Freedom of Speech: Schoolboy jailed

Who is Karl-Heinz Borchardt?

Until very recently I was completely unaware of Karl-Heinz and the many others like Karl-Heinz living in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) who were sent to youth prisons for various offenses against the state but, in Karl-Heinz’s case, writing a letter to the BBC.

It was in the former GDR illegal to listen to let alone write to the BBC.

Karl-Heinz and many others wrote to BBC program, Letters Without Signatures to vent their issues with the government running their partitioned part of Germany, and generally describe life in the GDR, begged to not be forgotten as the Berlin Wall was being erected, grumbling about shortages of butter, onions, and soap.

Karl-Heinz wrote his first letter delivered to BBC by clever but circuitous routes in 1968.

He was arrested by GDR’s Stasi and sent to a GDR youth prison in 1970. Karl-Heinz was placed on a production line assembling gas appliances, subjected to working conditions that would certainly not meet OSHA guidelines.

Alas, BBC’s Letters Without Signatures program was dropped in 1974.

During Karl-Heinz’s incarceration he amazingly earned a PhD in East German Literature and lectures today at a German university.

GDR’s and Karl-Heinz Borchardt’s story surely depict an extreme view of freedom of speech or lack thereof; although I have heard and read even more extreme measures.

Compared to Karl-Heinz’s story, experience at the hands of his then government, I’m thinking that we’re not doing too badly here in Americashire.

Or do we fear the GDR’s approach to freedom of speech will take hold here in Americashire lest one political view or the other shuts down what the other side of the aisle is attempting to say?

It is at this point that I must trot out the Pareto rule also known as the 80/20 rule that states roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In other words, and in the view of this author, 20% of conservatives far to the right and 20% of liberals to the far left are running about the lawn with hair on fire, screaming at the top of their lungs predictions that we’re all fucked unless we destroy all who reside on one side or the other of the midway mark to the political spectrum.

I am not writing that all issues identified by these two extreme ends of the political spectrum are not serious or should not be addressed but I do know it’s difficult to discuss and potentially agree solutions to our problems with someone running about the lawn with hair on fire, or setting the oppositions’ hair on fire.

I encourage readers to ask themselves what must be true in order for the USA to close the gap between freedom of speech we currently enjoy and that practiced in the former GDR?

I invite you to read the BBC article that motivated this writing, The German schoolboy jailed for writing to the BBC.

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