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I'm wondering;

  1. What motivated some Germans to join the Stasi or to support the Stasi?

  2. Were there any common backgrounds among those who did so apart from living or being from the East?

  3. Why did so many East Germans support and wanted the GDR?

Thank you.

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1. Same reason everyone ever joined law enforcement - it's a good living, and a good job for either people who believe in law and order, or are natural bullies, or both. Plus, in a totalitarian state, being in a police gives you some minor extra protection. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 17:25
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2. People generally support status quo. GDR wasn't an awful place to live (compared to USSR) - Germans implemented socialism in a significanly less ass-backwards way compared to USSR as far as damage inflicted on their economy. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 17:28
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@DVK: As a character in a novel once put it: To be secure from the state, one has to join the State Security. That character, btw, later found out how wrong he was... –  Felix Goldberg Feb 24 '13 at 17:56
    
@FelixGoldberg - yes, but baring Yagod/Bedia like cleansing, at least you were safe from your neighbour writing to inform on you because he doesn't like you. –  DVK Feb 24 '13 at 18:04
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3 Answers

Let me first try to answer your questions 1 and 2:

First, you have to separate between the different branches of the Stasi. There were the domestic spying departments and the foreign espionage depertments. (see Wikipedia for some introduction).

For the foreign espionage departments, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA), the recruitment was like with any other intelligence agency, including selection of promising candidates, background checks, and so on. The reasons for joining this part of the apparatus were also similar: patriotism and/or ideology, (some) adventure, and money.

However, I assume your question is more about the domestic spying agency, and especially its Informelle Mitarbeiter (IMs; basically informers). Here, the motivations varied wildly.

Some people did it for ideological reasons. Some of them were later used to inform on ever more harmless subjects (and close friends or even family), but couldn't/wouldn't stop or go public because they feared repercussions. Others did it simply for money (as most informers do).

Often, young people were approached at a time when they

  • were fresh out of school, and still very indoctrinated
  • wanted to start studying, performing, or traveling and could be lured with support and approval
  • were in the (mandatory) military service
  • feared repercussions from something their friends or family members had done (like, setting up an antenna to receive western TV or similar "crimes")

Now to your third question:

Especially in the beginning, many people saw the GDR as a real chance at doing things differently. The Kaiser had been removed, the Nazis had plunged the world into war and murder and in the process devastated Germany, and the business leaders had always participated. The communists had been the only truly outspoken opposition for 50 years and had basically been proved right. Of the first Government members, some had fought Franco in Spain in the 30ies and spent the war in KZs or Gestapo jails, lending them credibility on the anti-fascist stance.

As Stalinism showed that there was murder and injustice in that system, too, many people became disillusioned.

But still, many (even most of the oppresed opposition) hoped to find a way between die-hard-communism and unrestrained capitalism. That's why many still balk at having the GDR described as "communist", when they would have liked to see it as "socialist" (There's a big difference between the two!).

Nobody wanted Soviet-style communism, and the leaders gave up on that in the sixties. But still they tried to control everything (including where people could tracel, what they watched, who could go to the university etc.), to stifle any dissent and meaningful discourse on what the stated goal of "socialism" should actually mean.

Many people thought it was a good idea gone wrong, and could and should be done right instead of abandoning it.

Stuff people generally remember positively: work for all, no homeless, no one hungered, medical treatment for everyone (although not up to western standards), good education system for everyone, solidarity, the (professed) love for peace, success at sports.

What many people don't remember (or try to forget): Stasi, pollution, a general sense of confinement, lack of opportunity beyond working a good job, lack of high-tech consumer goods (mostly because of the CoCom embargo), doping.

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I think you explain well that there was an amount of idealistic support for the "regime". But support can have many forms, and it is not clear to me why an "idealist" (of the kind I can imagine) would volunteer as a secret spy on her neighbors. –  Drux Apr 3 '13 at 13:35
    
@Drux: the idealism explanation pertained to the more general third question why many Germans supported the DDR, not to the narrower firsttwo questions about the Stasi –  Felix Goldberg Apr 3 '13 at 13:53
    
@FelixGoldberg ups ... you're right. –  Drux Apr 3 '13 at 15:29
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Why did so many East Germans support and wanted the GDR?

I think Hannah Arendt came up with the best explanation in her "Banality of Evil" concept. She was writing about the trial (and execution) of Adolf Eichmann, and the prevailing beliefs at that time was that Nazis were sociopaths or fanatics. Instead, here is this dull boring person who basically organized and lead the Holocaust.

Arendt's premise is that all it takes is for people to accept the basic premises of their country and by doing this normalize the atrocities into something bland and mundane. This premise bothered so many people that within 2 years of publishing Eichmann in Jerusalem, about 200 books were written either praising or condemning her work. To this day, people are still driven by her premise (either for, or against it), and books are still being written about this premise.

I believe that typical every-day school bullying, the Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments show this behavior in action. It is also my belief that the lack of concern about prisoner abuse and torture in Abu Ghirab and Guantanamo illustrate this behavior in modern terms. People who normalize evil don't want to acknowledge their participation in evil, so we pretend that it takes fanaticism or sociopathy to happen. Instead, nothing more is needed than the normal human impulse to want to fit in.

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I don't think it's fair to apply a study into the evilness of the Nazis to the GDR. The differences in the severity of human right violations are vast. Many people did and still do hold that there were many aspects of the GDR that were good. The GDR was not the Soviet Union or North Korea. –  gerrit Feb 25 '13 at 23:39
    
@gerrit While it is true that the idea of banality of evil was developed while the studying the Nazis, the writer had argued that it could explain many other things. So, I do think that the given explanation is a plausible one. In my humble opinion, simply giving the same cause does not mean comparing the scale of human suffering and loss in the two cases. –  Arani Feb 26 '13 at 22:01
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Lots of reasons to join up with the winning team, especially in a totalitarian regime.

  • money (you usually get paid more if you shout the right slogans)
  • security (you're less likely to be seen as an enemy (though during times of change in the hierarchy things can get very risky if you chose to support the wrong faction)
  • a nice uniform (never fails to impress the chicks)
  • lots of perks (often you'll be able to use your position to jump queues for such things as buying cars, vacations, televisions, new clothes, even food. And as a "trusted person" you may even be allowed to travel to a nice warm beach holiday in Romania or the Crimea rather than a vacation park in the mountains or a cruise on the Baltic sea.
  • extra food rations. Maybe not that important in communist Germany, but in many countries the party elite eat better than the general population, and are the last to suffer starvation
  • you get to bully people around with impunity, even beat them up and if you've powerful enough friends kill them
    As to why so many supported the communist regime (and many now long back to it, even many who opposed it before, the list is similar:
  • they had it easy back then, never really had to work
  • they no longer can bully others around solely because they're higher in the Party hierarchy
  • through rose coloured glasses they see only the "good" things of the communist era: job security, the state providing for them, cheap (even free) education and healthcare, etc. while forgetting the bad things: living in constant fear of the secret police, near starvation diet of third rate bland food (unless you were the party elite of course), being a prisoner with no rights, etc. etc.
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For uncited speculation, there's usenet. –  Samuel Russell Feb 24 '13 at 21:25
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Spies don't wear uniforms saying spy on them. GDR population did not starve. As for only seeing the good things, the interesting thing is that those in the GDR wanting capitalism also only saw the good things. –  gerrit Feb 25 '13 at 23:36
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@FelixGoldberg Anixx violently disagrees with anything that doesn't portray communist regimes as friendly, benign, etc. etc. and on faith downvotes anything that doesn't match those preconceptions. –  jwenting Feb 26 '13 at 7:16
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What are your sources? –  lins314159 Feb 26 '13 at 7:43
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@FelixGoldberg I am not sure on this, but one thing that I have heard is that the Stasi's agents were also very closely monitored and spied upon. I do not think the Stasi was a force for good, but this could be a reason why its agents did not enjoy impunity. –  Arani Feb 26 '13 at 22:04
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