Germans snitch on neighbours flouting virus rules, in echo of the Stasi past

BERLIN (Reuters) – Law-abiding Germans are zealously helping police crack down on people flouting new social distancing rules aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus by reporting on strangers, neighbours and friends.

In a country where denunciation was commonplace under the Communists in East Germany and Hitler’s Nazis, police forces across the country are getting tip-offs on anything from “corona parties” to people driving to weekend cottages.

Rules introduced in March forcing restaurants, pubs and sports facilities to shut and banning gatherings of people have given police plenty of work. With the number of corona cases and deaths climbing fast, there is no sign of an easing.

Since March 14, police in the German capital have ordered 830 pubs, shisha bars and other establishments to shut and recorded 898 crimes.

“We are getting tip-offs from the public about open restaurants or large gatherings of people in parks,” said a spokeswoman, adding officers were, as always, ready to deal with information from the public.

Forces around Germany are in a similar situation. Munich police took up to 150 calls every day last week from citizens reporting alleged breaches of corona rules, Spiegel Online said.

The Mitteldeutsche Zeitung reported that authorities in Magdeburg had asked citizens not to overburden the police, quoting an official as saying “people shouldn’t make a report every time they see three people sitting on a park bench.”

While many citizens are acting responsibly, some experts say jealously, frustration or bearing a grudge can play a role.

Rafael Behr, professor of criminology and sociology at the Hamburg Police Academy cited the phenomenon of locals in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern denouncing Berliners driving to weekend homes by looking at their number plates.

“This willingness to report others is poisoning civilised behaviour somewhat,” Behr told Reuters.

“Some people lack the civil courage to confront others but tip off the police anonymously,” said Behr, adding people who had lived under the cloud of East Germany’s loathed Stasi secret police might be remembering how things worked three decades ago.

One of the most repressive police organisations in the world, the Stasi crushed dissent by infiltrating almost every aspect of life in East Germany and relied on around 200,000 informants who spied on friends, colleagues and relatives.

“Snooping was widespread then and it’s easier for people to do this if they have done it before,” said Behr. “In any case, it is typically German to wait until there is a law that allows people to do this,” said Behr.

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