IN East Germany, the hated secret police are breaking up. Not trusting the state to do the job by itself, citizen committees all over the country are overseeing the dismantling of the former Ministry for State Security.
Hannelore K"ohler, spokeswoman for the citizen committee in East Berlin, says her colleagues in the rest of the country expect to be finished by election day, March 18, when the committees are scheduled to end their work.
In some cities, the secret police, called Stasis by the East Germans, opened every letter and tapped every second phone call, the West German magazine Der Spiegel reported recently.
When the Communists tried to justify the need for a security force in January, people saw it as a veiled attempt to hang on to the Stasis. Their fury erupted on Jan. 15, when thousands stormed the enormous headquarters here.
It was then that the citizen committee spontaneously came to life here. People in the crowd formed a human chain to prevent files and other items from disappearing. Ms. K"ohler, one of the links in the chain, is spokeswoman for the committee. She deals with the government, former Stasi officials, and the press.
Just how far the Stasi net was cast is plain from a government report presented to opposition and communist members of the Round Table last month. It states that 85,000 people officially worked for the former ministry and 109,000 were informers (though some unofficial estimates on the informers go to 10 times that much). The organization was four times larger than West German intelligence had estimated.
The Stasis had more than 2,000 buildings, apartments, or land plots - with more than 600 in East Berlin alone.
The most impressive is the 60-building headquarters complex itself, laid out over two enormous blocks in East Berlin.
``Have you noticed how many inner courtyards there are here? How the buildings are a mixture of modern and old style and how a lot of them look like apartments?'' asks K"ohler, her high heels clicking over the cobblestones of one courtyard. ``It's been very cleverly planned so that a visitor wouldn't suspect that it was so big.''
It was Building No. 18 that bore the brunt of the angry citizens on Jan. 15. This was the conference and shopping center for the Stasis. Potted plants still lie overturned on their sides. Anti-Stasi graffiti is smeared with dye on the mirrors in the beauty salon. Observation cameras hang limply from the cafeteria walls: Stasis even watched Stasis.
Cleaning up the mess in Building No. 18, however, is not K"ohler's highest priority. The committee must gather and secure 5 million to 6 million files and dispose of property and office equipment. The weapons at the headquarters had already been handed over to the police by the time the committee appeared on the scene.
There are 99 committee members - workers of all types who receive their normal pay but have been granted time off from their jobs for ``government service.''
But they aren't enough to dismantle the headquarters and the 40 other buildings in East Berlin linked to the headquarters. In addition, entrances need to be guarded and the buildings patrolled 24 hours a day.
The committee has help from the People's Police, the state prosecutor, the Round Table, and, yes, 31 former Stasi department managers and their workers, depending on which department is being dismantled that day.
There was no way to avoid assistance from the Stasis, says K"ohler. ``We need them to show us how everything ran.''
In essence, the work of the committee has become watching everyone else work.
``We stick to the sides of the Stasis at all times,'' she says.
An incredible task has been the accumulation and securing of files - 62 miles of them are stacked in a central archive at the complex. ``Every scrap of paper is saved,'' says K"ohler. Workers go room by room, stacking and hauling.
``What happens to the files is not our decision to make,'' says K"ohler. Their fate will be determined after the elections.
The files reveal the labor-intensive nature of the secret police. Der Spiegel says official workers were under constant pressure to bring in new recruits. They had an average of 50 to 60 meetings a month and were responsible for about 35 informers each. Informers were everywhere: waiters, customs officials, students, rock musicians, chambermaids - even Jehovah's Witnesses.
K"ohler says she was ``worked on'' for two years by a Stasi trying to recruit her. She was introduced to him by her boss when she worked in a health clinic in 1984. Months later, they met again ``by chance,'' she says.
Sometimes they would meet ``and have long, intense discussions, intellectual talks. He was amazingly open.'' Then months would go by and nothing. When he finally popped the Stasi question, ``the thing that saved me,'' she says, thinking it over, ``was that, in my naivet'e, I told all my friends about it.'' Where are all the Stasis now?
As of mid-January, only 30,000 of the 85,000 nationwide had been been let go, according to the government report.
Rumors are going around that ex-Stasis are having a hard time finding jobs. K"ohler says there is no unemployment office to help them and that many of them are simply answering newspaper ads in the search for work.