December - 1997
Vol# 13 - Issue# 11
BGS: Protecting More than the Borders Section
The Bundesgrenzschutz or BGS, is one of the more unique federal agencies in a country that prides itself on a professional service. Although each of Germany's sixteen states has its own state police force and a constitutional right to police itself, there are various law enforcement agencies of the federal government, including the BGS, whose mission goes far beyond protecting Borders. No account of Germany's Federal Border Police would be complete without reference to its often shoulder-to-shoulder associates, the Bereitschaftspolizei (Bepo), each state's standby, emergency, or anti-riot police. Both Bepo and BGS are based, organized, and trained to work in units.
BGS and Bepo share a role in Germany's history and both are very controversial among those fearing strong government or a police state. Bepo had its origins during the often lawless times of the Weimar Republic (Germany's post World War I era, the same years as the USA's Prohibition). Challenges to government authority were so crippling at the hands of Nazism and the Communists that Germany's government transferred from Berlin to Weimar. In addition to contesting the Weimar German government the right and left fought each other.
Hard pressed, the government fielded a heavily armed barracks-based police, the Sicherheifspolizei (Sipo). Sipo disbanded at the insistence of the allies as a violation of the Versailles Treaty. Supporters of strong police forces speculate that if the Weimar Republic's police resources had been stronger, Hitler would never have come to power.
Hitler hated the states' police forces and as a top priority nationalized them by decree. He enforced his decrees through the German army, SS, and SA. Both the SS and SA were endowed with police powers. Any police officer that stood fast for democracy lost his job.
Bepo members were drafted into the Wehrmacht army, as police battalions during World War II. Those who volunteered or were drafted into such soldier - police units and managed to survive lost their civil service (Beamtem) status. This distinction between soldier police and civilian police is important in studying Germany's post war police forces. In time of war BGS becomes a military force and has the status of and dedication to the Geneva Convention.
Neither the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) or the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had armed forces for defense following World War II. Controlling allied powers were to handle such matters. East Germany and West Germany became nations in 1949. At this time, East Germany founded a full-blown paramilitary force, the Kasernierte Volkspolizei that they could parade along the German-to-German border during periods of East-West political discord. Internal and external Cold War pressures caused anxiety and a lack of security among West Germany's citizens. The problem was how to counter such threats as the spectacle of Volkspolizei provided with armored vehicles, mortars, self-loading rifles and machine-guns which was a menace stabbing at the war-weary Western Allies, the USA, England and France. None wished to call up a new German army. The memories of two world wars lingered.
West Germany's strong willed chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, wanted an army. The allies agreed to a border police. Afterwards the Bundeswehr (West German Armed Forces) was formed (East Germany authorized a Federal Border Police, with TheBundesgrenzshulz Act of 1950). West Germany's federal government put together its BGS.
BGS's original cadre consisted of about 1800 men in 1951. Its orders were to stop illegal border crossings and criminal activities, primarily to the east. This border between the two Germanys was also the line between free Europe and communism. Actually, an armed force was needed to do this job and as a result BGS, as a militarized police, is considered the first armed force of Federal Germany since World War II.
One of BGS's first public actions was a ten-week anti-sm