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Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful., 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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Jun 2013 10:39:37 BDT
I only just read this book and thought it was OK... not as good as some others, but still interesting. The last part you mention I thought was very important though.

Now, a couple of weeks after the Guardian's big news on surveillance in the US and UK, it seems even more so. How do you feel about it now?

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jul 2013 14:53:11 BDT
Hugh Claffey says:
I suppose I'm glad the news is out there, but I'm not surprised. I think I recall an incident from a book called an Accidental diplomat, by Eamonn Delaney, who had a junior part in the negotiations of the Anglo Irish Agreeement in the 1980's, who said that the important messages from the team in London back to Dublin were sealed in an envelope and personally handed to Aer Lingus (Irish govt owned airline) pilots and replies came the same way. Such was the conviction that the British were listening to them. This between two governments who wanted peace in Northern Ireland. So my thinking is that this is what Governments do. However I think the programme and the details need to be debated and controlled. Make the head of MI5 and MI6 retire after 5 years perhaps? Find a respected judge every number of years to review it. Of course all the controls will be dumped if there's a serious terrorist incident. Listen more to the 'crazy' Liberal people - Gareth Pierce etc.
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Location: Co. Kildare Ireland

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