Spies saga rem­i­nis­cent of the Stasi

The tim­ing of the ‘spy­ing’ re­port should maybe stop us from en­joy­ing our sea­sonal mirth.

Sunday News - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s not of­ten some­thing hap­pens in New Zealand that re­minds me of one of my favourite Ger­man films – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that it’s a film about the Stasi.

Af­ter all, the Stasi was the for­mer East Ger­many’s no­to­ri­ous of­fi­cial state se­cu­rity ser­vice and one of the most re­pres­sive in­tel­li­gence and se­cret po­lice agen­cies to have ever ex­isted. One of its main jobs was spy­ing on peo­ple.

There’s no way any­thing could hap­pen in good ol’ NZ, that would con­jure up a re­minder of the bru­tally ef­fec­tive work they did for 40 years be­fore the Berlin Wall fi­nally came down in 1989.

But this week New Zealand’s State Ser­vices Com­mis­sion – or Sta­sic as I call them – re­leased a bomb­shell of a re­port, re­veal­ing that var­i­ous gov­ern­ment de­part­ments had been hir­ing pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors to spy on or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

As they’d say on Wayne’s World: ‘‘exsqueeze me?’’, ‘‘bak­ing power?’’

In the me­dia, this re­port was even given that most se­ri­ous of de­scrip­tions: ‘‘damn­ing’’ – that’s as op­posed to ‘‘con­tro­ver­sial’’, ‘‘highly crit­i­cal’’ or even ‘‘scathing’’. ‘‘Damn­ing’’ is used when some­thing’s so bad that some­one needs to be sent to hell, or sim­i­lar.

One of the con­cern­ing rev­e­la­tions was how a firm used for sur­veil­lance was por­tray­ing so-called ‘‘is­sue mo­ti­vated groups’’ such as Green­peace, the Green Party and iwi groups, as se­cu­rity threats.

An­other alarm­ing fea­ture was how the gov­ern­ment’s in­surance agency used in­ves­ti­ga­tors to spy on earth­quake claimants with­out their knowl­edge.

The com­mis­sioner Peter Hughes even de­scribed the way some agen­cies al­lowed some New Zealan­ders to be tar­geted by in­ves­ti­ga­tors as an ‘‘af­front to democ­racy’’.

It’s prob­a­bly just as well the clever com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment of the Sta­sic de­cided to re­lease the re­port in the week be­fore Christ­mas. What bet­ter time to re­veal such hor­ror, than aweek when most peo­ple are stress­ing about what can be the most won­der­ful, yet weird and stress­ful time of the year.

It’s like, if a re­port spells out how gov­ern­ment de­part­ments spied on cit­i­zens, and peo­ple are too busy to care, did it re­ally hap­pen?

But it did, and we shouldn’t for­get that, or it may hap­pen again. For an ex­am­ple of how ex­treme things could be­come when the abuse of power be­comes unchecked, watch Das Leben der An­deren (That’s The Lives of Oth­ers for those whose Ger­man has got a lit­tle rusty).

You may have to be in the mood for it, but it’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed and won a slew of awards in­clud­ing an Os­car and a Bafta in 2007 for best for­eign lan­guage film.

It’s set in 1984 and the lead char­ac­ter is a Stasi cap­tain by the name of Gerd Wiesler, in­cred­i­bly por­trayed by Ul­rich Mu¨he. There’s a bril­liant scene set in a staff can­teen when a ju­nior of­fi­cer tells a joke about the East Ger­man leader. Gerd Wiesler goes through the mo­tions of laugh­ing at it, then coldly asks the joke teller for his name.

It’s one of the few funny bits in a film that has been de­scribed as ‘‘fierce and gloomy’’, but which in the end is com­pletely mag­nif­i­cent.

I wish you a fes­tive sea­son that’s free from be­ing spied on, and full of joy. Manuia le Kil­isi­masi New Zealand.

New Zealand’s State Ser­vices Com­mis­sion in ac­tion, or Ul­rich Muhe play­ing a Stasi agent in The Lives of Oth­ers?

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