Jane and Louise Wilson Stasi City 1997 video [still from installation]
All this blithering about to execute or not to execute, for the death penalty or against - all rot, comrades. Execute! And, when necessary, without a court judgment." - Erich Mielke, GDR Minister for State Security, in a 1982 address to high-ranking Stasi officers [from "Stasiland"]
While still trying to fathom my fellow Americans' seeming indifference to extraordinary reports about our National Security Agency's domestic spying operations I've found myself reading Anna Funder's "Stasiland".
It's a terrifying story and it's incredibly depressing, even if it ultimately ends somewhat happily in 1989 - happily for those who survived. Oddly, and unfortunately, it's also a story which many Germans seem to want very much to forget.
I have to confess that even I wasn't very interested in the particulars of Stasi history until recently, in spite of having regularly and almost literally bumped into the physical relics of its power in the eastern neighborhoods of Berlin last fall. It was actually Barry's idea to order "Stasiland" from the library when we returned from Germany, having heard about its existence while we were there.
Since he was too busy with projects to begin reading it when it arrived, I took up the book myself, at first almost casually, although a somewhat dutifully, and certainly thinking it would be a bit of a drudge. Only then, when I became totally absorbed in this world I wish had only existed in the imagination of George Orwell, did I realize how relevant this brilliant account from both its victims and its perpetrators was to what was going on around me today.
Today's Germans may entertain the luxury of this selective amnesia about the very recent past, but the course of our own recent political history has made it more and more clear that we, as citizens of the nation which was so important as both model and midwife in the birth of their post-war democracy, must not.
"Stasi" was the common name for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry of State Security). I think it's interesting that the increasingly-threatening contemporary U.S. equivalent should go by a name virtually identical to that given to the hated DDR secret police. Ministry of State Security or National Security Agency. There is only the slightest semantic difference between the two, little more than a question of style.
The German victims of an experiment gone very wrong are quite free today, but here in the land of the free and the home of the brave we seem anxious to build our own police state, or we're at least remarkably indifferent to the construction going on all around us.
If we want to get the attention of a sleeping citizenry, maybe we'll have to come up with an appropriate nickname for our own National Security Agency, a tab which could hold its own when set next to the one which described the East Germans' nightmare. My own first thought? "NASY" (with the second letter pronounced "ah" of course)
"Well, when the president decides that he can do whatever he wants in violation of the law, including detaining citizens without charges and spying on citizens without warrants, that pretty much is the definition of a police state. It's the claimed authority that matters, not the extent to which it's used." Atrios
[image from Bayerisches Rundfunk]