Another Kind of Country

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Authors: Kevin Brophy
study where the two men sat staring at each other.
    In the German Democratic Republic you had to recognize when protest or denial was futile.
    ‘General,’ Miller said, ‘what do you want from me?’
    The general nodded. ‘No denials, no admissions – very wise, Herr Miller. Let me ask you this.’ He paused, steepled his fingers. ‘Do you think our country is endangered by these protests and processions?’
    Another shadow: in his mind Miller heard the plane swoop over the waving crowds in the embassy in Warsaw, saw the frightened look of the fellow being questioned on the island in the centre of Unter den Linden, watchedhundreds of flickering candles in St Katherine’s in Leipzig.
    ‘I think,’ Miller said, ‘thatattention should be paid to these developments.’
    The general laughed. ‘“Attention should be paid.”’ He shook his head. ‘Forgive me, Herr Miller. You really have been too long among us.
Attention should be paid!
Would you have written such bullshit in your
Guardian
newspaper days? If you produced such crap now, would the
Guardian
print it?’
    The art of listening, of hearing the truth unspoken between the words, was a necessary skill for prospering, sometimes for surviving, in the GDR.
    ‘General,’ Miller asked, ‘do you want me to write a piece for the
Guardian
?’ The paper printed occasional pieces about his daily life in East Germany; the last piece he’d submitted had been politely declined on the grounds that it was ‘too innocuous’.
    ‘Maybe,’ the general said.
    ‘But the paper is generally sympathetic to the demands of the protesters.’
    ‘Why do you say “but”, Herr Miller?’
    ‘I thought . . .’ Miller shrugged.
    ‘You thought I wanted a piece of propaganda criticizing these protesters?’
    ‘I’m sorry—’
    ‘The
Guardian
is a paper of socialist inclination?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘And the newspaper has a strong anti-American, anti-imperialist streak?’
    Miller nodded.
    He waited for the general to continue, watched the older man almost curl in the armchair, saw the spasm of pain flash across his features.
    ‘General Reder.’ Miller half rose from his chair.
    ‘It’s OK.’ The liver-spottedhand waved Miller away, reached for a small brass bell on the desk. The bell was still tinkling when Rosa hurried into the room.
    ‘Papa!’
    The general tried to smile, pointed at the small bottle of pills on the desk, waited until Rosa shook a couple of the white pills in his hand. Miller and Rosa watched in silence as the general swallowed the pills dry, head bobbing, Adam’s apple working.
    ‘Papa.’ Rosa shook her head. ‘The doctor told you to take the tablets
before
the pain gets to you.’
    ‘What’s a little pain, daughter? We used to say in the war that if you could feel the pain then at least you knew you were still alive.’
    ‘This isn’t a war, Papa.’
    ‘Isn’t it, Rosa?’ The general’s voice was so hoarse as to be little more than a whisper. ‘Are you sure it’s not?’
    ‘Papa!’ Miller could hear the alarm in Rosa’s voice. ‘We have a guest, what will Herr Miller think?’
    The general closed his eyes, gathering himself.
    ‘Herr Miller,’ he said, ‘knows where we stand.’
    ‘That’s not quite true, General. I’m actually pretty confused.’
    ‘Then let me explain.’
    ‘No, Papa, that’s enough explaining for tonight.’
    General Reder laughed, turned to face Miller. ‘I’d never have won a battle in the war, Herr Miller, if the enemy had been led by my daughter.’ He squeezed Rosa’s hand and Miller thought of his own father, squeezing other flesh.
    ‘I’ll get your coat, Herr Miller,’ Rosa said.
    ‘We’ll meet again, very soon,’ the general said when they were alone.
    Miller nodded wearily. ‘If you wish.’ What I wish doesn’t matter.
    ‘I mean you no harm, HerrMiller. And remember that your Director knows nothing of our meeting. I was banking on Hartheim giving you my manuscript to read – that old

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