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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Freedom to Joke in East Germany?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Freedom to Joke in East Germany?

(HT Wall Street Journal) I quote from "East German Jokes Collected by West German Spies," written by Hans-Ulrich Stoldt and Klaus Wiegrefe for Spiegel Online.
"Telling jokes was playing with fire," says Kleemann [a former official from the Birthler Authority, which was set up after German unification to manage the archives of the East German secret police, or Stasi]. The Stasi had 91,000 employees and a network of around 189,000 civilian informants to spy on the East German population of 17 million. It regarded every political joke as a potential threat. Anyone who poked fun at the representatives of the organs of state and society was subject to prosecution.

"There were cases of people who were jailed, it was particularly bad in the 1950s and 1960s," says Kleemann.

Here's one example about how that risk was lampooned: "There are people who tell jokes. There are people who collect jokes and tell jokes. And there are people who collect people who tell jokes."...
The other jokes, stripped of commentary are
Did East Germans originate from apes? Impossible. Apes could never have survived on just two bananas a year."

"What would happen if the desert became communist? Nothing for a while, and then there would be a sand shortage."

"Why does West Germany have a higher standard of living than we do? Because communists can't get work permits there."

"A new Trabi [a car made in East Germany] has been launched with two exhaust pipes -- so you can use it as a wheelbarrow."

The Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 spawned a new proverb, for example: If the farmer falls off his tractor, he must be close to a reactor.

Chernobyl, incidentally, wasn't an accident, another joke went. It was just a Soviet program to X-ray its population.


  1. Ryan Mezynski2/11/09 5:06 PM

    The jokes were quite good. Although they do offer some good points as to why communism was not good for the East German economy. One thing that I have learned in Dr. Wilson’s economics class is that, a good work force results in a good economy. Which is a reason that when the USSR would put East Germans in jail because of a simple joke, they would not be working, but using government resources in jail. Therefore they are now counterproductive, and not helping the economy. All that wasting just because they couldn't take a joke.

  2. Jessica Sawyer2/11/10 9:19 PM

    The political jokes made were very clever. However, I think it was an unintelligient move of the USSR to put these jokesters in jail. The East Germans are complaining about the economy and the USSR is trying to stop these comments by arresting people for them. In turn, this is just making the econmy worse by taking away the workers and having to increase government spending in jails. And this still results in more East Germans making these jokes about the economy. The USSR is not fixing a problem, but making another worse.