Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Even his best friend betrayed him." Pottsylvania was real, and very unfunny.

Pottsylvania is a fictional country that appeared in the television series . . . Rocky and Bullwinkle. (It) was a parody of a Cold War-era eastern European country (Possibly based on East Germany). It was noted for being a nation dedicated to all matters related to espionage and deceitfulness; children were taught in schools how to commit crimes, for instance, while casual conversations would have double meanings. Populated entirely by spies, secret agents and saboteurs, Pottsylvania was the one nation where the cold war never thawed. Its highest honor was the Double Cross, and its newspaper, The Pottsylvania Eavesdropper, was printed in invisible ink. The only place Rocky and His Friends was taken seriously was the Soviet Union, where it was deemed anti-Soviet propaganda. . . Flora and fauna in Pottsylvania included the man-eating Venus flytrap-like plant known as the "Pottsylvania Creeper," and one of the world's few supplies of mooseberry bushes – mooseberries being an ingredient used (in Rocky and Bullwinkle's world) for the production of rocket fuel. The government of Pottsylvania was headed by a uniformed dictator known only as Fearless Leader. (In some episodes, another important government figure is Mr. Big.) Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale seemed to be Fearless Leader's most frequently used secret agents, often sent to execute the country's schemes for gaining global power. -- Wikipedia.

Some time ago I began an essay on the reality of the informer society called Pottsylvania portrayed in Rocky and Bullwinkle (my favorite cartoon when I was growing up). The informer society has been surpassed by the surveillance society of the NSA.

Part of the point of the essay (which I have freely looted the R&B portions for this om the interests of time) was going to illustrate how any future restoration insurgency would either have to turn the NSA to its own purposes through co-option of leadership or corruption of data, or to physically destroy either the vast data-mining computer farms -- two new huge ones being built in Texas and Utah, for example -- or, an easier task, to wreck the power plants that serve them. They suck up a VAST amount of juice and cannot function without it, and sabotage of power plants by a single individual or team is an old and time-honored guerrilla tactic.)

Still, informers continue to be used by collectivist tyrannies, which are the most insecure of governments. Being liars, thieves and murderers themselves, they always suspect everyone else of duplicity. And they are right to.

Another aspect of tyrannies is that they always try to portray themselves as omnipotent and omniscient, the better to over-awe their opponents and win in the only battlespace that counts -- the few inches between their potentential victims' ears. R&B demonstrated this with the character "Mr. Big."

Mister Big was . . . voiced by Bill Scott doing an imitation of Peter Lorre. . . (His) role in the series was serving the government of the fictional nation of Pottsylvania in some manner, but his role was never made truly clear. Fearless Leader (consulted) with Mr. Big on what orders he should send to spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale in several episodes, suggesting Mr. Big's position was apparently a high one, perhaps even on top. . . His schtick consisted of having a short stature (despite his name, he's as small as an insect); however, he would cast a long, tall, and menacing shadow against whatever wall was handy, projecting a sense of fear into whomever he was speaking to. -- Wikipedia.

As the story below indicates (and the fate of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu makes plain), no dictatorship can sustain itself when that false image is shattered by successful resistance. Still, the human costs are always staggering.

Read this story forwarded to me today by a friend and ask yourself if this is the kind of country you want to live in. If not, then prepare to resist.


Communist-era files still haunt the old East Bloc

Associated Press Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Even his best friend betrayed him.

Stelian Tanase found out when he asked to see the thick file that Romania's communist-era secret police had kept on him. The revelation nearly knocked the wind out of him: His closest pal was an informer who regularly told agents what Tanase was up to.

"In a way, I haven't even recovered today," said Tanase, a novelist who was placed under surveillance and had his home bugged during the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime.

"He was the one person on Earth I had the most faith in," he said. "And I never, ever suspected him."

Twenty years ago this autumn, communism collapsed across Eastern Europe. But its dark legacy endures in the unanswered question of the files - whether letting the victims read them cleanses old wounds or rips open new ones.

Most former East Bloc countries have enacted legislation that opens up at least some of their millions of pages of secret police archives to the public, revealing how armies of informers were bribed or coerced into snooping on friends, colleagues and neighbors.

While Germany has launched an ambitious effort to piece together millions of documents shredded as the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, the Czech Republic and Poland are bitterly divided over how much access to grant. And at least two others - Hungary and Romania - are holding back hundreds of thousands of files implicating key figures, including some still powerful in business, media and politics.

In Hungary, which still has no legislation that would fully open the files, the intelligence services have kept 27 percent of the dossiers closed because they are still considered top-secret, said Janos Kenedi, an investigator who recently oversaw an official evaluation.

"There is no other former Soviet satellite where there is such a lack of regulation about the files as in Hungary," he said.

That hasn't stopped the names of alleged former snoops from trickling out every few weeks or months, implicating personalities ranging from actors and athletes to priests and intellectuals.

In Romania, where 700,000 informants kept tabs for the "Securitate" on a population of 22 million, the more than 2 million files remain tightly controlled, yet dirty secrets keep slipping out to damage careers, friendships and family ties.

This summer, a newspaper outed soccer star Gheorghe "Gica" Popescu, the former captain of Romania's national football team. At first he angrily denied it, then acknowledged he wrote notes informing on teammates and others in the 1980s.

Yet a cloak of secrecy still shields Securitate generals who ran the surveillance and now hold key posts in politics and business.

Some are said to have destroyed their files, and the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives acknowledges it has not been given 70,000 dossiers that remain off-limits on grounds of national security.

"You don't see the files of the generals because they don't have any. They're the ones who made files," said Virgiliu-Leon Tarau, the council's vice president.

Romanian-born writer Herta Mueller, who fled the regime for Germany and won this year's Nobel literature prize, has accused the government of making a show of opening the files while keeping the most important papers under wraps.

That, say other critics, makes a mockery of efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

"They'll never open the files of the big players," said Cornel Nistorescu, a prominent Romanian political analyst.

"It can't be done because the state is still run by these people. They're in political parties, in NGOs, in media, in business - everywhere," he said. "Romanian society is contaminated. In the last 10 governments, I couldn't find three people who weren't dirty."

It wasn't difficult to turn people into informers.

Some were blackmailed. Others sought career advancement or permission to travel abroad. Better food or free cartons of cigarettes were popular inducements.

Poland has been especially obsessed with how to handle its legacy of duplicity.

Four years ago, the Law and Justice Party swept to power on a pledge to purge anyone with proven ties to the former secret police. It pushed through a law that would have subjected up to 700,000 public officials to screening.

The legislation was struck down as unconstitutional. Since then, the state-run Institute of National Remembrance, whose files would stretch 86 kilometers (53 miles) if laid end to end - has begun publishing a list of public figures who either collaborated or were spied on.

But it can all get out of hand.

In 2005, a Polish journalist touched off a frenzy when a list he had secretly copied of some 240,000 names wound up online. The list jumbled together the spies and the spied upon, with no way of telling them apart.

In the Czech Republic, things got so bad that Vaclav Havel, a former dissident who became president, had to intervene with this plea: "Young historians, please be careful when you judge history. Otherwise you could do more harm than good."

Havel was stung to protest after his friend, novelist Milan Kundera, came under a cloud. A newspaper published a police document alleging Kundera informed on a man accused of spying for the West. Kundera insists it's a fabrication.

The Kundera case underscores a common complaint about secret police files: All too often, they're packed with gossip, conjecture and outright lies.

That, in part, is why Eugen Georgescu says he hasn't asked to see his file. "Why should I? I already lived it," said Georgescu, a spry 75-year-old who endured Securitate threats and round-the-clock surveillance after he challenged Ceausescu's regime.

The retired architect isn't alone in his lack of interest in his file. Authorities say they have received only about 10,000 dossier requests since 2005.

Novelist Tanase, who read his file in 2001, eventually sat down with the friend who betrayed him. But Tanase said the man never apologized, and they're no longer friends.

"He said he offered his services to the Securitate to protect me, but I don't believe that explanation," he said. So traumatized is Tanase that even today, he says, "I meet friends in the streets and in parks" where there are no eavesdroppers.

Tanase, who was under 24-hour watch by a regime that considered his works subversive, has another gripe about the old files: They're banal.

His 2007 book, "At Home We Whisper," juxtaposes his diary entries with cryptic Securitate reports from the same days - exposing the sometimes laughable gap between what the agents presumed Tanase was up to and what he was actually doing.

"It's all very Kafkaesque," he said. "Can you imagine the Securitate interested in something as banal as the color of your shirt? They were so stupid."

Tarau, the deputy chief of Romania's vast archive, insists the files have immense value - not only in this 20th anniversary year but for generations to come.

"There are recipes for dishes, but also transcripts of buggings and philosophical discussions," he said. "It's details of the lives of ordinary citizens ... It's the history of the Romanian people."

And even though the process is painful, Tanase wants all the files thrown open.

"We can't build a normal and healthy society if we keep this dirt under the rug," he said.


strandediniowa said...

This reminds me of the movie The Lives of Others about a Stazi surveillance of an East German actor. A high official had the hots for the actor's girl friend and that started the process.

In real life, the lead actor in the film, Ulrich Mühe, was spied upon by his wife, which was revealed by looking up his dossier after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The numbers here aren't close to what they had under communist rule, but that doesn't change the fact that it's going on right now. Against some more than others, but soon, all of us.

Transsylvania Phoenix said...

Tell me about that...a couple of years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Ceausescu couple execution, I was working as a radio communications specialist on an offshore drilling rig for Petromar, the Romanian Black Sea oil exploration company. I was in my early 20's and dating the daughter of one of my crew mates, an older gentlemen who was like a father figure to me. I was a regular guest in his home and at work we shared the same sleeping quarters and same work station.

December '89 comes and it the entire revolutionary ruckus, some protesters break in the abandoned local Securitate HQ and get their hands on a number of secret informer files they had there. A few hundreds of the Securitate informers names on those files are immediately published in the local newspaper Telegraf. The name of my former colleague and father of the girl I used to date a few years before is on that list. I felt sick to my stomach for an entire week.

Anonymous said...

I still think Ceausescu received a death that was way too light and painless compared to the pain that he inflicted on so many innocent people.

Boston T. Party said...

I've some direct experience with people who seem and claim to be friends, but are not. Every movement and significant freedom personality has historically been betrayed.

"If there is doubt, then there is no doubt."
~ Ronin

Please Be Wary.