Latest Articles

Peter Schaar

Privacy as a human right

Edward Snowden and the control of power

The Snowden revelations revealed just how far some states had departed from the guarantees of privacy enshrined in the human and civil rights agreements of the post-war era. The European Union must take the lead in setting enforceable data protection standards internationally, writes Peter Schaar. [ more ]

Beate Roessler

What is there to lose?

Elke Rauth

Smart tales of the city

Volodymyr Sklokin

Turning public

Corina L. Apostol, Dmitry Vilensky

ArtLeaks: From intervention to infrastructure

New Issues


Razpotja | 18 (2014)

Spolnost [Sexuality]

Dérive | 58 (2015)

Urbanes Labor Ruhr [The Ruhr Region as urban laboratory]

Esprit | 2/2015


Frakcija | 68-69 (2014)

Art & Money

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

The right to blaspheme

In "Esprit", a Catholic philosopher defends the right to blaspheme after the Charlie Hebdo attack; "Dérive" visits the unique urban lab that is Germany's post-industrial Ruhr region; "Krytyka" notes the ascendancy of the Russian language in post-Maidan Ukraine; "Frakcija" eavesdrops ArtLeaks' discussion of art and money; "Multitudes" says the art market's rigged; "Letras Libres" celebrates the art of biography; "Mittelweg 36" immerses itself in the world of work; and "Razpotja" says sexualized society leaves much to be desired.

Eurozine Review

Everything is falling down, now

Eurozine Review

Dance mania and diplomatic parleying

Eurozine Review

Massaging the writer's ego

Eurozine Review

The way we let the young into the world

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

The net is tightening

One of the most important and ominous aspects of the NSA scandal is the secretive essence of the system, writes Ilija Trojanow: transparency is clearly the biggest enemy of the alleged guardians of freedom. This much Trojanow now knows from personal experience.

It was 08:36 on Monday 30 September 2013 and I was standing at the check-in counter of American Airlines in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, due to catch flight AA 238 to Miami. From there I was to get the connecting flight number AA 1391 to Denver, Colorado, where I was taking part in a conference of North American scholars of German literature. When the airline employee entered my name she paused for a moment, got up and without explanation disappeared behind a door. Shortly afterwards she returned with a person obviously of higher rank, who informed me in rapid Portuguese and then equally quickly in English that, due to "Border Crossing Security", they were obliged to notify the American authorities immediately upon my arrival at the airport. She asked if she could take my passport in that polite tone of voice that leaves one with no alternative but to say yes, and withdrew.

National Security Operations Center floor in 2012. Source: Wikipedia

After waiting for a few minutes I asked the employee at the check-in counter whether all non-Brazilian nationals had to undergo this special check. The woman answered in the negative. "Your case is special", she said enigmatically. Twenty minutes later – by now I was the sole passenger still at the counter – I asked how often these kinds of checks had to be carried out. "Not often", said the woman bluntly, "about once a month".

No reason, no comment

Shortly afterwards another employee appeared with my passport in hand and told the woman at the counter to take my data. She asked me for a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). I handed here the print-out confirming my ESTA status ("Authorization approved") and the payment of the fee. The woman typed in the application number and then attempted to ascertain my nationality. For the first time I became aware that German passports are only cosmopolitan in the small print on the back page: "Germany", "Allemagne". Our authorities obviously assume that the word "Deutschland" is recognized globally.

Forty-five minutes before departure the microphone crackled, the decision on my case was made known, and the woman told me abruptly and without emotion that my entry into the United States had been denied. No reason given. I was told I should go to the embassy and apply for a visa there. Like other employees of American Airlines, she was poorly informed: there is no American Embassy in Salvador da Bahia and anyway, a visa application like this takes weeks. This wasn't an option, then. Indeed, the advice sounded almost like mockery.

One of the most important and ominous aspects of the NSA scandal is the secretive essence of the system. Transparency is clearly the biggest enemy of the alleged guardians of freedom. The previous year, the American consulate in Munich had initially, during the personal interview, refused to grant a working visa allowing me to take up a guest professorship at the University of Washington. Only after protests from the university and a significant delay was I eventually issued the visa, by which time a good part of the term had been wasted. Then, too, no reasons were provided, no comment, no explanation. Whenever I called, I was told it was being checked, no one knew how long it would take. And no, no information could be given about why I was showing up on the authorities' radar.

Revenge for my protest?

To be sure, my case is neither particularly exceptional nor a one-off incident – I'm just a number in the workings of a gigantic state apparatus with countless such cases to deal with. However that's precisely what's revealing. Over the last few years I've published numerous articles and essays about national and international surveillance structures, as well as a book on the subject, co-authored with Juli Zeh, entitled "Freedom under Attack" (Angriff auf die Freiheit, 2009). I was recently among the initiators of an open letter to Angela Merkel (published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 26 July 2013)[1]; on the 18 September, the 63,000 and more signatures to the letter – to which we never received a reply, I might add – were ceremonially presented to the German government in Berlin by several of the authors involved, drawing considerable media attention. The number of signatures has since risen to 70,000.

At the time I was in Rio de Janeiro, where the critical American journalist Glenn Greenwald, fearing massive intimidation and even arrest in his home country, has chosen to work. One of the first things I saw in Brazil was the remarkable magazine cover of Obama as Terminator ("OBAMACOP"). The first news I was confronted with was a report on "TV Globo" about how the NSA had gained access to business networks, including the Brazilian oil company Petrobrás. In Brazil it was refreshing to be spared the tired rhetoric about the defence of human rights and protection from terrorism and instead to hear some straight talking, both in the media and in conversations: economic espionage, power interests and a rampant secret police. Only a week ago, Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff expressed clear words of warning before the UN general assembly (the only head of state to do so).

It is more than ironic that an author who for years has been speaking out about the dangers of surveillance and the secret state within the state should be denied entry in the "land of the brave and the free". No more than a minor, individual case, to be sure: but it's indicative of the consequences of a disastrous development and it reveals the naivety of the attitude of many citizens who comfort themselves with the mantra, "But it's got nothing to do with me". That might still be the case, however the net is tightening. For these citizens the secret services are still just a rumour, however in the not so distant future the knock on the door will be very real indeed.


Published 2013-10-03

Original in German
Translation by Simon Garnett
First published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 October 2013 (German version); Eurozine (English version)

© Ilija Trojanow
© Eurozine

Focal points     click for more

The politics of privacy
The Snowden leaks and the ensuing NSA scandal made the whole world debate privacy and data protection. Now the discussion has entered a new phase - and it's all about policy. A focal point on the politics of privacy: claiming a European value. [more]

Beyond Fortress Europe
The fate of migrants attempting to enter Fortress Europe has triggered a new European debate on laws, borders and human rights. A focal point featuring reportage alongside articles on policy and memory. With contributions by Fabrizio Gatti, Seyla Benhabib and Alessandro Leogrande. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in focus
Ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in the throes of yet another major struggle. Eurozine provides commentary on events as they unfold and further articles from the archive providing background to the situation in today's Ukraine. [more]

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
Eurozine Gallery: TIME top ten photos of 2014
Massimo Sestini's aerial shot of a boat containing at least 500 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, included in the current exhibition in the Eurozine Gallery, has been named one of the top ten photos of 2014 by TIME magazine. [more]

A master of the daily grind
On Sunday 30 November, Turkish publisher Osman Deniztekin died, just a few weeks after having been diagnosed with leukemia. He was 65. In memoriam. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Dessislava Gavrilova, Jo Glanville et al.
The role of literature houses in protecting the space for free expression
This summer, Time to Talk partner Free Word, London hosted a debate on the role that literature houses play in preserving freedom of expression both in Europe and globally. Should everyone get a place on the podium? Also those representing the political extremes? [more]

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Editor's choice     click for more

Felix Stalder
Digital solidarity
As the culture and institutions of the Gutenberg Galaxy wane, Felix Stalder looks to commons, assemblies, swarms and weak networks as a basis for remaking society in a more inclusive and diverse way. The aim being to expand autonomy and solidarity at the same time. [more]

Literature     click for more

Olga Tokarczuk
A finger pointing at the moon
Our language is our literary destiny, writes Olga Tokarczuk. And "minority" languages provide a special kind of sanctuary too, inaccessible to the rest of the world. But, there again, language is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond itself and starts to create an alternative world. [more]

Piotr Kiezun, Jaroslaw Kuisz
Literary perspectives special: Witold Gombrowicz
The recent publication of the private diary of Witold Gombrowicz provides unparalleled insight into the life of one of Poland's great twentieth-century novelists and dramatists. But this is not literature. Instead: here he is, completely naked. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Law and Border. House Search in Fortress Europe
The 26th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Conversano, 3-6 October 2014
Eurozine's 2014 conference in southern Italy, not far from Lampedusa, addressed both EU refugee and immigration policies and intellectual partnerships across the Mediterranean. Speakers included Italian investigative journalist Fabrizio Gatti and Moroccan feminist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rita El Khayat. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by