They hadn’t reckoned with my rebellious streak, my need to defy, to take action, when I felt unjustly treated or felt others were. They were so used to controlling others by fear, just like all governments.
In effect they had lied to the seven of us. The Great British Government had informed us that we were better off, financially, working in a communist country than our counterparts a few kilometres away, across the border. But it wasn’t true. We might have thought initially it was great not to pay tax, but when we looked into it we were actually at a disadvantage and also had to pay our own health insurance. Now, years later, I know it reduced my pension. When I found out (by chance, as often happens) I had to take action. I couldn’t just ignore this injustice, swallow this false information we had been fed until it gave me chronic indigestion. Once you have the knowledge you can’t pretend you don’t.
We weren’t diplomats, we were engaged locally in jobs which didn’t require diplomatic status. When I discovered that we were actually worse off than colleagues in the West I got together with the others; firstly, to inform them of the deceit, and then to decide a course of action. I realised then that none of the others had their rebel gene activated. I think we all have a rebel gene but like a lot of genes it lies dormant until triggered. Maybe it is life and experience which ignites it. Well, my experience in the embassy certainly ignited mine. The others were intimidated, full of fear. They said things like: “I have a wife and kids", or "I don’t want to lose my job”. So it was obvious to me that I was alone in this quest and couldn’t count on much backup. It was also apparent, however, that they would happily profit from my efforts. They did; after I left. The stirring I had done, it did make some difference.
I had already made my name within the embassy as one who didn't flow with the establishment, didn't conform, and questioned traditions and protocol. I resented having to work on a public holiday just because some MP was coming to visit. I loathed the pretence of such visitors and the feigned interest they expressed toward us. Most of all I detested the whole British class system which was like a disease. It was on display in that environment.
I started my quest by making enquiries about going onto the system in the West, thinking that was a logical option. After all it wasn’t far away and we actually lived in the West. We just crossed the border every day into the East. Nope, that wasn’t possible. So why couldn’t we pay into the UK tax system then? We were all British, had British passports and in the employ of Her Majesty’s Government. Nope, that wasn’t allowed either. We called a meeting with the ambassador who more or less said “if you don’t like it, you can leave”. After that I contacted a union in the UK. I had never been in a union, never saw the need as an office worker. I always thought unions were for tradesmen. Now I saw the need. When you had some stuck-up snob telling you that you could take it or leave it. It made you feel powerless which was of course the intent. But what did the union do? They wrote to the embassy and told the ambassador I had been in touch. And that was the end of that. So that was my first, and last, experience of unions.
You are usually left with two options in such situations. Either you stay and allow yourself to be knowingly abused or you give them two fingers and leave; I chose the latter. I wasn’t going to let myself be exploited any further so I handed in my notice. Even then they tried to do me out of some money. The silly thing was that they told me their plans in advance. One of the suits came into my office a few weeks before I was due to escape and told me that I would only be paid for one of the remaining three weeks of my contract. I can’t remember what their twisted logic was but by that time I had had enough of working for the government anyway. So I just emptied my desk a week later and left on the Friday as though it were a normal weekend.
The experience gave me an insight into the lies, manipulation and propaganda we are bombarded with and now I rarely believe anything a member of any government says unless I can check the source. I also recognise quickly the techniques the Establishment uses to control the masses. When you have been backstage, you know the tricks.
I am glad I had the opportunity to flex my rebel gene. In this instance I didn’t benefit from my actions but others did. You don’t find many rebels within the establishment. They don’t usually last long, but they don’t need to to stir the stagnant waters. We need more rebels – for the sake of all of us.