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Fear is the best medicine

There's a whole chapter on it in the Dictator's Handbook:  "The Culture of Fear."  (it's chapter five, by the way).  Fact is, if you want to rule a nation that remains mostly pacificistic, complacent about your administration, and more grateful than bellicose, then look no farther than at the clenched fist at the end of your own wrist.

Nothing is more effective than fear.  Nothing keeps people in line more convincingly than the suspicion that the wrong move will lead to death.  Every leader knows this, but it takes a leap of faith to make fear the guiding principle of a government.  But it works!

A Czech filmmaker making a movie about the Transdniester region experienced this for himself when the authorities took him in for questioning.

The agent took us to some interrogation room with no windows and washable paint on the walls. I immediately started imagining scenarios where someone gets beaten up and the blood can be easily washed off because of the smooth gloss paint on the walls.

We immediately recalled a story a local dissident woman had told us. She was coming from work one day when a car pulled up and some secret police agents jumped out. They put her in the car, blindfolded her, and took her somewhere completely in the back of beyond where they beat her up and left her lying there.

Nonetheless, nothing terribly serious or terrible happened [to us]. The agent sat in front of us and asked us questions like: “We know you are making a film here. We have found that out. We know that you have met with these people. Who put you in touch with them? Who else have you spoken with? How did you meet them? What did you talk about?”

They tried to decipher which local people we had met, and if we by any chance had tried to contact prominent local civic organizations, and if we were perhaps aiding any revolutionary activities. Naturally we were able to refute all this, because all we wanted to do was shoot a film.

They let us go, but it was obvious that they would continue to monitor us in some way. They already knew about us so we started keeping ourselves in check more and more. That’s precisely the situation that the people there live under: If the powers that be take an interest in you, nothing specific will happen to you -- nobody will lock you up, nobody will give you a beating -- but you are already more careful as of that moment and know that an interrogation can be repeated any time. It’s a bit unpleasant psychologically and you start to keep an eye on yourself. We also started keeping an eye on ourselves while we were there.

And that's the idea.  No further questioning was probably necessary, because the filmmaker, Mr. Lukas Kokes, and his team were now sufficiently impressed for their own safety that they began to be much more careful, self-censor, and walk the line.  And that's the lesson to learn here.

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