Ah, the good old Stasi!

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of its fall, the ‘nets are abuzz over this interesting column in the Guardian, UK; it is written by a woman named Bruni de la Motte, who kind of misses that old Berlin Wall and her East German existence:

On 9 November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down I realised German unification would soon follow, which it did a year later. This meant the end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the country in which I was born, grew up, gave birth to my two children, gained my doctorate and enjoyed a fulfilling job as a lecturer in English literature at Potsdam University. Of course, unification brought with it the freedom to travel the world and, for some, more material wealth, but it also brought social breakdown, widespread unemployment, blacklisting, a crass materialism and an “elbow society” as well as a demonisation of the country I lived in and helped shape. Despite the advantages, for many it was more a disaster than a celebratory event.

Writes Jonah Goldberg:

1. I love that one of the problems with a free Germany is “blacklisting.” Lord knows the Stasi would never have resorted to blacklisting! (She also goes on to bemoan the lack of academic freedom in post-unification Germany. It was so much better in the old days. Uh huh).

2. “Social achievements” is put inside quotations marks even as it is modified with the word “genuine.”

3. I love the suggestion that East Germans lacked “existential fears.” I don’t know what this woman is talking about, but it seems to me that a lot of folks who risked their lives to escape East Germany were afraid of something. Not a whole lot of West German’s braved the barbed wire to escape their fears, if memory serves.

I think the “existential fears” probably meant religious influence or accountability, which is rather sad, but Jonah’s point is a good one, and you should go read all of his remarks.

Before we get too misty-eyed about the Good Old Days of Stasi and Totalitarianism, let’s take a look at this fascinating piece from Wired magazine:

Ulrike Poppe used to be one of the most surveilled women in East Germany. For 15 years, agents of the Stasi (short for Staatssicherheitsdienst, or State Security Service) followed her, bugged her phone and home, and harassed her unremittingly, right up until she and other dissidents helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, the study in Poppe’s Berlin apartment is lined floor to 12-foot ceiling with bookshelves full of volumes on art, literature, and political science. But one shelf, just to the left of her desk, is special. It holds a pair of 3-inch-thick black binders — copies of the most important documents in Poppe’s secret police files. This is her Stasi shelf.

Poppe hung out with East German dissidents as a teenager, got blackballed out of college, and was busted in 1974 by the police on the thin pretext of “asocial behavior.”

I’m thinking Bruni de la Motte would not have much liked the “asocial” Ulrike Poppe. Possibly Bruni de la Motte would have reported her for not being happy that her life was being so efficiently managed for her.

You’ll want to read all of that, too.

Then, perhaps you’ll want to rent or purchase The Lives of Others, a terrific film about which I raved two years ago, having watched it and been very moved. Oh, and maybe you’ll want to read this, too.

From my review:

…our first protagonist is a successful playwright who has managed rather easily and charmingly to bridge the divide between the freedom of his art and the restrictions of his government. His life is rather better than the lives of others, and one gets the sense that he is not fully appreciative of how tenuous are his privileges. The suicide of a dear friend – a blacklisted director – seems to bring that message home to him. He writes an article on the hopelessness reflected in East Germany’s suicide rate, and tries to get it smuggled out, to the West.

In The Lives of Others, our protagonist is outfitted (by dissident friends) with a new typewriter because the East German government would be able to identify his work by his own instrument’s typeface. The government knew, you see, what every artist used to create his art, the easier to track any dissent.

The Lives of Others
has moments of beauty interspersed with scenes of harrowing loneliness, shame, purposeless and hopelessness, but the moments of beauty are sublime – a man at the piano, his music deeply affecting the Stasi agent assigned to listen in – a conversation between that agent and a child of about six. The little boy, holding a ball, enters an elevator with the agent and asks, “is it true you are with the Stasi?” The agent responds, “do you even know what the Stasi is?” The boy: “My father says they are the bad men…”

The agent, on automatic pilot, begins to ask the boy what is the name of his father – another comrade to check up on, you see – except he seems to realize he is about to exploit an innocent, and he stops himself. The Stasi agent, in his relentless, thorough and dedicated spying, has observed real, committed and selfless love. He has been moved by art (which so many disdain as useless). He has encountered a true innocent in a land where no one is considered that. And just moving against the periphery of this powerful but underappreciated trinity – love, art, innocence – rocks the Stasi’s world.

Reason TV:

Intrusive Government FTC Disclaimer: Yes, I recommended they consider purchasing a great movie. Yes, if someone does that, I might get a kickback of .70 cents. But I’d recommend the movie, even without the .70 cents.

Ross Douthat Life After the End of History
Wall Street Journal: Four Little Words
Gateway Pundit has more
Melanie Philips: We were fools to think the fall of the Berlin Wall killed the far left; They’re attacking from within
Jammie Wearing Fool
Don Surber: Palin and Reagan on the wall

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Room 237

    Want to be creeped out a bit more?

    I am a yank living in the UK and she pops up every now and then — she is a negotiator for one of the largest of the public sector unions — “Unison”

  • Sam Elmore

    There is also a movie called “Der Tunnel” that shows the lengths people on the west would go to to get friends and family out of the east…it is not easy to watch but it is very well done…

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    My bible study group is doing Jeff Cavins’ Bible Timeline and we’re just finishing up the Desert Wanderings period. What struck me most about this period was the Hebrews’ whining was couched in a desire to go back to Egypt. Yes, they were enslaved, but at least they had figs!

    I see the same in the clamor for “universal” healthcare (ya’ gotta respect how the Left can taint words which used to have positive connotations).

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    I was happy to see President George H.W. Bush in Berlin for the festivities.

    Our current president’s response? “What’s in it for me?”
    Freedom? He’s just not that into it.
    He’s too busy working with his Maoist advisor(s) to celebrate the tearing down of the greatest symbol of oppression in the 20th century.

    How’s that reset button working for you? No hope for you!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Hmmm, Room 237. . . I can’t help but wonder if the reason for Bruni’s nostalgia for the old East Germany isn’t due to the fact that she, herself, might have worked with the Stassi, and gotten a lot of perks from the old regime?

  • Room 237

    Rhinestone–in a communist country, one way or another, EVERYONE worked for the Stasi. Maybe you just were not getting the payment.

    So I am a little willing to let that go.

    What I think happens with people like Dr. de la Motte is that in a managerial state, the managers and self decribed intellectuals have an outsided status. What she is lamenting is not really her loss of the DDR, but the loss of her status.

  • EJHill

    That is what is so discouraging about this march to socialism that we are on. Once you become a ward of the state everything that requires individual effort becomes a burden, even freedom itself. It’s like an entire nation stricken with Stockholm Syndrome.

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  • Beth

    She bemoans the same loss that the White Russians and other autocrats made when they lost their power and influence. Does she see the similarity?

    Ah, the academics. The great American unwashed probably brought over their suspicions of the intelligentsia/ruling classes from their homelands. Obama would like to create a permanent ruling class over here.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    237, that’s probably it.

  • http://www.erud-awakening.blogspot.com Gina

    Goodbye Lenin is another touching and funny film about this time.

    When I was in Leipzig, I happened on the Stasi Museum. It is surreal. The fake noses and moustaches, the surveillance equipment, and most of all the rows and rows of files (there are some photos here. It had been the district headquarters, and these artifacts were saved at the last minute by protesters while the Stasi was in the midst of trying to destroy them. There are also plans to open up the national execution center, also in Leipzig, as a museum. I do hope Professor de la Motte plans a visit.

  • EJHill

    For some reason November 9th seems to be a big Germanic magnet. Not only did the wall fall this day but Nov. 9th is the day that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated in 1918, ending the Hohenzollern dynasty and paved for the Armistice on the 11th.

    Unfortunately it is also the date of the 1938 “Kristallnacht” or “The Night of Broken Glass” when Jewish homes and businesses all across Germany were attacked and 30,000 Jewish men imprisoned.

    1989: The Berlin Wall is breached as the border is opened and East Germans are allowed to travel to the west.

  • newton

    Thankfully, a huge majority of former East Germans absolutely disagree with her!

    Maybe we should do something nice for this “scholar”. Maybe we should build a huge house for her, with no needs or wants. Everything should be supplied to her, including influence.

    Only, that we build a huge, barb-wired wall around her house, which would become the instrument of her death if she ever dares escape it.

    East Germany was a gulag, a prison masquerading as a country. The fact that people were voting with their feet at the first change they got at crossing the border into freedom showed all of us the farce that country, the Soviet Union, and Communism truly were.

  • http://www.erud-awakening.blogspot.com Gina

    Another feature of life in the GDR was the length the state would go to to disguise how poorly their economy was doing. That sound familiar to anyone?

  • dry valleys

    “Thankfully, a huge majority of former East Germans absolutely disagree with her!”

    Why did Die Linke get such a high proportion of votes cast in the eastern districts, then?

    Goldberg, in his usual sneering way, totally misses something that this woman touched upon, but didn’t express very well (in fairness this is probably because she doesn’t care a great deal).

    Ostalgie wouldn’t be a force if it weren’t for the gross poverty & deprivation that have long existed in the east. Working-class discontent, not the complaints of acadamics & bureaucrats, is what you’ll hear more of if you speak to any easterners- try visiting some of the obscure towns there, though don’t expect any tourist facilities or any such.

    East Germans were promised material wealth which, for many, never materialised. I live in a former manufacturing./mining area which has been screwed over in the past 30 years, primarily by Thatcher but also in fairness by her inept predecessors & by an unresponsive Labour city council which assumed that because we are working-class it owned our support & didn’t need to bother with tedious details like representing us.

    But we are here, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, & those who work are often in low-paid jobs like mine. Can you really blame people if they talk about their nostalgia for the 70s & denounce Thatcherism & everything that has happened since 1979? I do not.

    I don’t think the old days were all that good, & I bid good riddance to the GDR. But I really think Europe won’t move forward unless we have a long, hard look at what it is that makes people on the streets (& they are people on the streets- look again at Die Linke support) nostalgic for a dictatorship.

    As for crass materialism & cut-throat individualism, don’t you at least claim to deplore it? Well, this is one of the reasons why your pal John Paul said there was a “kernel of truth” in Marxism. You don’t have to like dictatorship, or agree with Ostalgie, to try & understand why the unemployed, poor pensioners & people who simply feel left behind & wonder where this bright future they were promised has got to.

    I am probably more “left-wing” than “right-wing”, but certainly not a radical- the far left in this country have no time for me. Yet, living in the rustbelt allows me to understand where attitudes like this come from & to know that the only way to stop them is by getting people into decent employment with something to show for it after a day’s work.

  • Dan Butcher

    Love your FTC disclaimer (and the post was good too!)

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  • JuliB

    Dry Valleys – there are still people who miss Stalin. Sometimes ‘security’ appears better than freedom, esp when there are problems.

  • dry valleys

    Yes, there are, & they are wrong. But it isn’t because they are fascists, it is because they are enraged at their situation. Otsalgie is a real thing, & it wouldn’t be if East Germany were prosperous. That is all I will say.

    I speak to people who are of a similar stamp- interestingly enough they are often tempted to vote for far-right racist parties. I try to talk people out of taking such stances, but it does happen.

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  • Reason60

    Your comment about those who prefer security to freedom causes me to restate my point from the Jackboot thread, about our own country.

    There is in fact a very loud and powerful faction in the US that asks us to surrender a bit of liberty in exchange for security; to accept government surveillance, imprisonment without trial, and outright torture as part of the Security State.
    Some of these voices are from the current Administration; others are from its predecessor.

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  • Yoda

    Looking at the picture of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II reminded me of the days of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the Pope up against Communism. I always felt safe with them in charge.

    What a force to be reckoned with!

  • Janemarie

    Thank you for the picture of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan; somehow, it just makes me feel good!

  • dry valleys

    For some, there’s little to celebrate

    They are wrong to hark back to a dictatorship. But I can’t honestly sit here & berate a hundred thousand ordinary folk & all the like-minded ones in the east.

    It is not grandstanding that will get them to drop their illusions, it is something that western armchair warriors of the kind found commenting on right-wing blogs promised but haven’t delivered on, which is material prosperity.

    You should look at what was offered to Ossies & what actually happened. I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled either.

    Again, I am glad to see communism gone, I’m just saying that the status quo is not an unmitigated good & acting as if it was helps none.

  • J

    Reading a historian’s take on this anniversary it was pointed out that the “idea” of the wall came from Sen. Fulbright, with JFK’s support, in order to appease the Russians so we could be on better terms with them. How ironic.

  • EJHill

    Dry Valleys wrote, “It is not grandstanding that will get them to drop their illusions, it is something that western armchair warriors of the kind found commenting on right-wing blogs promised but haven’t delivered on, which is material prosperity”

    You don’t seem to grasp the idea of real freedom, do you? In a free society, prosperity is earned, not delivered. That is the provenance of the socialist and the communist, that the government confers wealth, wants and needs.

    Even if you define your own happiness through material possessions, our own political tradition only promises you the freedom to pursue that happiness, not a guarantee you’ll get it.

  • dry valleys

    Yes, I’m an evil enemy of everything we stand for.

    I am just asking how well you think your hectoring about “real freedom” would go down in an ex-industrial town with more than 20% unemployment, whose inhabitants were promised a golden future (look up some of the claims made by Kohl, etc at the time of unification) but never got one.

    Where did I say I look back nostalgically on the old days- never or never? I merely observe that we should bear in mind that these areas haven’t fared well, nor have the likes of Russia. That is what makes people unhappy.

  • Patriot

    I think this quote by Ben Franklin sums it up:

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    Ben Franklin’s Contributions to the Conference on February 17 (III) Fri, Feb 17, 1775

    What it all comes down to in the end is that we are responsible for the goverment we create. In this great country, the authority lies with the American people. However if you were to listen to the left, we are nothing more than “victims” who need an all powerful government to save us. Although these are troubled times, let us not trade our liberty for safety.

  • EJHill

    Dry Valley – First off, you’re pretty sensitive for someone who throws around pejoratives like “armchair warriors.”

    Secondly, I have already written in this thread about the debilitating nature of socialism. It reduces the relationship of man to government back to the days of king and serf. It doesn’t take long to produce a population that takes on the nature of perpetual adolescence.

    Quite frankly, I am not sure of the point you’re trying to make with your criticism. Is it that we should not celebrate freedom or discuss its nature because a large portion of the Eastern Europe’s population have failed to adapt?

    What is your point?

  • dry valleys

    My point is that people who talk about their nostalgia are not necessarily supporters of dictatorship, they’d be the first to complain if they actually had to experience it again (as would the people in the west who talk about how good the 50s were) but only when we confront the roots of “Ostalgie” will a happier land emerge.

    In the same way the West confronted & decisively turned away from the Nazi legacy. You won’t see anyone celebrating that because the present is unambiguously better.

    I just thought the links to the likes of Jonah Goldberg were a bit narrow, that’s all- didn’t want to get myself embroiled in a giant argument.

    I was having real-life discussions about this issue where I made this very point & it was agreed with, by people who are basically apolitical.

  • http://www.erud-awakening.blogspot.com Gina

    Dry Valleys, prosperity is what you make it. I taught English for a year (1993-94) in a rural area in Thuringia, which still had lingering GDR everywhere. Yes, all the local factories had closed down or nearly so. It is not easy to be cast onto the social safety net. However, even lower-class people were trading in the Trabis for real cars and getting phones in their homes for the first time and shopping in stores that actually had something in them to buy. Hard economic times are no excuse for manipulation of historical memory.

  • EJHill

    Valley – As I see it, your theory has two major flaws. First and foremost, the West “confronted & decisively turned away from the Nazi legacy” only because they were brought to it through the utter force of destruction brought down upon them by two-thirds of the planet. I am not sure you would advocate putting the ex-communist states in the same position.

    Secondly, the problem with your “real-life discussions” and the agreement you get from the “apolitical” is this: The cause of human freedom is very rarely advanced by the apolitical and the so-called pragmatic “realpolitik” crowd.

    Jim Wright, the Democratic speaker of the House, was livid that Reagan used the line, “Tear down this wall!”

    Wright fumed after the speech, “It just makes me have utter contempt for Reagan. He spoiled the chance for a dramatic breakthrough in relations between our two countries It bespeaks his pettiness and self-centeredness. He just couldn’t bear Gorbachev doing it of his own volition.”

    To Wright and his allies, the Soviet Union was like the first line of their national anthem, the “unbreakable union…Great Russia has welded forever.” Their hold over the peoples of Eastern Europe was to be accepted and accommodated. But Reagan’s policy toward the Soviets was, as he put to Richard Allen, “Simple. We win, they lose.”

    I also take exception to your argument about the “roots.” This kind of talk is usually code for, “We are at fault.” “Root-talkers” are guilt mongers. It is the talk of people who accept the unacceptable. People who accept domestic crime and poverty talk about “roots” that reach back to slavery. Folks who accept what happened on 9/11 talk about “roots” of Muslim anger dating to the Crusades or the 1948 creation of Israel.

  • BobC

    A note to DryValley and others:

    I would not minimize the hardships of those in towns like yours, but I think that there is a misconception here about wealth and where it comes from.

    All Communist countries eventually end up poverty-stricken because they suppress the creation of wealth. It doesn’t do any good for the government to promise the “delivery” of wealth if it doesn’t exist to be distributed. (As Thatcher said, “The trouble with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”)

    Wealth is created by free and motivated people. It is never equally distributed, but the exponential increase of wealth in a free society eventually benefits everyone.

    Capitalism is not an economic system — it is simply what happens when people have property rights and economic freedom. To have anything other than “Capitalism” (i.e., a free market) property rights and freedom must be suppressed.

    Winston Churchill put it (as usual) very succinctly: “Capitalism is the uneven distribution of wealth; Socialism is the even distribution of poverty; Communism is Socialism with a gun at your back.”

    No society is without flaws or people who are unfairly burdened. The difference between freedom and communism is that free societies will continue to exponentially improve — communist societies will eventually sink to the level of abject poverty and slavery and there remain.