Ages ago when the Soviet Union still looked like a â€œ1984ishâ€ Stalinist monolith run by faceless apparatchiks, instead of the violent and fractured kleptocracy that it now appears to be, the propensity of the spying which went on against its own citizens was already legend. Especially since so many Russians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, East Germans, Poles, et cetera had made a run for the west and brought bitter first-hand experience of it with them. I think it was the Ã©migrÃ© Russian comedian Yacov Smirinoff who had the classic line, â€œIn Russia, there is a television in every hotel roomâ€¦ only it watches you!â€
It wasnâ€™t the cameras, or tape recorders, or other technological means that â€œBig Brotherâ€ used to watch you which did so much damage, and felt so onerous to those being watched. No, the most grievous damage to such human beings caught in the nightmare of a watchful police state was the human surveillance, of knowing that there were informers everywhere, in every circle of friends and neighbors, amongst onesâ€™ co-workers, and most heart-breaking of all, among the family. Knowing that one could never entirely let down oneâ€™s guard, to crack a joke or venture an honest opinion, because someone would, could, or just might report you to the authoritiesâ€¦ the memories of living like that are particularly bitter.
Even the collapse of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe didnâ€™t pull the sting of it, because the authorities kept records diligently on the informed-upon, and the informers. Long after the scorpion is dead, the tail of it keeps on stinging. People find out through the secret police records and react with horror and shock that someone who close to them and whom they trusted implicitlyâ€¦ was actually informing on them. Big Brother may no longer be watching youâ€¦. But in places like Poland, and East German, people of a certain age are still are looking at each other and wondering.
Sgt. Mom is a retired Air Force NCO who lives in San Antonio and blogs at “The Daily Brief“