Friday, September 21, 2007

Lives Controlled

Still from Educational Film about State Security FilesGoethe Institut
18 September 2007

As part of its Lives Controlled series on the former GDR's system of state security, the GI presented two documentary films on the state security service or Stasi. The feature I Love You All (Aus Liebe zum Volk) (dirs Eyal Sivan, Audrey Maurion) was a German-French co-production using the memoirs of Major S of his time as a Stasi agent, written in 1990 on the occasion of him losing his job after 20 years' service.

The film used a voiceover reading the agent's recollections and his bitterness at his change of circumstances, utterly oblivious to the effects on others of his activities and the distortion of the idea of the people's state. There was much humour in this, with such memorable quotes as "You have to force some people to be happy" and "Trust is good. Control is better".

Then there were the party songs, including such jaunty numbers as the border guards' ode to "so many skulls smashed"; angelic socialist children celebrating joining the People's Army; and the Stasi anthem about being "soldiers of the invisible front", surely a Eurovision anthem in the making.

The film never showed the agent, instead using archive footage and possibly reconstructions of surveillance but it was difficult to tell what was genuine. There was fascinating footage of the people invading Stasi HQ in 1990, demanding to see their files and daubing anti-Stasi graffiti on the walls of the hated building. Major S says very tellingly that the Stasi were more afraid of the people than the other way around.

While I found the film enthralling, others in the audience found it hard going and there was a rush for the exits as soon as the credits rolled. One viewer who remained called it bleak. An interesting point of the film was that surveillance of the population did not end with the fall of the GDR. Indeed, today's population is probably the most watched in history, with security cameras omnipresent and "anti-terrorist" measures still at work.

One of Major S's gripes was the lack of high-tech facilities at the Stasi's disposal, unlike their counterparts in the west. Presumably, this included paper shredders because when they were disbanded, they left behind reams of hastily hand-shredded files on the people they were meant to serve.

The short film which preceded the feature, Educational Film about State Security Files (dir Anke Limprecht), was as unglamourous as its title suggests, but equally gripping. Without dialogue, it showed in black and white the mundane existence of the people who are attempting to reconstruct the shredded Stasi files. Piece by labourious piece emerges from huge sacks, is laid out on a desk and then matched to other fragments.

It is a shockingly low-tech procedure. Not only do the staff not wear gloves, but they appear to be using standard sellotape to piece together the fragments, despite the fact that tape degrades with age. Another curiosity is the use of Pepsi Light boxes to contain the sheets.

Incidentally, in her book Stasiland, Anna Funder quotes the chief of the reconstruction office in Nuremberg as saying at the present rate it will take 375 years to reconstruct the Stasi files. It does make one wonder at the commitment of the reunited government to this project and also just whom it will benefit, once completed. Perhaps the Stasi have had the last laugh, after all.

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