Sunday, December 05, 2010

On Citizenship, Rights and Duties

Since there seems to exist an interest in reading my Swedish blogpost on Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Swedish government secrecy, I shall make an attempt to translate it into English. Here it goes:

Tonight Dokument Inifrån (Document from the Inside) was broadcasted on Swedish public service television revealing how evidence has been found in the latest Cablegate Wikileaks documents that the Swedish government were aware that the US government had been monitoring Swedish citizens and even encouraged it to facilitate the mapping of terrorist activity. Meanwhile, Julian Assange's native country is considering cancelling his passport. All these issues lead to uncomfortable questions about citizenship, its duties and the rights of citizens.

Where do you draw the line? Citizenship obviously comes with rights, something which is focused upon a lot in liberal democracies. We have human rights, legal rights, social rights, economic rights - all kinds of rights. Rights are important in a democracy. A democracy is based on its citizens, its participants, and if citizens do not have the means to participate in a democracy it cannot be sustained. But what about the duties?

There is an obvious obligation connected to citizenship. The relation within a democracy is a give and take one, not a unilateral form of decision making from either side. That is why there is an inherent duty to participate in a democracy after one's ability, as well as to contribute to society (often, in modern societies, this is in the form of taxes). Through meeting certain criteria, the state will reciprocate through giving citizens rights. The state ensures that the citizens have the means to contribute to society, that they can participate in the democracy. It lies in the interest of a democracy that its citizens participate, because without participation it will not be a democracy.

These rights to participation are relatively new when it comes to citizenship. When the theories were first formed, democracy was not, at least not in the form it is today, as certain. Instead the focus lay on the state's obligation to protect the citizen. Political philosophers such as Hobbes viewed this as a fair trade; give up some of your liberty and the state will guarantee to protect you against external threats. This is where the confusion lies in today's discussions. Instead, the chosen focus is on the obligations the citizens have to the state and what is offered are the new forms of rights. Citizens' most fundamental right, protection, is ignored.

The Swedish government's decision to let USA monitor citizens on Swedish soil smells of the old Moderates and of Beatrice Ask, our Minister of Justice, giving witness of an all too hard line with regards to crime in a society where Svensson and his friends will constantly throw a look over the shoulder in fear of the police state. The argument follows as such, that is, evidently, is better for non-criminals to live in a society as free of crime as possible. That is why hard measures are required to ensure that criminals will not be allowed to walk the street. There has been talk of purple envelopes being sent to accused (not sentenced) rapists, and not too long ago the definition of child pornography was widened to the extent where a man was sentenced for the possession of manga pictures of naked women/girls of a questionable age. It is a line that has been driven too far, and has begun to focus more on citizen obligations than their rights. This is exactly what has also happened in this case when the government knew about what was happening within the country borders and allowed their citizens to be monitored by a foreign power.

US has, the documents tell us, monitored Swedish citizens in the vicinity of their embassy in Stockholm with the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks. At least this is the reason being given. Beatrice Ask and the government have the entire time denied any knowledge of this, but as Dokument Inifrån has shown tonight, it seems that they have. This was probably justified, according to those who support this type of activity, since counter-terrorist measures will be to the benefit of us all. Certainly is this so, but are there any particular reasons why the US wanted to monitor Swedish citizens? Is there a reason to why they view the Swedish people as such a big threat that we need monitoring? That terrorism can be found anywhere is not an acceptable reason for our government to allow a foreign power to spy on us. Or government's duty is to protect us, not hang us out to dry. What is more, the reason being given for not disclosing this information to the Swedish people is that both the foreign ministry and the ministry of justice was aware that the political climate in Sweden was one against more monitoring. On what ground did they then, as popularly elected persons, believe themselves to have the mandate to sanction this?

Moving on to Assange. Apparently his native country sees his high position within Wikileaks as a justifiable reason to leave him over to a foreign power and deprive him from the documentation that can actually prove his existence. This is happening without a debate on whether he, through democratic grounds, has actually done mankind, including Australian citizens, a favour through highlighting certain international issues that have henceforth kept hidden to the very same people that elect people to govern on issues they obviously do not know their position on, or how they would act when presented with them. Instead Australia runs to USA like a good lapdog with the stick hanging out of the mouth. Where are Assange's rights, and where is the obligation of his home country to at least hold a serious discussion on the issue? (A fundamental obligation of the citizen toward the state is of course to adhere to the laws, and the state's right to punish a citizen who doesn't.) Should Assange not at least be tried within the Australian judiciary without the influence of America, which already has stated its position on this matter?

Assange said in an interview a couple of days ago that he had started to seriously consider what citizenship means. I can't help but wonder the same thing.

It seems that today (December 6th, 2010) the Australian government has issued a statement allowing Assange to travel home to Australia or to receive advise abroad, "just as any Australian citizen." Let's hope the Australian government does away with the blatant bias as well.

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