Banish the thought that we should revert to leftist sympathies whilst in the grip of a capitalist recession, BBC is airing a stale documentary (hardly new as stated, having been out for ages on the history channel) on life in the DDR – GDR for the Anglophones – as a stark reminder of the alternative life behind the by now truly crumbled away Wall.
Although the title would suggest the scope of the programme to include all of Eastern Europe, it actually focuses only on Eastern Germany and is lavishly illustrated by many family movies cuttings that bear witness of a peculiar penchant for nudity and home made eroticism in the relative (STASI probed both with sound and hidden camera equipment) intimacy of their private – although state owned – abodes and also in the full sunlight of communal Baltic beaches. Who would have thought? MY MY.
Of course if one looks in this new light at the whole regime, it appears increasingly to have been inspired not so much by the bearded philosopher Marx but by another bearded thinker, could it be? Yes, Freud. Sexual innuendos all over the place, galore. It all looks as if it had been designed in the spirit of the photographers duo Pierre et Gilles, albeit on a tight budget and with faded out of date colour film.
Hugely titillating: a whole state run on voyeurism - allegedly one half of the population was spying on the other half – sadist repression with dark sexual undertones – but also women liberation, equality, emancipation and a positivist attitude as opposed to religious inhibitions. They were blessed children of the system, unaware of life at large, of the world’s problems and doubts, blissfully at play in the fields of the State. Chief of State Honecker leading the way, French kissing Breznev on May the first, shooting game compulsively on weekends, blessing parades that would include not only the best of German youths marching the goose step but also naked girls carted along on beds on wheels. Then, in the privacy of their palaces, the party chiefs would indulge in every possible vice, watch state approved Love Workers perform strip tease routines, drink and eat forbidden fruit, like bananas (these being completely absent in a normal DDR diet).
I fail to see how this approach will add anything interesting to our understanding of the period, other than an almost pornographic interest and a quite superficial propaganda effort, needless as the shooting of a corpse. Wouldn’t it be time to take a hard look at ourselves and see if we can at least try to redefine a few of our own huge problems? If the communist universe was an alternative one, still it did not escape the realities that bound all human societies. This is not a revelation. Communism wasn’t defeated by a superior West, but by its own inherent - wishful or maybe hypocritical -denial of a basic Darwinian truth of Nature: the selfish gene will prevail. This even though it would seem at times as if our economic system, loosely based on an essential lack of ethics other than the need to survive and win the weaker, will eventually endanger the existence of our whole species. Amiable Charity simply isn’t good enough a replacement for Social Justice, or will self-discipline and restrain of the polluting rich or the starving masses safe the environment.
Many sources of information seem to suggest that present day Russia – once home to world Communism - is still stuck in its tragic past: a Tsarist system of power with few rich Boyars and many serfs, a gilded beautiful Faberge’s egg glistening in the light from afar, full of blood and tragedy on closer inspection. Really a sorry state of affairs for people that always deserved much better and endured the unthinkable. As the recession bites the West, we too at last are being Balkanized. Will nudity bring solace? Feel free to try.