Twenty years ago, this week, East and West Germany was reunited. The Berlin wall had crumbled – and with it fell of one the most oppressive regimes that had ever existed in Europe. Today we look at Iran and Cuba to illustrate censorship, oppression and breeches of human rights, but we shouldn’t forget that evil could just as well happen closer to our own doorstep. And if it does, we won’t necessarily recognize it. Not until it’s too late.

The Deutsche Demokratische Republik was a notoriously paranoid state. Using technology, that at that time was cutting-edge, it spied profusely on its citizens. The fear of subversive elements made Stasi, the secret police, powerful and all knowing. There was no way of knowing if your neighbor was just an elderly lady or an informer for the state. Naturally, this lead to strategies of immense self-censorship that was, in a sense, even worse than the open oppression.

One should tread carefully into the domains of historical parallels. Often, comparing a society with another gets overly simplistic. However, at the same time, there are things we can learn from history as it tells us something about structure and human responses to issues at hand.

There’s a proverb that says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I feel that there’s a lot too that.

The development in the western world today is very quickly going a direction of more and more surveillance, often with the quite rational argument to fight terrorism and/or child pornography. Suddenly we have filtering systems put in place. We have internet wiretapping listening to each bit we send through the pipes. We have data retention laws that make mobile operators save information about the conversations we’ve had. Let’s face it, mandatory DNA sampling is just around the corner.

And for what?

People will adapt; they will change their behavior and censor themselves. Suddenly, the mind is not as free anymore. In fact, this has already happened.

I would like us to, while marking the German anniversary, also be introspective and rethink our position on our own situation. We are not DDR – we will never be the DDR. That’s not the issue. But we risk becoming something else. Something we didn’t intend. Something just as bad.