Media networks, oppression and globalization all met on one day in October 1989

Hanson wrote about China and its attempts to block out its citizens from having access to the internet and other modern and global means of communication. Chinese find a way to circumvent the constraints as best as they can so they too, can be a part of the globalized society. This made me think about the government enforced regulations on TV consumption that I grew up with.

I was born and raised in East Germany. In order to make a phone call one had to go to the post office and apply to make that phone call. You had to tell them whom you wanted to call and where and usually a casual “And why if I may ask?” was thrown in there as well. Then when it was your time to make the call you went to a booth (still in the post office) and placed your call, knowing full well that it was being recorded and/or live listened to by some government official, always ready to pulling the plug if you said something you shouldn’t have.

There was one state TV station. You could receive West German television in most parts of the East but your TV had to be tweaked a certain way. The more tricky part was keeping your kids from going into school or pre-school telling all about that West German TV show or cartoon characters they saw the night before. Teachers and educators had to report families that watched West German TV and that information was then used by the Stasi to implicate the families.

Before the wall in Berlin feel there were months of demonstrations all over East Germany – that mostly no East German knew about since the government tried its best to hide these events from its citizens. On October 9, 1989 over 70,000 people marched peacefully, but in fear of being imprisoned or shot, through the city of Leipzig. The fact that this demonstration would take place spread through informal channels of communication (word of mouth, leaflets) and people who came to Leipzig just for that event were not certain what would await them.

At the same time globalization was visiting the city of Leipzig in the form of an international trade fair. Journalists from across Europe and the globe were in the city to report on the trade fair – officially. A West German TV crew was hiding thoughout the city and taped demonstration footage with the intent to air it on the West German prime time news show (Tagesschau). Despite tight security and a struggle to smuggle the tapes outside of the country it worked. On October 10, West Germany, the world but most importantly East Germans (secretly watching West German news) saw what was going on in their country.

[Original footage is shown around minute 1:15]

I am wondering how East Germany would have restricted access to other means of communication such as internet or cell phones. Private telephone lines were very much restricted, in order to own a car you waited about 20 years, compared to other goods a TV was outrageously priced. Communication (via letters) was restricted to the point that every mail was opened if it was deemed suspicious or unusual (by whoever), often times not passed on or packets were sent on empty. Whatever was the content of your mail (sending or receiving) was part of the Stasi file that was kept on most citizens. How would the internet have been handled? I feel like we would have lived like North Koreans Рno phone line = no internet. Or maybe communication from the bordering countries would have had a spill over effect and smart phones and other media would also have (secretly) found its way into our daily life until people felt they could take on the government and demand freedom.

Seeing how even Russia struggles with freedom of speech and access I am glad the unification of Germany came when it did. It is one thing to live oppressed but another to know what you are missing out on.

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