Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Right Livelihood

Edward Snowden appearing yesterday by video before
Swedish Parliament
After commenting on the award of the Geschwister Scholl Prize for 2014 to Glenn Greenwald yesterday, I sat back, waiting for the American press to pick up the event.  I was bracing for the commentary that I was convinced would follow.

As the day went on, I realized something quite strange was happening.  Recognition of Greenwald’s accomplishments as a journalist, a major news story in Germany, is not even on the American radar.  Nor, actually – to be fair to the American press – does it register all that much elsewhere.

In Germany, the event was covered in every place I thought to look.  Virtually all the newspapers, online news agencies, television news.  Since it is the story of an award by Germany’s Publishers and Booksellers, you might say I should not be surprised that it's being treated as something for the local Munich press.   In Holland, one of the few other countries that picked up the award story, it was reported by two papers, one placing it under “Entertainment – Books”, the other under the rubric of “Culture.”

At least it appeared in the Dutch press, and the Russian press (see below).  And the Brazilian press.  Try to find the story in the Toronto Star, or the Corriere della Sera in Milan, or Le Monde in Paris.  It’s not there.  

For me the Glenn Greenwald/Edward Snowden story is one of the top stories of the year.  It is possible that Snowden will have a greater impact on how we deal with the struggle between civil and human rights on the one hand and the need for security and the government’s need to police the population, on the other, than any other single event, maybe ever.  It blows my mind, frankly, that Greenwald is being recognized in Germany for his stunning bit of investigative journalism, whether you agree with his slant or not, and the American and other European and Asian media have not considered it noteworthy.

I assumed there for a while that I might be placing too much stock in the Google and Yahoo search engines.  But I went to the newspapers available on line and found no mention of the event, so I doubt I’m that far off base. Type in Geschwister Scholl Prize in the New York Times search engine and you get a story about the award being given to Victor Klemperer posthumously in 1995.  The same is true for "Greenwald Munich" or any other combination I can think of that would lead to the Geschwister Scholl award story.

I decided to go back and try again, this time not with Google News but with Google Search.  Sure enough, one English language source popped up this time – from Nigeria, of all places: And this time, unlike the Dutch press, which covered it under entertainment or culture, the Nigerians recognized it as a political story and put it under “Foreign News.”    

The Nigerians lifted it verbatim from the Deutsche Welle,  right down to the last detail:

Previous recipients of the prize include Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, former East German civil rights activist and current German President Joachim Gauck, controversial Israeli author David Grossman and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who received the award posthumously in 2007.

Which is fine.  What's bugging me is not that non-German sources cite Deutsche Welle.  Obviously, the story would have to originate from a German source.   What’s bugging me is that if Nigeria can post the Deutsche Welle-based news item, why can’t the French, the Poles, the Canadians and the Japanese?  Why can't the Americans?

Try it yourself.  Type in “Geschwister Scholl” plus the word prize in any language you can think of.  Don’t worry about the word order, since Google doesn’t.  Prix, in French; premio, in Spanish, Portuguese or Italian; præmie, in Danish; premien, in Norwegian; pris, in Swedish; díj, in Hungarian; verðlaun, in Icelandic; palkinto, in Finnish; nagroda, in Polish; جائزة , in Arabic, or הפרס , in Hebrew.

I tried all these possibilities myself.  The Dutch sites included one digital website, and one from Eindhoven.  Interestingly, both items are from October 1 when it was first announced the prize would be awarded to Greenwald.  There is nothing from the actual event yesterday.  

The Russian site which showed up, Литературная премия имени Софи и Ганса Шолль (Sophie and Hans Scholl prize for Literature in Russian) points you to an online source which gives you an objective account of the event and makes note of the fact that the award went posthumously in 2007 to the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  No Place to Hide, by the way, in its Russian version is: Негде спрятаться. Эдвард Сноуден и зоркий глаз Дядюшки Сэма (Negde spryatat’sya.  Edvard Snouden i zorkii glaz Dyadyushki Sema), which translates to No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden and the keen eye of Uncle Sam.

What is one to make of such extensive coverage in Germany, on the one hand, and such sparse coverage in the rest of the world, on the other?   Can it be that it is really being processed, as the Dutch seemed to, as nothing more than a book prize?  Do people really not understand the political importance of the Snowden story?

Maybe I should be asking not why nobody is paying attention outside of Germany, but why Germans are paying so much attention.  Der Spiegel had an article yesterday claiming that Angela Merkel’s intelligence coordinator, Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, is fed up with the Americans.
It's the last straw, Fritsche told the gathered lawmakers with a steely voice and dark expression. Because of the ongoing betrayal of official secrets, Fritsche said, the German government will be filing a criminal complaint. The situation in which classified information has repeatedly found its way into the public domain cannot be allowed to continue, he added.
Apparently he’s not alone.  Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, was also speaking to the Bundestag recently about the possibility of charging the NSA with criminality.

Interestingly, in an interview about the award, Greenwald, apparently unconcerned about the risk of biting the hand that feeds him, charged the German government with cowardice in not granting Snowden asylum.  You’re just too “unterwürfig”  to the Americans, he told them. (He was speaking English, so I assume he said "subservient" - but I love this picturesque word - literally, you "throw yourself under (somebody)" in German.) 

You’ve got to love these two guys.  Snowden gets taken in by the Russians and turns around and quizzes Putin’s human rights record.  Greenwald is recognized by the Germans and virtually no one else, and in the award interview he scolds them for their subservience.  It’s clear the term courageous applies to both of these men.  It's also true, I think, the answer to my question is obvious.  Greenwald has the ability we all should have to distinguish between a people and a government currently in power.

But, getting back to the question of whether I am wrong about the impact of the Snowden story and Glen Greenwald’s part in it, if I had any real doubts, they would be assuaged by another event that happened in Stockholm, almost simultaneously with what was going on in Munich. The Swedish Parliament presented Edward Snowden yesterday with the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Snowden received the award “for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.”

Not too shabby.  Snowden appeared before the assembly by video and received several standing ovations.  RT carried Snowden’s speech in its entirety.  You can get it there or on the Daily Kos site.
And this story, at least, was carried by the American press.

Laura Poitras lives in Berlin; Glen Greenwald lives in Rio; and Snowden lives in Moscow, shopping for a new home.  Both the Swedes and the Germans have Snowden supporters trying to persuade their governments to take him in.   None of these three courageous Americans feels they can live here anymore.  Not surprising, when John Kerry, once a voice of opposition to the Vietnam War, but today a member in good standing of the American war machine, has branded Snowden a “traitor.”

The Swedes and the Germans see it differently.

photo credit 

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