Excellent article, Kristian.
I haven’t studied this, so only have anecdotes from my own experience. My father was a German from the Sudetanland, who later was a prisoner of war in Britain and remained. Because of the ban on emigration from the East, he never saw his parents again after the war and they died in the 1960s. Technically, he could have visited them, but actually could not as he was very poor, mostly working on building sites and could never save the money for the trip. He was very bitter about the life his parents endured – he said that they lived on nettle soup for a while when they had their house in the Sudetanland confiscated by the state (building the house and paying for the materials with a bank loan was his father’s life’s work) and they were forcibly moved to East Germany along with my father’s sisters (for some reason all his brothers ended up in West Germany). He used to send them parcels but all the goodies were stolen by those controlling the postal system.
Later on, I met a few East Germans in my early 20s on a day trip into East Berlin and later visited them in East Berlin before the wall had come down. Their lives were grim – crammed into horrible, dark flats. When I visited the food prepared was pasta with tomato sauce – I think there wasn’t much variety of food available. My one friend was involved in the churchyard protests. She said she could away with it because her father was in the Communist party, so she had some protection against arrest.
Later still, I had an East German boyfriend. He did point out the disadvantages of reunification – notably that there was no longer full employment – also, his parents loved their new TV but it did breed discontent as they could now see how others in the West lived and had lived all these years (they were ignorant of this before) and they were still pretty poor. He, however, got a well-paid job in a brewery based in Hamburg, so he came out of it well. He used to say that when he was in University, four boys shared a dormitory and you knew that one of them was a Stasi informant, so you always had to be on your guard. For me, this is the most pernicious aspect of life under a totalitarian regime – no price can be put on freedom of thought and expression. He said that in any group of four, one was likely to be an informant.
Anyway, as you say, Seamus Milne doesn’t know what he’s talking about if he holds up East Germany as a country to aspire to in any shape or form.
Thanks to its proximity to Germany, its continued strong demand for modernization and its growing purchasing power, Eastern Europe is a major region of opportunity for the German economy. Founded in 1952, the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations has the richest tradition of any regional initiative of German business. Our goal is to improve the framework conditions for German companies in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia. As a strong voice, we represent the interests of those companies in bilateral committees and in the public sphere. A major focus of our work is the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises.
By the 1970s, the Stasi had decided that the methods of overt persecution that had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance, given that they would often not be aware of the source of their problems, or even its exact nature. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and "switch off" perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any "inappropriate" activities.