Saturday, November 18, 2017

"Evolution's forgotten man" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

This story begins in the late 18th century with a small boy’s limitless curiosity, at first for staring at his marbles and stones, but soon this grows into a thirst for knowing what lies deep beneath the British countryside around him.

William Smith was unusual for many reasons. As a self-taught young man he traveled a great deal further than most parochial males from farms and this helped to fire his fascination with the natural world. 
Unlike almost all “well-learned” professionals of his day, he also had no distaste about repeatedly climbing down into dark, dangerous coal mines.
Here, he was one of the first to study and report on that black mineral where it actually lay. Of course, it was coal and it was coal miners who were largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution that was then raising Britain’s status to that of an empire-building superpower.
One of the major founding fathers of geology, Smith went on to cover about 10,000 miles a year on foot, on horse and by carriage, cataloguing the locations of all the rock and fossil formations that are to be found in the UK.
Over 14 long years, he also laboriously produced a giant hand-coloured map that showed exactly where the strata of rocks could be found under the earth. Nobody had done anything of the sort before in such a comprehensive and systematic way and two centuries later this sublime masterwork is still accurate and relevant.
World-changing map
In his book titled “The Map that Changed the World” Simon Winchester makes the valuable point that Smith’s “lonely and potentially soul-destroying project” was done, at this time in our history, “in a wholly unknown area of imaginative deduction; there were no teachers, no guidebooks.”
As well as these limitations, Smith could have looked around and noticed that even scientists were convinced, for example, that “mountains grew like trees, organically, upwards and outwards,” all apparently from god’s design.
Smith played a major part in the grinding process where religious and other superstitious beliefs were slowly being cast off (just as we today are [hopefully] living in an era where stupidity related to gender, race or sexual and national prejudices are finally starting to die.)
For most of his career Smith was also an expert in the crucial programme of canal building, but he was in fact snubbed by the main organisation or ‘society’ of his profession as a geologist.
His working-class family background meant that a couple of the ‘perfumed’ snobs who ran and financed what was in truth little more than a gentlemen’s club could steal his ideas and claim them as their own. Largely as a result of this, Smith was to spend time in a debtors prison in London. He was to write with understandable bitterness that “the theory of geology is in the possession of one class of men [and] the practise in another.”
William Smith clearly deserves a much greater and more prominent place in the collective memory of science’s leading men and women. His name merits being up there with the likes of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein or Richard Dawkins.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, November 2017.]

Saturday, November 11, 2017

“Catalonia is a European problem demanding a European solution” – Yanis Varoufakis


"On Wednesday, at a press conference in Barcelona, [DiEM25] co-founder Yanis Varoufakis presented his proposal for a European response to the current crisis in Catalonia, and for similar crises in the EU.

Here’s Yanis’ full statement:

The EU’s response to the crisis in Catalonia has been hypocritical (it has intervened in the ‘internal affairs’ of Greece, Ireland, Italy etc.) and logically incoherent (by hiding behind the claim that it is a union of states, it motivates Catalan statehood). 
Moreover, the EU has been responsible for stoking the discontent that led to the current crisis in Catalonia – through austerity and large bankers’ bailouts. The time has come to Europeanise the solution to a problem that is European in both its nature and causes."
See source for a link to download the proposal here.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Colau and Klein debate in Barcelona: "Facing the politics of change and fear"

This Thursday the 9th of November at 7pm the Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau and progressive international author/journalist Naomi Klein will be speaking together.

In a very timely moment for this part of the world in particular, the organisers say that "the starting point of this debate will be the imposition by antidemocratic powers of global policies that challenge our lives, our security and survival..."

The event is open to all the public but seating is limited to 700 people. It will also be broadcast live on their  Facebook Live and the YouTube channel of La Comuna, Escola del Comú. There will also be a simultaneous translation service and translation into sign language.


Auditori de Cotxeres de Sants
Carrer de Sants, 79
L1 Plaça de Sants; L5 Sants Estació

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Macron’s Gift to the Rich"

"Surprise, surprise: Emmanuel Macron's first budget slashes taxes on wealth and guts social spending...

Anyone with lingering doubts about whether the moniker “President of the Rich” fits France’s Emmanuel Macron could safely put them to rest this month, upon publication of his first budget since taking office.
Last week the National Assembly, dominated by Macron’s En Marche party, approved a reform package overwhelmingly weighted toward elite interests. Its €7 billion of tax cuts included reducing France’s wealth tax, long a bête noire for the country’s right wing, by 70 percent and subjecting capital gains tax to a new flat rate of 30 percent.
Tellingly, the Ministry for the Economy and Finance withheld its own research on the impact of the reforms before the vote in the Assembly. But, by Thursday, they had fallen into the possession of the Socialist chair of the Senate Finance Commission and were released. Under the capital gains reforms, France’s wealthiest 100 taxpayers will earn an additional €582,380 per year on average. The top 1,000 will each get a modest €172,220. The rest of the country, on the other hand, can expect little to nothing. Forty-four percent of the total benefits will flow to the top 1 percent.
While the ministry said it could not precisely calculate the financial effects of slashing the wealth tax, Senate Finance Commission estimates placed the gains for the country’s top 100 taxpayers at an average of €1 million. These are people with last names like Peugeot and Rothschild; heads of telecom giants, weapons manufacturers, and luxury brands.
But the tax cuts were only the opening salvo of a budget that forms part of Macron’s sweeping plans to liberalize the French economy and in his own words, “celebrate those who succeed.” After the passage of business-friendly labor reforms and the introduction of plans to rein in unemployment benefits this fall, next up for debate this week are roughly €11.6 billion worth of spending cuts aimed at trimming the country’s social safety net.
The double standard is glaring. Just as the government prepares to fork over millions from state coffers to the ultra-rich, it tells the general population it must tighten the strings on public spending. Its budget will include measures such as a €1.7 billion cut in housing aid as well as the elimination of 120,000 state-funded short-term job contracts. Votes on these measures are slated for the coming weeks, with the Assembly wrapping up its work in late November.
Parliamentarians will begin by tackling the Social Security budget. Here, too, the wealthiest will stand to gain. En Marche deputies have proposed lowering employers’ Social Security taxes from 30 percent to 20 percent on bonus shares offered to employees. That might seem like an arcane measure, but it has symbolic value. The reform previously passed in 2015, championed by then-minister Macron. Legislators repealed it the following year following a public outcry over booming CEO compensation tied to stock options. For Macron’s commanding parliamentary majority, concerns like these appear to be old news.
Opinion polls suggest otherwise. Macron’s popularity has already fallen below that of historically unpopular predecessor François Hollande during the same period of his presidency. An Odoxa poll released after the budget measures found that 88 percent of French people thought they would benefit the richest. Meanwhile, Macron’s approval rating with pollster Ifop continued to drop in October, sliding a further three points to 42 percent.
The president’s approval among investment bankers appears much higher and steadier. The evening after the National Assembly passed his tax cuts, Macron dined with executives from twenty-one of the world’s leading funds in the Elysée Palace’s winter garden. They came away pleased. “Yesterday’s session was beneficial to the investors present,” said a spokesperson for Blackrock, which manages around €5.5 trillion, “and reinforced the view that the opportunities in France are the strongest they’ve been in two decades.”
Meanwhile, meaningful political opposition remains alarmingly limited. En Marche is in firm control of the National Assembly. The right-wing Republican opposition may crib about minor details, but it largely supports the budgetary reforms. The far-right National Front and center-left Socialist Party, both reeling from internal turmoil, formally opposed the tax cuts — but made little impact. As is the case for most parliamentary issues, the most vocal and sustained criticism of the budget came from the left-wing France Insoumise grouping headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But the Left has not managed to raise mass popular opposition to Macron’s measures and the street remains quiet. Union-backed demonstrations against labor-law reform have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters but failed to make much impact. And in spite of a one-day, public-sector strike and a well-attended France Insoumise march in Paris in late September, a more unified social movement has yet to emerge.
Still, left-wing opponents of the government may have reason for optimism. On November 16, unions are calling for another round of nationwide protests. Unlike the three previous days of demonstrations against labor-law reform, the upcoming protest counts the support of Force Ouvrière, France’s third-largest labor confederation, and aims to oppose Macron’s economic policy at large."
Read more from source (Jacobin) here.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"An open letter to the British Consulate in Barcelona" (Re: Catalonia/Spain)

[Below is the text text of a letter shared online through social media...] If you are a British resident in Catalonia and you agree then please copy, paste and sign the document and send it to the British Consulate. Address is:
British Consulate General Barcelona
Avda Diagonal 477-13, 
08036 Barcelona

We the undersigned are British citizens resident in Catalonia. In our time here we have enjoyed peaceful coexistence with Catalans, interacting and integrating to our own different degrees with Catalan society. We now stand aghast at the Spanish government’s response to the recent political developments in Catalonia.

The single most striking episode was the indisputable police brutality of the 1st October, which marked an arrogant, heavy-handed and oppressive armed attack against peaceful Spanish citizens gathering to cast their vote, and to express thus their opinion, in the referendum on Catalan independence. It hardly seems necessary to delve into a description of the events of that day, as graphic images of police charges, attacks with batons, injured people and the peaceful nature of the voters were broadcast around the world. No degree of falsely bemoaning “fake news” by the Spanish authorities can change the truth that most people perceived.

Now the most recent scenario is that of the Spanish government announcing severe measures in the imminent application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. These include the destitution of the democratically elected President of Catalonia and all of his cabinet, usurping the control of public TV, radio and the Catalan police force, imposing new elections (with the foreseeable illegalization of one or more independence parties?), and imposing tighter controls on the education system. Much of this hammer-fisted intervention is in fact illegal in both form and content as gathered under that selfsame constitution. Undoubtedly, this is a very unsatisfactory culmination of a process which has been gathering momentum for years now, and with no attempt at all by the Spanish government to engage in dialogue, and to explore a political solution.

Subsequent, as yet isolated, outbreaks of violence against pro-independence symbols and supporters by extreme and violent right-wing groups is another factor which gives us cause for concern, especially since we have seen no signs at all of the Spanish government making any moves to condemn or shun such attacks. Above all, however, there is the recent incarceration of two civil rights activists guilty only of promoting peaceful protests. This holding of political prisoners is an abomination, and we do not understand why it has not been censured by European governments and institutions in the strongest of terms. We believe that attempting to cloak events with a mantle of falsehoods, using immoral, illegitimate and illegal measures of coercion and ugly brute force are in fact the trademarks of an authoritarian state, and have no place in a Western democracy.

The Spanish Constitution is not sculpted in stone, and neither should it be written in blood. Laws are drawn up to impose restraints in order to maintain a functioning society; when such laws fail in this objective and become a straitjacket wielded by a privileged few to keep society from developing and pursuing legitimate desires then, in democratic terms, those laws have failed and the time has come to modify or eradicate them.

We believe that it is within the British Consulate’s scope and interests, as well as a moral duty, to convey the content of this letter and its spirit of extreme disapproval of the Spanish government’s actions in the most insistent and strongest terms possible to the highest representatives of the Spanish Government and to the British Embassy in Madrid.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Getting Orwell wrong" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo of  Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards]

In the New York Review of Books not long ago, the well-known British author Julian Barnes ran his eye over some compilations of George Orwell’s work. Thinking about the school where a young Orwell was sent to live and learn, Barnes decides:
“You have to feel a little sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan Wilkes, or “Sambo” and “Flip” as they were known to their [students]. During the first decades of the twentieth century, they ran St. Cyprian’s, a preparatory school in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. It was no worse than many other such establishments: the food was bad, the building underheated, physical punishment the norm… [The children’s] daily morale was dependent on whether a boy was in or out of favour with Flip.”
So Barnes would have us keep our sympathy for the pair of sadists who ran Orwell’s primary school like a hideous boot camp and he justifies their cruelty by maintaining that other schools were much the same. He expresses no feelings at all for the unfortunate people that Orwell spent time writing about in his essays ‘How The Poor Die’ or ‘The Spike’ (destitute tramps).
Just as importantly though, according to Barnes (as an adult), Orwell was a “moralist and a puritan”. But a single quick read of Orwell’s novel “1984” would show you that Orwell was well-versed in matters of the flesh and desire. The sexual relationship between the main character Winston and his lover Julia makes it abundantly clear that Orwell was no puritan. (Apparently, away from his writing Orwell was somewhat of a lech, whose methods of seduction occasionally included the sudden kiss and grope technique).
As far as Orwell being a moralist, of course Barnes is right. I have read all of Orwell’s non-fiction (much of it several times) and can see that there is hardly a sentence that does not have a moral aspect to it.
But Barnes is using the word moralist as uncomplimentary in his book review. The question must be whether someone’s morals are humanitarian and progressive morals, not whether they have any at all. An absence of morals or ethics is a vacuum of beliefs about how we treat each other.
He also correctly criticises Orwell for being wrong about the future, and Orwell was certainly mistaken about some aspects of the “1984 Orwellian world”. For example, the state is shrivelling rather than being the monster machine Orwell predicted. That function has been assumed by international capitalism rather than international government.
Julian Barnes also says that Orwell “is deeply untheoretical and wary of general conclusions that do not come from specific experiences.” But of course a thought is an experience and when it is repeated then built on it can become un-singular enough to produce theories.
I think Orwell was profoundly theoretical, in fact. He simply did an excellent job of disguising it because he did not trust in ideas alone. A good idea can quickly become a bad one when it bumps up against the physical world and human nature. Communism is an example of this, as he discovered.
I think it would be more accurate to say that Orwell was certainly suspicious of those who did not ’love the soil’ as he did. He had a sensible distaste of pretence, pomposity and the grandiose. In short, he disliked intellectuals as a species but used his intellect to point out his own shortcomings as well as those of others.
Barnes is wrong to say that Orwell was “deeply untheoretical” just because Orwell’s writing did not use obviously theoretical language. Underneath the plain phrases and continual drawing from his experiences, Orwell’s work was bursting with theories about the human condition.
It’s a pity that Barnes has seemingly missed that.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2017.]

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Why Europe Needs a New Deal, Not a Breakup"

[Illustration by Curt Merlo.]

"The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy—but retreating to the nation-state will only benefit the far right.

The American New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms combined the goals of financial stabilization, reconstruction, conservation, and employment—jobs for the jobless; public works; power systems and new industries, especially in the South; soil conservation and reforestation to battle the Dust Bowl; and a potent mix of regulations and insurance to assert public power over high finance.
Europe today needs all of these. Its overgrown banks, haunted by the specter of insolvency, are pushing households into foreclosures and evictions across the continent, and at an accelerating scale in the most depressed countries. 
States are bankrupt and will only become more so as the European Central Bank begins to tighten under pressure from German savers crushed by negative interest rates. 
Like America 80 years ago, Europe has a vast periphery. In its South, there is a semi-permanent Great Depression, whereas in the East there is great need for new and renewed industries, transport networks, housing, and social investments. Above all, Europeans need jobs.
Unlike the United States in the 1930s, Europe is also facing the menace of disintegration, as the absence of a democratic federal system has spawned a crisis of legitimacy. 
Paralysis in the face of deindustrialization and chronic unemployment is breeding a toxic politics throughout Europe, with a postmodern form of fascism threatening some countries and a sense of hopelessness elsewhere. 
Europe has not yet suffered ecological calamities comparable to those in the past few weeks in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico; but they are coming, in the form of droughts, rising sea levels, and (most immediately) unstoppable waves of refugees from conflict and climate change in the Middle East and Africa.
The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) has therefore proposed a European New Deal (END), inspired by FDR but designed for European conditions. 
Chief among these is the sad fact that the European Union is a weak and limited thing—a confederacy, more or less. The crisis has made it virtually impossible even to discuss the creation of a US-style federation in Europe, with full powers to budget and mobilize for the emergencies at hand. 
European polities are so alienated by the authoritarian incompetence of the current leadership—exemplified by the crushing of the Greek government in 2015 and the heavy-handed approach of the European Commission to Brexit—that an increase in central powers (“more Europe,” as they say) would almost certainly meet heavy resistance. 
So it is necessary to work within existing charters and treaties to bring about stabilization by means of a European New Deal before hope is restored and the creation of new, democratic, federal, pan-European institutions—even a proper European Constitution—can be discussed sensibly and with cool heads.
To this END, we have proposed the following programs for all European countries, independent of whether they are in the European Union or the eurozone..."
Read more from source at The Nation here.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"I Am Obliged to Reconsider My Support for the European Union"

Former diplomat Craig Murray makes a strong argument after seeing the Spanish state's police violence against voters at last weekends Catalan referendum.

"To my own astonishment, and after a full 36 hours of hard thinking to try and escape this conclusion, I am in intellectual honesty obliged to reconsider my lifelong support for the European Union, due to the unqualified backing of the EU Commission for the Spanish Government’s dreadful repression in Catalonia.

This is very difficult for me. I still much favour open immigration policy, and the majority of Brexiteers are motivated at base by racist anti-immigrant sentiment. Certainly many Brexiteers share in the right wing support for Rajoy’s actions, across Europe. I have been simply stunned by the willingness of right wingers across the internet, including on this blog, to justify the violence of the Spanish state on “law and order” grounds...
But not all who oppose the EU are right wing. There are others who oppose the EU on the grounds that it is simply another instrument of power of the global 1% and an enforcer of neo-liberalism. I had opposed this idea on the grounds it was confusing the policies of current EU states with the institution itself, that it ignored the EU’s strong guarantees of human rights, and its commitment to workers’ rights and consumer protection.
I have to admit today that I was wrong, and in fact the EU does indeed function to maintain the global political elite, and cares nothing for the people.
The Lisbon Treaty specifically incorporated the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into basic European Union law."

Read more from source here.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Catalans vote (while Schäuble-ism lives on)

Despite a heavy police presence and some shocking violence from the Spanish forces Catalonia's citizens voted today to at least try to express their wishes on the question of independence.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, as DiEM25 leader Yanis Varoufakis points out, the same bunch of economic masters (who have roundly ignored the growing acts of repression in Catalonia) are still in charge...even though their main man Wolfgang Schäuble has left the finance post.

Will there now be a clear response to the the Spanish government's anti-democratic tactics from Europe's high and mighty?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"We will vote"

 Above is  a Catalan cartoon that shows how the Spanish media's coverage is likely to continue to be in the coming week before the Catalan independence referendum on October 1. 

Shown on the left is a crowd of peaceful protesters holding signs that say "We will vote" while on the right the Spanish press focuses on a single act of destruction.

I would suggest that it is not only Spain's mainstream media that makes this mistake.

(Found via

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How "the crisis" overpowers national borders

[Photo: © CES - Centro de Estudos Sociais ]

" 'This is a crisis caused by deregulated financial capital that speculates on the misery of the people. The more countries go bankrupt, the richer this system gets...'

The world today is facing a deep crisis. Yet at the same time, the neo liberal growth model is still presented as the only possible option. The Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos exposes the myth and made it his life’s mission to build an epistemology of alternatives."

Read more in English from source here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"Who owns England [and Wales]?"

From this astonishing website which uncovers exactly why the "housing shortage" exists in the UK...

"Together, UK corporate bodies and overseas companies own around 13 million acres of land – roughly a third of England and Wales.

But who owns the remaining two-thirds? Aristocratic families and trusts? Farmers? Charities? Householders? It’s clear we still have much work to do…"

Interactive map also here.

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Tragedy in Turkey" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: EFE]

Where to begin when we look at Turkey? Here is a part of the world with so much culture and history in its favour but in the last couple of years it has become somewhere you would not choose to live and you would even have to think twice about visiting.
The biggest single reason for this is the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made an obvious grab at taking greater constitutional powers after a referendum on greatly extending presidential authority was narrowly passed. 
Unsurprisingly, the opposition No campaign disputed at least one third of the votes as being legally valid.
Erdogan’s clear intent is to move Turkey away from its secular, non-religious policy towards a much stronger and stricter Islamic state with him firmly in control. 
He has recently ordered that the teaching of evolution in schools should stop and that the death penalty should be reintroduced, through another referendum if necessary.
Aside from these backward ideological steps, his regime has taken to using a supposed coup last year as fair grounds for strangling basic freedoms. 
Thousands of ordinary people (including writers) have been imprisoned and tortured without good reason. 
Turkey now jails more journalists than any other nation – a third of the worldwide total – largely on the flimsy pretense of them being terrorists. 
During the summer, two local Turkish leaders from the respected human rights organisation, Amnesty International, were also locked up.
I find all this so sad for political reasons but also for more personal ones. My family and I spent a week based in the [country] a couple of summers ago and were enchanted by it. 
As well, I once taught at an Islamic secondary school in Australia and have very fond memories of my Turkish-Australian former colleagues and students there. 
They were the warmest of people and I still have Turkish friends now, who are some of the most generous and lovely individuals you could ever wish to meet and spend time with.
Going backwards
Turkey has been a cultured, open-minded society for some time now, especially since revolutionary figure Kemal Atatürk led his people towards becoming a more modern European-influenced society. 
Just two of his major legacies include greater equality for women and an educated middle class population that supported an Islam that was neither doctrinal nor overbearing. 
Even Atatürk’s simple decision to change the Turkish language to a Latin based script was enlightened.
This progress is now quickly being wound back under the heavy hand of Erdogan and his followers, who have been rammed into key government and legal positions. 
Some 100,00 public officials have already been dismissed from their posts, with almost half of them imprisoned on terror charges. 
Yes, Turkey hosts around three million more Syrian refugees than any other country, but many “face obstacles [in] education and employment.”
Academic and author, Mehmet Altan, could be speaking for most of his countrymen when he says: 
“Should the rule of law reign in Turkey again one day I am confident that I won’t be considered a suspect even for a second. I am a suspect now only because I demanded democracy.”

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, September 2017.]

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Barcelona: Design of minimum income experiment finalised

 "In October 2017, the city of Barcelona will launch a two-year experiment testing several variants of a guaranteed income and active policies to reduce poverty rates.

The project has been called B-MINCOME in reference to the Canadian province of Manitoba’s Mincome experiment, a guaranteed annual income trial conducted in the late 1970s... 
It will be conducted in the Besòs area, the city’s poorest region, and include 2000 households. These households will comprise a stratified random sample from Besòs area households which have at least one member between ages 25 and 60 and which are current beneficiaries of the city’s Municipal Social Services
The researchers conducting B-MINCOME are interested in the extent to which the SMI reduces poverty and social exclusion, and which particular models of SMI are most effective for this purpose. 
For instance, is the SMI more effective when combined with an particular associated policy, or with none at all? And is the SMI more or less effective if it is means tested?
To examine the impact on poverty and social exclusion, researchers will examine, more specifically, changes in labor market participation, food security, housing security, energy access, economic situation, education participation and attainment, community networks and participation, and health, happiness, and well-being.
Researchers will additionally examine whether the SMI reduces the administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities of social workers.
B-MINCOME is supported by a grant from Urban Innovative Actions (UIA), an initiative of the European Commission that supports projects investigating “innovative and creative solutions” in urban areas."

Read more from source here.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Images from the Stasi secret police files (of then East Germany)

Simon Menner

While conducting research on surveillance, I realized that the public has very limited access to images   showing the act of surveillance from the perspective of the surveillant. What actually is it that the Orwellian “Big Brother” gets to see when he is watching us?
For over two and a half years, I applied this question to materials from the former East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, commonly known as the Stasi, which had become publicly available after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Stasi was one of the most effective surveillance apparatuses ever. The quantity and breadth of the images I was able to unearth was surprising: images documenting Stasi agents being trained in hand signals, or perfecting the art of disguise; Polaroids taken during clandestine searches of people’s homes, to ensure everything could be put back where it belonged; photographs made by Stasi spies photographing other spies.
Many of the images shown here might appear absurd or even funny to us. But it is important not to lose sight of the original intentions behind these pictures—photographic records of the repression exerted by the state to subdue its own citizens. The banality of some of these pictures makes them even more repulsive. Many of the images are open to wide interpretation and could feed or confirm the suspicions of the Stasi agents viewing them. For example, the photograph of a Siemens coffeemaker: Is this West German consumer product evidence of contacts with Western agents? Or merely a present from relatives? The difference can mean years in prison, demonstrating one of the fundamental problems and limitations inherent to any and all forms of surveillance.
Presenting most of these pictures can be a double-edged sword. Many represent an undue intrusion into people’s private lives. Does reproducing them repeat the intrusion and renew injustices committed years ago? I grappled with this difficult issue and concluded that the pictures should be presented because they make an important contribution to discussions about state-sanctioned surveillance systems.
Simon Menner, November 2014
For fascinating and disturbing photo exhibition click here.

[Source and creator: Open Society Foundations. (Creative Commons license rules.)]