I lost my homeland in the fall of Yugoslavia. My passport changed five times even though I never changed my home address. I could not enter the Library of Congress in the USA because my country did not exist in their computer.
Since then, I have spent many hours dealing with the consequences of having no state. I stood in endless embassy queue to get visas. In great world airports, full of busy people from other nations, my documents would be double checked, triple-checked, sometimes even denied. Once I was deported from a train and kept in an improvised local prison because I lacked a proper stamp in my passport. All this occurred without me committing any offense against my own country or any other country.
When the world is in war on terror, or when countries sanction other countries, or when states constrain their own citizens, this becomes a new normality.
Oddly, airports, those nation-free zones, often develop as the safest places to live in the turmoil of nations in war. I spent many hours in those belts of nobody’s land which today are like cities of their own, where most anyone can eat drink shop sleep and wash, provided that you have a valid bank card. Electronic money is far beyond nations by now, the common denominator for war and peace.
In these last weeks, the famous and also notorious dissident Edward Snowden has been living in an airport, in Moscow. In the same time period, an anonymous Mexican woman has been quietly dwelling in Cancun airport . Snowden has all the world press in his face and international spies on his back, all of them waiting for his next move. The Mexican woman was spotted by airport security by chance. However, since her papers are in order, there are no legal grounds to deport her from the airport.
Snowden is a man the age of my daughter. What he did belongs to the new era of fighting for truth and justice. We hit the streets, made door to door campaign with paper leaflets. Nowadays secret documents flow on the internet to raise awareness of timeless political issues. Recently, voters changed the profile of Italian parliament, after many years of vain attempts to overthrow the old class of corrupt politicians, in an Internet-based political party campaign.
Julian Assange of Wikileaks is still trapped in London in the Ecuadorian embassy. However, one has to see that his methods are being applied and extended successfully, in surprising places and new situations.
Even though ideas circulate electronically, people don’t. We are connected today though internet much more than ever before, we share methods, ideas, strategies, failures, stories, destinies, surveillance…for good and bad… But nations and security agencies have tightened both their laws and their lawless grip on personal users and Internet citizens. This global jungle has evolved all kinds of exotic predators, the spies, ultra-rich moguls, surveillance marketers, industrial titans, hackers, secret-police trolls, as well as the customary mafia, drug-dealers, child pornographers and terrorists. And yet never ever was a more democratic device in our hands, in our power. The political consequences cannot stop. This world still has its dissidents and activists, but it’s a changed world.
So what will happen to Snowden, to Assange, or to the Italian Internet platforms being created for its Parliament?
Snowden’s drama must continue. He will have to be physically transported, somewhere and somehow, to one of the countries that has offered him political asylum. Will the Americans, once the mortal enemies of all plane hijackers, become plane hijackers themselves? How many more Morales incidents will occur — rapid response based on wrong information, like that contretemps in 1999 when NATO planes blew up the Chinese embassy in Serbia? The USA used to be in favor of free embassies, rather than blowing them up or keeping hostages inside them. But that was then and this is now.
A brave transparent idea for a “Freedom Flight” emerged on Twitter, that source of endless trouble and also detailed tracking of troublemakers. This scheme would make a human shield from eminent famous people, volunteers willing to accompany Snowden in the plane to his destination. How many people would it take before the intelligence services did not dare to stop or hit that plane? How much political damage are they willing to accept in pursuit of their vengeance on Snowden? Suppose that bin Laden were in the plane. How many civilian casualties would they accept as collateral damage?
With all my humanity, or what’s left of it in this post human cyber war, I would volunteer to shield Snowden with my own body. And not only would I shield him. I volunteer to do it for the far more anonymous activists whose work and person were attacked by the same forces attacking him.
Because the work of Internet activists on the net has really come to matter, their public image is changing. From obscure hobbyists and flyweight gadflies, they are becoming menaces, traitors, demagogues, populists, sociopaths, geeks and cyber monsters. Even those of transparent sincerity cannot be seen as true activists for the sake of better tomorrow, truth and justice. Today’s human rights activists lack any national superpower willing to back them.
So, they are accused of being fake gurus in search of fame or money. In Italy, the exotic Casaleggio/Grillo Internet campaign is being demonized and persecuted in the remnants of the national press. No coherent argument is offered, except a superstitious fear of genuine political change, a bitter feeling of exclusion from what is, paradoxically, Italy’s most inclusive political platform, since it lacks appointed leaders, fundraisers and a party structure.
I have no wisecrack advise for this new state of matters: from my personal experience as a woman who has survived as many borders as a cat has lives, it’s the anonymous Mexican woman, who never left that airport, who got the point of modernity. She may not be an activist or dissident, but she defied a system through using its own means.
The airplane and the Internet are two globalized spaces above the state systems, where one might jump into free fall. Just tumbling through empty space, entirely visible to everyone, and yet beyond all help. Often, before hitting the ground in a catastrophe like that, one just wakes up — realizing this was not a nightmare, but a revolution.
Friday July 12, 15:00 UTC
Edward Joseph Snowden delivered a statement to human rights organizations and individuals at Sheremetyevo airport at 5pm Moscow time today, Friday 12th July. The meeting lasted 45 minutes. The human rights organizations included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and were given the opportunity afterwards to ask Mr Snowden questions. The Human Rights Watch representative used this opportunity to tell Mr Snowden that on her way to the airport she had received a call from the US Ambassador to Russia, who asked her to relay to Mr Snowden that the US Government does not categorise Mr Snowden as a whistleblower and that he has broken United States law. This further proves the United States Government’s persecution of Mr Snowden and therefore that his right to seek and accept asylum should be upheld. Seated to the left of Mr. Snowden was Sarah Harrison, a legal advisor in this matter from WikiLeaks and to Mr. Snowden’s right, a translator.
Transcript of Edward Joseph Snowden statement, given at 5pm Moscow time on Friday 12th July 2013. (Transcript corrected to delivery)
Hello. My name is Ed Snowden. A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates.
It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law.
I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”
Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.
That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.
Since that time, the government and intelligence services of the United States of America have attempted to make an example of me, a warning to all others who might speak out as I have. I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression. The United States Government has placed me on no-fly lists. It demanded Hong Kong return me outside of the framework of its laws, in direct violation of the principle of non-refoulement – the Law of Nations. It has threatened with sanctions countries who would stand up for my human rights and the UN asylum system. It has even taken the unprecedented step of ordering military allies to ground a Latin American president’s plane in search for a political refugee. These dangerous escalations represent a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America, but to the basic rights shared by every person, every nation, to live free from persecution, and to seek and enjoy asylum.
Yet even in the face of this historically disproportionate aggression, countries around the world have offered support and asylum. These nations, including Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador have my gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful rather than the powerless. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world. It is my intention to travel to each of these countries to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders.
I announce today my formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum I have been extended and all others that may be offered in the future. With, for example, the grant of asylum provided by Venezuela’s President Maduro, my asylee status is now formal, and no state has a basis by which to limit or interfere with my right to enjoy that asylum. As we have seen, however, some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today. This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.
This willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably.
If you have any questions, I will answer what I can.