continuity of what we could call “policing”, in the context of the construction and modernization of nation-states that started in the second half of the 19th century. Regardless of their nature – whether democratic or authoritarian – they all sought to maintain their control over their population, including foreigners.