Into the Lion's Den, to Save Snowden (27)

Photo: Reuters/Scanpix
6/26/2013 9:20 AM
Category: Opinion

Poor Edward Snowden.

At significant risk to himself, an apparently idealistic and articulate man comes out with revelations that could be seen as straight out of a summer thriller. He suggests that there is a basis for the cynicism that many have come by default to attribute to government. Our worst suspicions - about privacy, the convergence of the large tech companies we now rely on in our everyday lives, the post-9/11 assault on civil liberties - seem confirmed. For Americans in particular, many of whom won’t give out bank details and have the right to shoot you if you enter their private property, these are intrusions that would appear to be a textbook case of Constitutional rights being violated.   

But then what happens?

The young man is branded by a large swath of media consumers as guilty by association. Some allow that whistle-blowers are necessary but add that such people must surely be driven by a limelight-loving, self-aggrandizing side. Or if he is not a self-absorbed type like Assange, then he must be callow and emotionally unstable, like Manning. Others pipe in: he’s a fellow traveler. Surely we will see him any day now schmoozing with Putin, in the style of Assange interviewing Correa or Sean Penn talking to Castro. 

While the Snowden affair has to this point mostly indicated how quickly American soft and hard power is waning, the establishment can take solace in the fact that, if they were to choose such an avenue, it is still ridiculously easy to undermine a man’s reputation by mere fog and smoke, by casually dropped hints. Vague allegations of misconduct or, in the case of Snowden, second-guessing of intentions, can be applied with great ease. 

Give Him the Benefit of the Doubt

I am shocked at how many opinion leaders and people in the greater trans-Atlantic community have taken up this sort of insinuating line, no sooner than the first reports came in that Snowden was at Sheremetyevo Airport in Russia. A man is on the run for his life, has limited options - and yet many choose to use the occasion to grandstand about his alleged choice of transit lounge, just because it happens to be in the territory of a historical enemy.

Is their position really that insecure that they need to remind people continually that Russia scores abysmally on media freedom rankings? I didn’t think so. Yes, Putin takes daily polonium and lead supplements and eats journalists for breakfast. Certainly there is a sizable military buildup under way along Russia’s Western borders, which based on historical evidence, I would suggest either has to be explained convincingly, or stopped – quite soon.   

But is this the precise moment to drum up more minutes of hatred against Russia? Everybody is tired of it, or they should be. We have been hearing since the Yeltsin era that Russia is descending into the inferno, or that it is becoming wrapped in yet another Russian-doll-like nested layer of enigma. And even if Putin did reform by some miracle, we would probably not give him credit. 

The Best Way to Deprive Putin of PR Value Is Proactive

The other thing is that balling one’s fists in futile rage at Putin exploiting a situation for the media isn’t really a very constructive position. If you don’t want Russia to get all the attention, lobby Estonia to do something about it - to offer Snowden asylum, or at least say they are thinking about it.

Some observers have already wistfully remarked on the fact that Estonia starts with the letter E and has a similar-looking outline to that of Ecuador. Instead of giving some caudillo or leftist more face time, couldn’t Estonia be the brain-shaped country that gives electronic freedom activists refuge or at least safe passage?

Estonia would not be in such bad company here, as Iceland is also on the fence as a possible destination for Snowden (though you hear less about this compared to Cuba and Ecuador). And unlike Icelandair, Estonian Air does not fly to the states, so it would not face sanctions. But it does fly to Moscow.

Public opinion would also lean in favor of a freedom activist: Estonia has a healthy libertarian streak, and unlike some countries, where this streak is seated in the crazy-right, in Estonia’s case it is still largely intellegentsia who are building the movement.  

It’s a daydream, of course. Asylum for Snowden here won’t happen. Estonia has long ceased to make surprising and brilliant tactical moves. (Let’s face it, Estonia has ceased to make almost any tactical moves; and it seems fated to shuffle along with the crowd according to a long-range strategy.)

But Snowden is unlikely to be the last such "fugitive,” so it’s food for thought. Taking a stand would be a PR coup (though certainly it would cause unpredictable repercussions). There are also direct benefits: the question of how Estonia and other US allies are affected by the wiretapping allegations remains unresolved. It is not out of the question that if Snowden has information, it would shed more light on what the nature of the relationship is. Ultimately, this is about turning a lose-lose situation around, to at least something a little better, for Snowden, adversaries of Putin, and opponents of big-government snooping. 


The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition
    29.11

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role
    28.11

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced
    28.11

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War
    25.11

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context
    16.11

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together
    14.11

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation
    12.11

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’
    10.11

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation
    07.11

    On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers
    05.11

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?
    03.11

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?
    01.11

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality
    25.10

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics
    21.10

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections
    20.10

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues
    19.10

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper
    18.10

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia
    14.10

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party
    13.10

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact
    11.10

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis
    06.10

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kersti Kaljulaid on the concepts of ethical nationalism and confident Estonians
    29.09

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Estonian representative to the European Court of Auditors Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a patriotic speech on the Postimees Stage at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide in which she expanded on two words and two respective ideas she found important for her country that were represented by the two letter Es in its native-language name Eesti: eetiline (ethical) and enesekindel (confident).

  • foto
    This mess we're in: Picking up the pieces after Saturday's elections
    28.09

    From Saturday’s election fiasco to Tuesday’s sudden emergence of a likely cross-party candidate: ERR News editor Dario Cavegn makes an attempt at explaining Estonia’s seemingly chaotic quest to find its next president.

  • foto
    Opinion: The decline of Estonian as a language of science starts abroad
    20.09

    The Estonian language as a language of science is only sustainable in those subject areas that offer undergraduate courses in Estonian, and with which students begin their university education, finds ERR science portal editor Marju Himma.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Current approach to reform won't help municipalities
    19.09

    The Center Party’s presidential candidate, Mailis Reps, wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees on Sunday that the Administrative Reform Act was a disappointment to Estonia’s municipalities, and that relations between local and central government were in a crisis.

  • foto
    Opinion: Jüri Nikolajev in response to the Ida-Viru secret memo
    16.09

    Describing himself as "wearily spiteful" instead of angry, ERR's Narva correspondent Jüri Nikolajev responded to the top secret memo on Ida-Viru County that leaked recently, calling Estonians to figuratively not leave their property laying around if they did not want anyone else to take it for themselves.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Sulev Vedler on the secret memo on Ida-Viru County
    15.09

    In 2015, the Government Security Committee received a secret memo containing a dark assessment of the future of Ida-Viru County, Estonia's most northeastern and predominantly Russian-speaking county, which was compiled by Ilmar Raag, who worked as a strategic communicatins advisor at the Stenbock House at the time. Estonian journalist Sulev Vedler responded to the memo by compiling various reactions to issues it addressed.

  • foto
    Opinion: Alo Lõhmus on the definition of Estonian citizen by blood
    14.09

    Journalist Alo Lõhmus explored the right to Estonian citizenship by "jus sanguinis," Latin for right of blood, as it relates to one's eligibility to run for president — an issue which has had particular attention drawn to it recently after members of a competing political party attempted to cast doubt on the status of presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand's Estonian citizenship.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming
    13.09

    Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siim Kallas thinks real estate tax effective way to finance local government
    13.09

    The Reform Party’s presidential candidate, Siim Kallas, said in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees that an estate tax, more precisely a tax levied on real estate, could be considered to finance local government.