I have always professed a deep admiration for George Orwell. When I read Homage to Catalonia in the 1960s, I found an author whose firm commitment to the just cause of the Republic in our Civil War was not incompatible with strict respect for the truth. He denounced the hounding and elimination of the POUM by the Stalinists, and the anarchy that reigned on the side of the defenders of legality. Years later a copy of 1984 came into my hands, with its premonitory vision of Big Brother. In the name of a programmed future happiness, the Party arrogated to itself an absolute control of citizens' lives, subjecting the whole of society to a system of constant surveillance: a bad dream, which the runaway development of the new technologies has turned into a silent, invisible reality.
I mention Orwell’s sinister Utopia here in connection with the global scandal caused by the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst, after his flight from the United States in May with what some voices called his “spoils of war.” The epithet of traitor applied to him may have some foundation in the fact that these “spoils” could be turned over to his country’s strategic enemies, though his landing in Moscow was a product of circumstances, not of personal choice. According to some leaks to the press, the analyst’s aim was to find asylum in some part of Latin America, in default of a better European option, and the farcical episode of Evo Morales’ plane, which was forced to land in Vienna as a result of the closure of European Union airspace under US pressure (a less-than-glorious incident for the countries that lent themselves to it, including Spain) suggests that this information was true.
The trickle of revelations in recent weeks indicate that the interception of data from worldwide fiber optic networks, brought to light by Snowden, concern not so much the strategic enemies of Washington such as Russia, China and Iran (which would be perfectly predictable as part of the normal order of things, since they do it too, and cyber-attacks on the United States prove it), but also friendly countries (Brazil and Mexico) and even faithful allies in the new world order produced by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the asymmetrical war on terror after the Twin Towers attacks. While the exchange of information between Western intelligence services on the threat represented by the nebulous Al Qaeda understandably addresses a challenge of an existential nature, how to justify the massive trawling of hundreds of millions of phone calls, text messages and emails in countries such as Germany, France and Spain, and the tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone?
The love of truth must prevail over patriotic feelings
The Obama administration’s confused explanations do little to shift the issue out of the realms of the bad and even worse. If the president was au courant, it is, at the very least, surprising; if he was not, the serious lack of control of the NSA shows it to be above the state and the law, violating the fundamental principles of the Constitution.
The expressions of annoyance and outrage from European leaders (cutting in the case of the German, more a show for the gallery in that of François Hollande and Spain’s Rajoy), as well as the indignation of the European Parliament (which went so far as to propose a suspension of the exchange of banking data with the US), show that Snowden’s message — that is, the massive violation of individual rights — was heard loud and clear, but neither the parliamentarians nor the EU politicians have expressed any gratitude to the messenger. To denounce the abuses of the NSA — and we are looking at a flagrant case of abuse — does not constitute a crime from the ethical point of view, and Snowden is not a criminal, however much Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Brussels look the other way and disregard his fate. The love of truth must prevail over patriotic feelings and duties. In moral terms the ex-analyst’s action is irreproachable, and even admirable, given the idealistic motives of his undertaking.
It is truly shameful that the man who has blown the whistle on so massive a violation of rights, within societies that pride themselves on being democratic, is forced to seek asylum in an authoritarian regime such as that of Putin (the man who so bloodily repressed the Chechen rebels, and covered for his viceroy Ramzan Kadyrov after the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya), giving him a chance to parade as a defender of rights and liberties.
What do the defenders of just causes have to say about this outrage? With the exception of the German Green Party deputy who interviewed Snowden in Moscow and announced his request to give testimony in Germany’s parliament and receive asylum in that country, no European parliamentarian or politician has had anything to say. Such silence can hardly surprise us on the part of Rajoy’s party, but what about the parties of the Spanish left – the United Left, and the main opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which is Spanish enough, but has little to do with Socialism and even less with workers? Its discretion on this matter confirms the growing distance between it and a society hard hit by the crisis and, what is worse, from the principles it was initially based on, which are its reason for being.
The Asylum for Snowden! headline in Der Spiegel fortunately indicates a groundswell in public opinion in favor of so just a demand. Those who look at things without prejudice, and who are revolted by the spying of Big Brother prophesied by Orwell on the part both of dictatorships and of authoritarian regimes like the technocracies of the West, must now speak up and make the German weekly’s demand their own.
Juan Goytisolo is a writer.