4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
, 7 May 2011
This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
Garton Ash lived for a year in East Germany in the early Eighties. After the fall of the Wall, he sought his Stasi file and, through it, sought meetings with those who had spied on him and who had compiled the file. The results are quite interesting, and strangely unexciting. The informing on an English student in East Germany was (probably) entirely expected given the society which East Germany was; the results of the spying were not particular awful - Garton Ash left unharmed, at the end of his studies, and was denied entry to East Germany thereafter based on articles he wrote about his experience. There is quite a lot of detail about Garton Ash's personal life, the class backround of British society, his public school education and the inevitable approach (really?) by British Intelligence when he was in university that I found quite tedious. The time spent in Germany and the way in which he contrasts his own memories of his time there, with the details recorded in his Stasti file are quite illuminating. In particular it shows the misinterpretation of events.
The part I found most interesting was where he was able to interview the Stasi s agents who compiled his file, and ran the informers. There was a common trait of missing fathers which I found very thought provoking - each one, whether they were ashamed of their past or not, had grown up in a household where the father was missing - not so unusual as most were children during World War II - and the state provided certainty, a mission and stability. I read Stasiland by Anna Funder a number of years ago, a more entertaining book on this subject, but in retrospect probably less credible for that.
Garton Ash uses his own example to condemn the repressive nature of the surveillance society. I presume its the surveillance allied with an inability to engage in political change he actually means. Because I think he rather goes off beam by musing on the increase in surveillance in the wake of Sept 11th. He tells of being asked to `keep an eye out' for various students in his University, and the fact that he refused to do so. I'm not able to judge if he was right or wrong in this, but I don't think there is a comparison of democratically controllable surveillance techniques with the totalitarian regimes of Soviet Bloc Europe. He acknowledges this himself, yet continues to ponder the issue
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