”First they came for Assange…”

First they came for Assange

First they came for Assange

The anniversary of Julian Assange’s four years of arbitrary detainment at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London 19.6.2016, Brussels

A conference with Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek minister of finance, Srecko Horvat, Croatian philosopher, Julian Assange (from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London) and many others, on the importance of whistleblowers, transparency and democracy.

 “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

An anti-communist and former Hitler supporter wrote this poem in a Nazi concentration camp. The sobering tone and message of the poem does not fail to hit the nail on the head today.

Varoufakis’ democracy deficit in the EU

Yanis Varoufakis was in the media limelight last summer when he organised the referendum in Greece and partook in lengthy negotiations with the member states of the European Union. He was very critical of the European Union and its lack of transparency and democracy – giving a couple hands-on examples.

In the European Commission and Council meetings are never recorded or published. Varoufakis expressed during these negotiations of the summer of 2015 one wish – that the meetings be streamed on the internet. He was met by strong opposition, called irresponsible and accused of feeding the ultra-nationalist right. As he summarised – in Europe if you tell the truth, you will be accused of contributing towards the rise of the enemies of democracy. Assange has equally been accused of promoting the rise of ISIS and other terror organisations. Reality is a bit more complicated, but the accusations thrown at these men are uncalled for. The people in power, or on the inside, will do go to lengths to keep the information on the inside.

Insiders vs. Outsiders – the haves and have-nots of information

The increasingly polarised cleavage between insiders and outsiders was highlighted by Varoufakis as a defining factor of how our world works. The world is ruled by the insiders. There are complex unwritten rules defining how insiders and outsiders should act. If you choose to stay on the outside, you will be free to criticise, but you will also not receive information – a manifestation of power.

However, if you choose to be accepted to the inside, you will get information in exchange for two conditions – you will not tell outsiders the truth and you will not turn against fellow insiders. Politicians have faced this choice since the dawn of large-scale democracy. In the search for a more democratic Europe, Varoufakis and Horvat have together established the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, with the long-term goal of more transparency in the European institutions.

Julian Assange challenged this established structure of have and have-nots of information. Assange got “inside” by the use of technology, rather than the traditional path. Having taken an alternative route to the “inside” he was free to do what he pleased with the information and was not tied down by the obligation of keeping quiet, as other “insiders” are. Both Horvat and Varoufakis made claims based on Marxist theory, that there is no possible exit from this system – the only option left is to get inside, which is done be hacking the system.

Superpower of the accused

Understanding people’s true characters can be difficult – however Julian Assange introduced the “superpower of the accused”. The power of the accused reveals the true character of others because the accused can in a sense, stand outside the system. The power of the accused also gives power to the name of the accused.

The name Julian Assange has power. As long as his as well as many of his peers’ names are on our lips, their influence remains relevant. As Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher stated: Julian Assange lives through us – we must keep mentioning his name, because the moment he falls into general oblivion, the power of the name and his actions are lost.

Politics of Friendship

The event organised greetings and words of encouragement from a range of people, from the world over. There was one underlying current – the importance of friendship. Horvat stressed politics of friendship as deconstructed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

While other speakers spoke in more tangible terms – it is a fight of Biblical dimensions. The systems represented Goliath and the outsiders and truth-speakers are David. Strength lies in our numbers and our ability to stay united. Horvat goes as far as to say that radical internationalism is the only way to oppose the system and this should be done through the politics of friendship. Varoufakis similarly questions why Europe is succumbing to centrifugal forces in times of crisis. Brexit being a prime example, where unity is needed more than ever.

Some criticism

The event which celebrated transparency, the rights of whistleblowers and democracy was not flawless.  The Swedish system was criticized by Assange’s lawyer, a system that is regularly praised for its justice and transparency. The Swedish state wants Assange because he has been accused of two cases of rape.

For someone who is a strong believer in telling the truth, it seems bizarre that Assange has no interest in telling the truth in court, if he is innocent, as he claims. As is most common, the average person does not have enough information and is coerced into making a poorly informed decision, in the case, on the morality of a person.

There was a lack of diversity in the background of the speakers, many of them identifying as Marxist. This gave the event a political agenda. The debate was reduced to a debate on Varoufakis’ and Horvat’s political convictions as opposed to transparency and the importance of whistleblowers in revealing crimes and corruption when the floor was opened for questions from the public. However, the message of the event remained clear.

If you oppose the political or financial powers you may one day become a target. Unless you speak up for the ones targeted now.

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