Leading European and US media publications have implied that there was especially one really relevant topic over the last few weeks: The NSA affair around the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The developments concerning this issue have been rapid. It has become not only an issue leading politicians are dealing with but also the public of the affected countries are. I tend to say that meanwhile the national public in Germany has formed its own point of view concerning Mr. Snowdens recent revelations and the current efforts to bring him to Germany in order to question him.
Not only did I follow the news coverage of DER SPIEGEL, DIE ZEIT, NEW YORK TIMES, THE GUARDIAN and FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG, but I also observed the sheer amount of reader comments posted below each of the articles. They cannot stand for a general opinion, but I found that some of those comments expressed either rational or disappointing and frightening thoughts, however.
Over the last days I tried to wrap up what I have read so far in order to continuously develop a more or less differentiated picture for myself.
Although probably only an individual opinion one of the most striking comments on this topic was the following one, posted below the article „As It Denounces U.S. Spying, Europe Delays Privacy Protection at Home“, published on the 29th of October on nytimes.com:
„As far as I am concerned, the Germans have been on probation since 1945 and will continue on probation as long as their country exists. Shame on us if we ever again fail to carefully monitor the activities of the German government.“ (Julia Gershon)
I quoted this comment since I entirely felt speechless after reading it. Fortunately one day later I found an answer on this comment stating that „holding individuals of an entire nation personally responsible for its history is beyond the pale.“ (M. Stommel). True that, no further comment necessary.
Well, what else? I have read comments about whether or not it is rational or necessary to observe the leaders of friendly nations as it is or was the case with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Furthermore some commentators expressed their fears on what would happen to the German-American partnership if the government continued to explore all the alleged espionage activities revealed by Edward Snowden and whether a further deterioration of our relation to the US could have some threatening disadvantages for our country.
In fact the words „partnership“ or „friendship“ were mentioned quite often in the media driven public discussion on the eavesdropping on Merkel. Both terms, partnership and friendship, usually assume a profound implication: Trust.
I have always appreciated the strong bond between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. Being a historically interested person I am well aware of the support and efforts of the United States concerning the young, post-war German state without which it would have been impossible or at least much harder to get where our multicultural, democratic and economically successful nation is standing today. But does this support justify spying on our head of government and the general German public? Certainly not. The anger and powerlessness of German authorities and the German public in view of Mr. Snowden’s revelations are more than understandable. I even dare to say they are entitled.
The question is: How trustworthy are we, the Germans, perceived by the US government and vice versa how trustworthy is a partner or friend who is spying on oneself? What have we done to deserve such a humiliating breach of confidence. And exactly this it is. Spying on one nation’s head of government and on the nation’s citizens does imply a general suspicion, in this case of terrorism or anti-American behavior. There is no use in putting lipstick on the pig.
Germany is a sovereign democratic state. Of course with its own interests that, however, are followed in general cautiously and with regard of other nations needs and entitled requirements. Germany does know its responsibilities and takes them seriously. However, it is not yet clear, which role our own secret service, the FIS (Federal Intelligence Service), has played in this apparently endless game of spying.
Which brings me back to the term „trust“. I cannot speak for the citizens of other nations that have been spied on by the National Security Agency nor can I speak for anyone else but myself but as a German citizen I refuse to be put under general suspicion as well as I refuse our nation to be put under such most inappropriate consideration.
What weighs higher
The German-American bond has to be valued, no question. But it cannot be weighed higher than our freedom, laws and civil rights. The NSA affair is a matter of diplomacy and foreign policy. It has to be resolved and since our government is obligated to protect our rights it would be highly unacceptable if our politicians refrain from exploring the matter at hand only to keep the relations with the United States in order. They are not at the moment and they will not be until this unspeakable issue has been settled entirely.
I do not say this is going to be easy. But: For decades the United States have claimed to be the defenders of freedom, democracy and civil rights. In order to honor these high values it would be only right for the US government to clear things up and stop spying on friendly nations. The NSA made a mistake. Whether or not controlled by the government is not important in the first place. It has to end. It has to be admitted. And courage is needed to take the necessary steps.
I do not want to lead a discussion on whether Mr. Snowden is a hero or not. But his revelations made an important point. I agree with the opinion that, at least in the light of the current developments, he will not be safe in Germany if the committee of inquiry decides that it is indispensable to question him on German soil.
Well, eventually I hope we will be able to solve all this mess. And that trust and a balanced partnership of equals can be restored. Sometimes an apology can be very salutary. At least it would be a good start. Unlike denial and transparent quibbling.