The Human Rights Dictatorship – Now Available Worldwide!

The book launched officially in April, but with global supply chains disrupted by the pandemic, it took a while before it was available outside of the UK. But now The Human Rights Dictatorship: Socialism, Global Solidarity and Revolution in East Germany is available everywhere that books are sold. If you want to buy a copy, it can be ordered from independent booksellers pretty much anywhere.

It is also a huge help to ask your local library to order a copy!

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From the blurbs on the back:

‘In this pioneering book, Richardson-Little upends conventional wisdom that human rights are the natural enemy of authoritarian regimes. With great range and verve, he shows how the East German socialist state used human rights ideologically and diplomatically to stabilize and legitimate its fledging socialist republic, and only in the last decade of the regime did human rights emerge a source of dissent and resistance against the state. This is a model revisionist account of the protean and multi-directional nature of human rights under socialism.’

Paul Betts – University of Oxford

‘Finally a book on human rights history by someone deeply conversant with socialist thought, state-socialist regimes, and current human rights historiography. This is a rare and valuable book as well as a good read. It will be a reference point for years to come.’

Lora Wildenthal – Rice University, Texas

‘By showing the centrality of human rights to both the legitimacy and the downfall of the GDR, The Human Rights Dictatorship makes a major contribution to the global history of human rights. In this richly textured history, Ned Richardson-Little shows how East Germans instrumentalized human rights in the name of numerous shifting ideals: socialism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, Christianity, peace, the environment, democracy, and ultimately, the creation of a unified German state.’

Celia Donert – University of Liverpool

‘Eagerly anticipated, Ned Richardson-Little’s book breaks important new ground. Overcoming simple narratives of the GDR’s erosion, he impressively uncovers the multiple meanings with which East German actors infused human rights – including state elites seeking to buttress their socialist project. Richly nuanced, the book advances our understanding of the twisted trajectory of human rights history in the 20th century.’

Jan Eckel – Eberhard Karls-Universität Tübingen

Sympathy for the Devil: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of the Stasi in Deutschland 83

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East German postage stamp commemorating 25 years of the “Anti-Fascist Defense Rampart” or as it is better known, the Berlin Wall.

Some spoilers for the first four episodes of Deutschland 83 as well as the general plot points of the films The Lives of Others and Bridge of Spies.

The voice of Ronald Reagan ominously calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire opens the new television series Deutschland 83, but our perspective as the viewer comes from the woman listening: Stasi agent Lenora Rauch. She sees the speech as an open threat of war and a dire warning of imminent attack by the West. Rauch’s (Maria Shrader) interpretation is shared by her colleagues in the German Democratic Republic’s intelligence services who also see Reagan’s bellicose rhetoric as the first step toward nuclear war. Throughout the whole series, the driving force of the narrative is the quest of Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) – Lenora’s young nephew – to find proof of this impending attack and eventually to prevent an all out atomic conflagration.

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Anticipated nuclear strikes in Central Europe according to Warsaw Pact military exercise “7 Days to the River Rhine” held in 1979.

What is remarkable about this series, is its willingness to stake the plot around the worldview of the Stasi. Rather than portraying Rauch and her colleagues as war-hungry paranoiacs,  their fears are treated as the logical outcome of ideology, Cold War tensions, and American saber-rattling. The series does not take the side of the Stasi, but it demands that the viewer takes it seriously and engages with a perspective in which the communist bloc is existentially threatened by the ever-present danger of western capitalist imperialism. Deutschland 83 does not shy away from showing the horrific actions perpetrated by the security services from censorship to arbitrary detention to murder, but it never reduces the Stasi to cartoon villains or mindless sadists. These are professional agents who see themselves as defending their nation against invasion and destruction and they will stop at nothing to prevent this.

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East German pamphlet “Day X: the Failure of the Fascist War Provocation of June 17, 1953.” Pictured at top is US Secretary of State Dulles, Chancellor Adenauer, West Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter and CDU politician Jakob Kaiser.

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