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Posted January 2, 2007
Stories of life in the GDR, the real-life Orwellian state
When author George Orwell wrote Animal Farm and 1984 he wrote of the contemporary and future 'proletarian' dictatorships. The German Democratic Republic, more than any other state before or since, came the nearest to a state of perfected and complete absolute control over its citizens' lives. The author of Stasiland, Anna Funder, has done a suberb job of revivifying this state in her readers' minds through the personal stories of the GDR's inhabitants. I got this book for Christmas and had it read in three days, so good I never wanted to put it down. The book's chapters trace the lives of various GDR citizens, both those being oppressed and the Stasi personnel charged with terrifying the GDR's people into abject submission. In Soviet Russia there was one KGB agent for every 5830 people, in Nazi Germany one Gestapo agent for every 2000 people, but in the GDR there was one Stasi - or full-time informer - FOR EVERY 63 PERSONS (see p. 57)! Funder hears shocking tales of personal tragedy, bizarre - but true - stories of GDR logic, and personal justifications from ex-Stasi men themselves. One 15-year-old girl singlehandedly, without any prior planning(!), almost manages to escape over the Berlin Wall , getting within a couple meters of freedom. Another family is permanently separated from their seriously ill son for his first five years of life. And one woman's personal and career life is ruined when she refuses to submit to ideological control. The author also interviews some famous GDR personalities, such as musician Klaus Renft, the evil-spirited Karl Von Schnitzler, and Hagen Koch (who literally wrote the plan for the wall). She also interviews the puzzle people trying to piece back together the shredded Stasi files. And she also meets with Stasi agents, who for one reason or another, decided to join the 'dark side'. As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but become absolutely convinced that, despite the very publicized efforts of the German gov't to piece back together the Stasi files, in fact, German (and all other Eastern European) MODERN LEADERS WANT TO COMPLETELY OBLITERATE EVIDENCE OF THEIR OWN CRIMES DURING THE COMMUNIST REGIMES. The fact of the matter is that many of the former communist elite are still in power now and are using all their gov't influence to ensure they are never, EVER going to be outed! So, in reality, many of them have gotten away with murder and look set to lead comfortable lives into retirement. Many times throughout the book I sensed a continuing cover-up and obfuscation by former Stasi men. The German government's extremely feeble, half-hearted attempt to reassemble the Stasi files with a staff of 30 or so persons is an absolute farce! Funder calculates it will take them over 300 years to reassemble the files at this rate. With a budget in the billions of euros, it becomes patently obvious the German government's objective is to NOT reassemble the incriminating files. A person might even believe that the Stasi File Authority is headed by a person, Herr Raillard, who is secretly charged by gov't leaders with eliminating any damning evidence that is actually found. This isn't a surprise, as it is the same across the entire former Communist bloc. This is a great book with a wonderfully direct, realistic writing style. I hope Ms. Funder writes a sequel to the book. I would have liked to have seen some photos too, though. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in life in Eastern Europe.
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