We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A very relevant film about East Germany

The other night I rented out the DVD based on life in former East Germany, The Lives of Others. It is about what life in the former Communist state was like in the fag-end of the Cold War era. It portrays the extent to which people were spied on by the Stasi, and the brutal efficiency with which that organisation went about its job. It does not sound very promising material for an evening in front of the TV but the film is simply outstanding. I strongly recommend it.

Inevitably, given recent UK events and the government’s mania for CCTV, abuse of civil liberties and assault on the Common Law, the film has a certain poignance for a British viewer. It is also clearly apparent to me that once a critical number of people become involved in spying on others and earning a living from doing this, it is very hard to dislodge it but East Germany eventually crumbled along with the Berlin Wall. When, I wonder, will ZanuLabour have its 1989?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

20 comments to A very relevant film about East Germany

  • lukas

    Sadly, many people, even and especially in the former East Germany, have forgotten about this and are longing for the old days. “At least everyone had a job.” Idjits.

  • This blog could take a lesson from Megan McArdle: don’t belittle the very interesting and important points you’re trying to make by comparing modern day liberal democracies to totalitarian communist and fascist police states. The UK might be doing something bad when it comes to all the CC cameras, but by comparing the Labour party to the ZANU-PF or the UK to East Germany, you’re like the boy who cried wolf.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    don’t belittle the very interesting and important points you’re trying to make by comparing modern day liberal democracies to totalitarian communist and fascist police states. The UK might be doing something bad when it comes to all the CC cameras, but by comparing the Labour party to the ZANU-PF or the UK to East Germany, you’re like the boy who cried wolf.

    I don’t think I am belitting anything. The film is worth watching in its own right; but it does raise issues about intensive surveillance of a populatioin, arbitrary power and corruption. That is relevant to the British experience now.

    So I reject your point. The direction of travel is bad; we may not be as bad as East Germany, but the trend is unmistakable.

    I suspect Gordon Brown and his scumbag colleagues would have fitted in well in former East Germany.

  • I appears that for RaÈ›ionalitate it’s more about the ends justifying the means and that principles don’t matter. It is entirely valid to compare the Labour Party to ZANU-PF and the state of the UK to Soviet-occupied East Germany. The only reason we aren’t quite there yet is what’s left of the old, pre-European Union, Britain – which is rapidly disappearing not only as the result of New Labour but also due to the machinations of the EU political classes (which includes the current Conservative Party).

  • John

    The key issue is that all these historical analogies are invalidated because TECHNOLOGY is a game changing factor. Apart form the power of information cross linking , searching and tracing the DATABASE state can be controlled by relatively few people therefore less likely to decay internally.
    The STASI for example ran on paper and physical evidence and countless man hours of work.
    John

  • I watched it a few weeks ago, a very good film. Would also recommend a book called Staziland (can’t remember the authors name, sorry).

    If you’re ever in Berlin a trip to the Checkpoint Charlie museum is very worthwhile, is amazing the length people were prepared to go to to get out- someone even built a last of the summer wine-esque submarine out of old oil drums and sailed to denmark!

    Annoyed me a bit the next day when my (english!) tour guide said how it ‘wasn’t all bad in the old days’- noone was building suns to go the other way for crying out load!

  • Robert

    “When, I wonder, will ZanuLabour have its 1989?”

    The answer to that, I fear, is never.

    The 1989 uprisings in East Germany and throughout eastern Europe were the result of disatisfaction with the material quality of life, as much as a protest against surveillance and state intrusion in people’s lives. People were fed-up because there was nothing in the shops.

    Much as I hate to say it of my countrymen, the British are the same. So, as long as the economy is at least OK, there’s Coronation Street and football on the telly and there’s the pub, they’ll be happy. They might grumble about the erosion of liberty and the ever-increasing surveillance, but they’re not going to do anything concrete about thm.

  • sjv

    What an odd coincidence. I watched this with my mother (a German immigrant to the US, though from the west) just last Friday.

    Very recommended. Lest anyone think it unrelentingly dreary, the ending is, if not exactly happy, quite uplifting.

  • I [sic] appears that for RaÈ›ionalitate it’s more about the ends justifying the means and that principles don’t matter.

    Huh? What the fuck are you talking about? I think I made it quite clear that I agree with the author that the things the British government does in terms of surveillance are not good. There’s really no debate there. All that I’m saying is that it’s a huge stretch to compare it to East Germany or modern-day Zimbabwe, and by doing so, you’re only alienating people who (unlike me, who’s an anarcho-capitalist, which makes your criticism all the more bewildering) aren’t already sold on libertarianism.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    All that I’m saying is that it’s a huge stretch to compare it to East Germany or modern-day Zimbabwe, and by doing so, you’re only alienating people who (unlike me, who’s an anarcho-capitalist, which makes your criticism all the more bewildering) aren’t already sold on libertarianism.

    I don’t think it is a “huge stretch” at all; like I said, the issue is about the direction we are travelling, not the end point. Extreme examples such as East Germany perform a valuable function in highlighting principles at stake that would get lost if one takes a more “moderate” approach.

    Given the extent to which people in this country have become cretinised by decades of statism, it is precisely such “unrealistic” analogies with East Germany etc that are needed to shock people out of their torpor. Lots of civil liberties activists have tried taking the sweetly reasonable option, and a fat lot of good that has achieved.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “So, as long as the economy is at least OK, there’s Coronation Street and football on the telly and there’s the pub, they’ll be happy”

    I don’t know anything about Coronation Street or football, but the other two are pretty much buggered, so perhaps we should watch out?

    And the book “Stasiland” is by Anna Funder, btw. It’s well worth a read:

  • brian

    Zanulabour?

    Silly term. Shouldn’t be used on this blog. It’s embarrassing. It belongs on CiF threads where posters don’t know arseholes from elbows.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Silly term. Shouldn’t be used on this blog. It’s embarrassing. It belongs on CiF threads where posters don’t know arseholes from elbows

    Brian, you embarrassed, are you? A bit upset that Samizdata is not talking about an authortarian bunch of shysters in less than respectful manner? Fcrissakes.

    A certain amount of verbal rough-house is part of a healthy political climate.

  • JP,
    Max respec’. I can’t add anything. Jus’ keep fightin’ our corner.

    Oh, and I shall now start using proper English.

  • Andy

    NuLabour will have its 1989 moment just as soon as comrade Broon has the balls to call an election.Though dont hold your breath,this filthy shower will hang on till the electorate has to pry them out of office with a crowbar.

  • MarkE

    Rationalitate

    While I would agree that we are not yet in the former East Germany (and I’m proud to have my very own Stasi file) or present day Zimbabwe, it is valid to highlight the fact every time the government of teh day even looks in that direction. Each time I hae done so I have been met with exactly the same comment, but when should one complain?

    When protest is banned or allowed only under strict conditions?

    When dissident citizens are arrested and harrassed for such “crimes” as heckling government ministers?

    When opposition MPs are arrested and harrassed by the government?

    When opponents of the government die in suspicious circumstances?

    When opponents of the government are classified as anti social elements and required to wear identifying markers on their clothing?

    When such opponents, and other minorities are subject to discriminatory legislation?

    When those minorites are herded into ghettoes or holding camps?

    When the government starts killing those minorities?

    When the death toll reaches a certain hurdle level?

    Do I think the last two are real risk under any British government that can reasonably be forseen at present? No. Are they possible? Yes.

    How many boxes did you tick?

  • brian

    I was irritated with your use of the ‘term’ because I’m a Zimbabwean whose country is truly fucked and you have the cheek to compare your politics with ours.

    Probably an over reaction.

  • The Lives of Others is a chilling movie to watch. The grim atmosphere and the tension is always there.

    The way the population were all spying on each other and capable of bribing and intimidating innocent people is a key feature of this movie.

    It really resonates in my mind when I read Atlas Shrugged which poses the question – do you want to be governed by the rule of law,or the rule of man ?

  • James Waterton

    Snap! I watched

    The Lives Of Others

    last Friday. Definitely one for the ‘top five’ category.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I was irritated with your use of the ‘term’ because I’m a Zimbabwean whose country is truly fucked and you have the cheek to compare your politics with ours.

    Well obviously Britain is not remotely close to the disaster that Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has become, so I can understand your annoyance at comparisons you think are trite, but give us a bit of slack here: when trying to warn people about the direction that a country is on, it does sometimes nail the point home to point out how bad things can get. So for all that I sympathise, I don’t resile from using rude words, such as ZanuLabour, to describe the folk in power in the UK, any more than I would decline to refer to Brown as a “Stalinist” because I might be belittling the Gulag and the 1930s Great Famine, etc.