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The self-effacing Roland Jahn
What, I ask him, did he miss most during the months he spent in solitary confinement? “My daughter,” he says, “and because of her there were moments when I really doubted that it was all worth it.” This is Roland Jahn speaking. In East German times he was, to put it mildly, a thorn in the side of the authorities in the communist state. Today he’s in charge of the Stasi Archive – the huge store of files that the former East German secret police compiled on their fellow citizens – and others, too.
Roland Jahn is also credited with helping to smuggle a secret camera into East Germany – the very camera that was used to capture that famous footage of the “Monday demonstrations” in Leipzig. Footage that went around the world and played an instrumental role in the downfall of the GDR. But there’s not much point in asking him for more details on these and other episodes that he was involved in. He’s at pains to downplay his own suffering and his very important contribution. While we were recording the show we had the problem that Roland Jahn doesn’t really speak much English. But we agreed that I’d ask the questions with such theatrical vigour that there couldn’t be any misunderstanding. Which made for a nice clash of styles. He: very studied, serious, and exactingly conscientious in giving his take on history and the sensitive challenges of his current job. Me: waving my arms and overworking my eyebrows. There were moments when I could see in his eyes that he was mightily amused by my efforts. But he wasn’t letting on. Anyway, it made for a fascinating conversation.
And the whole time I was thinking about my experiences in the former East Germany and the communist bloc in general: meeting all sorts of anguished and angry people – musicians, squatters, members of the church and the peace movement. Being briefly detained in Hungary, too, after spending a day or two cycling with a non-conformist couple from East Berlin. There were occasions when I was given a very firm hint that Stasi minders were on my case. So I guess there’s a file. However, if there is, it will – says Roland Jahn – take up to two years before I can get to see it. Unless, that is, I apply for special access as a journalist. But I can’t do that: there are simply too many other people who suffered too much in communist times for me to be fast-tracked. Still, maybe now the time has come to begin the process.
DateMarch 11, 2012