When a Government Spies on its Citizens

What happens when the government spies on its citizens and recruits individuals to monitor and report on each other? Living in Albania has given some insight to that. In the past under Enver Hoxha, there were approximately 50 years of totalitarian control. During this time, citizens were recruited to spy on each other. The Albanians claim that 50% of the population was spying for the government. Whether true or not, the belief in that fact significantly impacted the way people think and act.

One immediate observation is that while Albanians trust foreigners, but they do not trust each other. In a system where children report on parents and parents report on children and spouse reports on spouse, one trusts no one but himself or herself. It has been 20 years since the end of Hoxha’s rule, not even a full generation and so the distrust persists.

Imagine trying to transact business where you have no trust in the other party, financial system, court system or co-worker. The result is you only do what can be done now and reveal as little information as possible. Planning beyond today is foolish, credit is difficult and you never believe what you are told (or read). All workers must be monitored and work is only done while you are there to watch to ensure it is done correctly and as agreed upon.

It took us a year to a year and half to establish relationships and build creditability. The constant question was “What are you getting out of this?” as the concept of volunteering or building community is non-existent for most. Only at our end of service had we developed the trust to position us to begin to work – and foreigners are trusted here.

Due to the lack of trust in government institutions, the entire fabric of society suffers. It should be a warning to carefully weigh the costs of allowing government spying on citizens, as unintended consequences are often greater than intended objectives achieved.

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