This monument is not a monument TO something so much as it is a monument against something. The notorious “Stasi,” more accurately the East German Ministry for State Security, supposedly created for good reasons: i.e., society needs order, laws need to be enforced, security threats need to be minimized. But once the powers of spying, force, secrecy, interrogations, eavesdropping, and intimidation become acceptable governance, the people who wield these powers do what such people have always done, they use them to increase their own importance. Tyranny is deep inside the human genome.
This monument against Stasi type tactics, erected on the site of the torn down Stasi regional headquarters in the lovely and now free city of Jena in Germany, was erected by Jena Citizens two decades after the fall of the Stasi power with the reunification of Germany.
The monument is sculpted to look like small boxes, dossiers, and many are labeled with the ideas that were victims of Stasi oversight, ideals such as “Free Speech,” “Critical Thinking,” “Mutual Aid,” “Neighborliness,” “Friendships,” “Trust,” “Initiative,” “Cooperation,” you know, all of the things any organization, nation, or community depends upon from its employees and citizens. Those labels are interspersed on this monument with individual names, real people whose lives were destroyed by Stasi and their games.
One of my own favorites of these was a young man named Matthias Domaschk. I never knew Herr Domaschk, he died under Stasi interrogation while I was stationed in Nurenberg West Germany. But had Matthias lived he likely would have been a neighbor of mine when I had the extreme good fortune of living in Jena Germany, many years later. He might have been one of the older men playing the piano and signing in the local pub, or reading a book along the Saale river park. His birth home was right around the corner from my apartment. Instead, he was to me a name on a brass historical placard, attached to the door of that nearby birth home I passed during most of my daily walks. That little brass plate incited my initial interest into the Stasi and their ways.
The Stasi were not all high ranking elite monsters, movers and shakers in the Communist Party. No, some began as simple police men and women or administrative officials who believed that they could improve their own lives and family circumstances by cooperating with the Stasi rather than by doing what we would today call, “rocking the boat.” This is how we all may become Stasi, we start small. Then we begin to obey only the needs and pleasures of those above us in our political or organizational networks. Next, as we realize we have lost the respect of our co-workers and neighbors, we begin enjoying our authority and autonomy over them more and more. It becomes a way to punish people for not making us feel wonderful about ourselves as we move up through such organization charts.
Boat Rockers, people like young Matthaias Domaschk, resisted these games, laughed at the Stasi pretense to importance and power, and failed to offer adequate praise and gratitude to the local Stasi officials. The Stasi retaliated by making Matthaias’ life increasingly unbearable. They would bring him in for interrogations, on fabricated complaints that they did not even explain to him. They pretended to want information yet they also claimed to have already any information that it would take to enable a conviction. They pretended to have state sanction for their increasing authority. And the Party Leaders? They were, themselves, so incompetent and so incurious about what was really going on that they never even saw the need to reel in the subaltern Stasi staffers.
Matthaias did not cooperate. In fact, because of his public resistance, more of the Jena public began to openly resist the Stasi routines as well. With numbers came courage, the local Stasi division head decided that something must be done.
And it was.
Another interrogation gone badly. There were reports to write and some slight explanations to concoct. But Matthaias died of mysterious causes while undergoing one of these interrogations. So at the plot level of this true story the local Stasi administrator won. That Stasi subaltern probably outlived the Stasi itself and then received a pension for a retirement comfortable enough for a working person. His neighbors and family probably know of his prior career as a Stasi underling, but out of politeness they rarely mention it.
The loser in this story, Matthaias, got a little brass name plate on the door of his parents home on a busy street in Northeastern Jena. He is also one of the individuals named in the Stasi monument as a victim of their methods. Matthaias lives on in the love of the Jena people in the stories they tell themselves about how and why they finally were encouraged to stand up against banal tyranny. Fifty years from now, no student will ever learn the name of the Stasi flunky. But they will be visiting this memorial and writing essays about the importance of Matthaias Domaschk the boat rocker.
Don’t you wonder if that retired old man who conducted the interrogation ever walks his dog in Jena? Wonder what he thinks each time he passes this monument.