The Anatomy of Repression in Authoritarian States – Micro-Level Analyses of the Security Forces of the Former German Democratic Republic

2018 - 2020
German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF)

Prof. Jan Pierskalla, Ohio State University, USA



Research Questions

How do ruling elites of authoritarian states manage the repressive apparatus and how do patterns of management affect the behaviour of security personnel?

Contribution to International Research

Combining research in peace studies and public administration, the project will develop a theoretical framework on ‘bureaucratic dysfunctions’ in security institutions: bureaucratic dynamics that are inherent to processes of personnel recruitment, promotion and deployment can undermine the translation of the interests and strategies of the ruling elite into actual behavior of security personnel. Such dysfunctions result from the delegation of repressive activities from ruling elites (i.e. heads of states, ministries of defence and interior) to security agents such as military and police officers. These agents can make use of information advantages and discretion in the implementation of their tasks to pursue their own individual objectives, which may contradict elite interests. This, in turn, can lead to mismatches between elites’ orders and the actual actions of security forces. Autocratic states and western democracies both face such administrative challenges. Specificities of autocracies, however, create specific sources and consequences of these dynamics. The project will systematically identify and theorize bureaucratic dysfunctions in autocratic states.

Research Design and Methods

The planned analyses require information that is difficult to access due to its sensitive nature. The project therefore relies on extensive archival material on a formerly autocratic state: the German Democratic Republic. The secret police (Staatssicherheit, Stasi) constituted the institutional backbone of the state’s repression. Towards the end of the GDR, the Stasi encompassed over 90,000 employees, from which approximately 43,000 worked in the operative field in the 217 decentralized administrative units. The project will systematically screen, process and code information provided in personnel files of operative Stasi employees. The actual analyses will mainly rely on standard multivariate regression models, as well as non-parametric matching approaches.