Spies saga reminiscent of the Stasi
The timing of the ‘spying’ report should maybe stop us from enjoying our seasonal mirth.
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?