Decomposition (Zersetzung): ” . . . hidden psychological destruction of dissidents . . . .”
Cause: Aid and Compensation for the harms and indignities imposed on those trapped within the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic and subject to enslavement and punishment at the hands of the state’s secret police, the Stasi (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit).
Related: The 1619 Project
We mere humans just don’t own time. For atheists, time is just a fact of life.
We do, again, and each as representative of Homo Sapiens sapiens, and for better or worse, own our memories.
It has been our species’ great misfortune to find always some portion of our numbers made to suffer at the hands of others.
Forget “God, Nature, and the Universe”. The earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, and volcano would seem possessed of physics and entirely dispossessed of conscience except that some of us believe that in the presence of one or the other, divine providence destroyed our lives or saved them.
Degradation, dehumanization, enslavement, subjugation, subjection, and other such evils–those are different, and in the history of our species, one sees the chains and whips changing hands by turns, and, sigh, we may feel ourselves lucky if wielding the whip . . . but then nothing lasts beyond bearing except a number of nefarious processes that we perhaps have not wrestled sufficiently into the past. So here we may acknowledge that we don’t get to erase our bad memories; we don’t get to retrieve the dead; we may or may not have some revenge on our tormentors–and if it was ourselves that held the keys and snapped the whips, our day–we know it secretly–has come–or will.
I believe it in the tendency of our species to develop awareness, compassion, conscience, consciousness, empathy, greater integrity and reason, and at the end of every dastardly era, great human sensibility and wisdom.
I was asked not long ago to help promote the cause of the internally displaced in place of the once Soviet-controlled and Communist German Democratic Republic.
Imagine, if you will, going to sleep in one dismal but predictable awful cultural, legal, political, and social circumstance and waking the next day without a country–and afterward a “democratic open society of the west” that prides itself on compassion but hasn’t much in place for you–and then years later when it does . . . you’re no more important in it than you were in the other place.
Perhaps one’s personal circumstance has become more bearable , the powers that be more polite, and amends for the insufferable past made with good will whether or not sufficient to quells bad memories and the residuals in nightmares.
I have found in overview–remember my analytical discipline: collect, select, and opine–that East Germany’s internal migrants, all of whom went to sleep in one place in time and woke up in another entirely–have not been overlooked but perhaps underserved in the regions of cultural and economic development. In the Soviet way, they had been locked down in time, suffocated, surveilled, deprived of normal human political and social processes, and subject to deliberate state-driven control, diminishment, and, ultimately, erasure.
How would even the most benevolent of modern societies “compensate” for that experience?
Well . . . there is today the business of living well enough to create and enjoy better memories in freedom and with at least a modicum of privacy (although the “modern” appear to have some new horrors on the horizon, e.g., massive intrusion via data sifting) as well as dignity and security.
Now and then, I haul out Qualities of Living (QOLs) a conceptual alternative to thinking about power as an expression of grandiose narcissistic ambition with accompanying control and influence ascribed to a potentate absolute or constitutional. What if power were more often the power to bring extraordinary improvement to geopolitical space in the many dimensions to be appreciated by the inhabitants of a given space?
After 1990 “the whole software of life changed” for east Germans, says Markus Kerber, a bigwig at the interior ministry. Short-term pain was inevitable. Average labour productivity in the east was 30% of that in the west. Kohl’s decision to exchange Ostmarks at a 1:1 rate for Deutschmarks made swathes of firms uncompetitive overnight. Those that survived struggled with the western rules they had to import wholesale. By one estimate, 80% of east Germans at some point found themselves out of work.
Perhaps the Treuhand could have proceeded more gently, some argue today.“Germans still don’t agree on what reunification meant: Discontent may even be growing.” The Economist, November 2, 2019.
Cultural and economic adjustment, development, inclusion with some foresight and vision may turn out the key that will finally fix the past in the past where it needs to be. In this day, however, quite a number of cultures, groups, and just plain people have taken up the causes of yesterday, exhumed and tallied abuses, ranted high and low for justice, but the best all may do is not relive what’s gone and take pains–whatever it was–not to see it happen again.
Münz, Rainer and Ralf E. Ulrich. “Changing Patterns of Immigration to Germany, 1945-1997.” Research & Seminars, University of California-Davis, Center for German and European Studies, 1998. Alternative Reference: https://www.worldcat.org/title/changing-patterns-of-migration-to-germany-1945-1997/oclc/40780392 .
Rennell, Tony. “Stasi’s ‘no touch’ torture: It was the East German secret police’s most terrifying weapon – gaslighting mind games that drove its own citizens mad . . . and the lessons for today’s social media generation couldn’t be more stark.” Daily Mail, June 8-9, 2021.
Wikipedia: “East German Round Table”; German reunification; German Unity Day; “Matthias Platzeck”; “Otto von Habsburg”; “Pan-European Picnic”; “Peaceful Revolution AKA Die Wende”; “Stasi”; “Stasi Records Agency”; “Zersetzung”.
In the 1970s the MfS changed its secret police activities and began increasingly to use “softer” methods. The GDR leadership did not want to compromise its attempts to gain international recognition: persecution and repression were to be concealed. The MfS now focused more on preventive surveillance and so-called “psychic demolition”. It used manipulation and targeted rumours in its attempts to systematically intimidate individuals or groups, to ruin their reputations, isolate or criminalize them. Friendships were destroyed, and professional careers ruined without the victims even realizing why.
However, the change in methods did not lead to any let-up in the repressive pressure exerted by the MfS. And the aim also remained the same: to prevent the development of non-conformist or dissident ideas and behaviour.Stasi Documents Archive. “Introduction – Ministry for State Security”.
The rest of the group agreed that the destruction of trust was one of the most painful legacies of their experiences in the GDR. The dense informer network meant that everyone spied on one another. Many did not find out who had informed on them until decades later, when they requested their Stasi file.Bailey, Charlotte. “The Lingering Trauma of Stasi Surveillance.” The Atlantic, November 9, 2019.
So in the 1970s, the masterminds at Stasi School — formally known as the College of Legal Studies — decided on a new, more subtle tactic of repression, a way of stamping out rebellion without the overt use of force.
Instead of pounding their suspects into submission, they would send them mad. And so began the policy of Zersetzung.
The word meant disintegration or corrosion or decomposition. Today we would call it ‘gaslighting’ — playing with someone’s mind and self-worth until any resistance crumbles and he or she becomes either compliant or apathetic.Rennell, Tony. “Stasi’s ‘no touch’ torture: It was the East German secret police’s most terrifying weapon – gaslighting mind games that drove its own citizens mad . . . and the lessons for today’s social media generation couldn’t be more stark.” Daily Mail, June 8-9, 2021.
Six phases of postwar immigration to Germany can be distinguished (see table 2; see also Martin 1991; Münz and Ulrich 1993; Rudolph 1994; Seifert 1995). The first phase was dominated by the immigration of Germans: expellees, citizens of the GDR, other ethnic GermansMünz, Rainer and Ralf E. Ulrich. “Changing Patterns of Immigration to Germany, 1945-1997.” Research & Seminars, University of California-Davis, Center for German and European Studies, 1998. Alternative Reference: https://www.worldcat.org/title/changing-patterns-of-migration-to-germany-1945-1997/oclc/40780392 .
Born into poverty in pre-World War I Berlin, Mr. Mielke joined the Communist youth movement at age 15, and his career epitomized the grimness of Communist rule in East Germany, where assassination, kidnapping, execution, denunciation and intimidation were used to achieve and maintain power under the long, menacing shadow of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Mielke and the ministry for state security kept the 16.5 million people of East Germany obedient to Communism and repressed dissent for more than 30 years. Not only did the ministry pursue an effective campaign against those it regarded as enemies of the state, but its army of 90,000 agents and 260,000 informers finally turned East Germany into a country that spied on itself.Binder, David. “Erich Mielke, Powerful Head of Stasi, East Germany’s Vast Spy Network, Dies at 92.” The New York Times, May 26, 2000.
Is “living well” the best revenge?
I don’t know, but both alone and in community we most naturally make ourselves comfortable and secure if, when, and where we can. “Living well” with agency, autonomy, dignity, efficacy, freedom, inclusion beats all of the alternatives, and living well with some thoughtful planning for ourselves, our own, and others . . . I would call that repair and profound improvement.
Addendum: Related Online and Worth the Visit