Airport as a Homeland: Snowden
Writer Jasmina Tesanovic lost her homeland in The Yugoslav Wars, and says she can relate to the statelessness of Edward Snowden, who is seeking asylum while waiting in a no-mans-land at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
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 lines to get visas. In the great airports of the world, 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 become 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 my daughter's age. What he did belongs to the new era of fighting for truth and justice. We hit the streets, went door to door to campaign with paper leaflets. Now, secret documents flow on the internet to raise awareness of timeless political issues. Recently, voters have changed the profile of the 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 Ecuadorean embassy. One has to admit 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 the 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.
(Photo: Airport, a stock image by hiroshitoyoda, via Shutterstock.)
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