Here’s to you, Julian Assange!

“This is the message we all must deliver to those who held [Assange]: if you kill a man, you create a myth which will continue to mobilize thousands.”

There is an old joke, from the time of the World War I, about the exchange of telegrams between the German army headquarter and the Austrian-Hungarian one: from Berlin to Vienna, the message is “The situation on our part of the front is serious, but not catastrophic,” and the reply from Vienna is: “With us, the situation is catastrophic, but not serious.”

The reply from Vienna seems to offer a model for how we tend to react to crises today, from Covid-19 pandemic to forest fires (not only) in the West of the US: yeah, we know a catastrophe is pending, media warn us all the time, but somehow we are not ready to take the situation quite seriously… 

A similar case is dragging on for years: the fate of Julian Assange.

It’s a legal and moral catastrophe — just recall how he is treated in prison, unable to see his children and their mother, unable to communicate regularly with his lawyers, a victim of psychological torture so that his survival itself is under threat. They are for certain killing him softly, as the song goes. But very few seem to take his situation seriously, with an awareness that our own fate is at stake in his case.

The forces which violate his rights are the forces which prevent the effective battle against global warming and the pandemic. They are the forces because of which the pandemic makes the rich even richer and hits the hardest the poor. They are the forces which ruthlessly exploit the pandemic to assert their control over our social and digital space, regulating and censoring it at our expense — the forces which protect us, but also from our own freedom.

Assange fought for the public transparency of the digital space, and there is a cruel irony in the fact that the pandemic is used as a pretext to isolate him from his family and his defense. We are always ready to protest the limitation of basic human freedoms imposed on Hong Kong by China — should we not turn the gaze back on ourselves? Today one should remember Max Horkheimer’s old saying from late 1930s: “Those who don’t want to talk critically about capitalism should also keep silent about Fascism.” Our version is: those who don’t want to talk about the injustice done to Assange should also keep silent about the violation of human rights in Hong Kong and Belarus.

Assange’s well-planned and well-executed character assassination is one of the reasons why his defense never grew into a wide movement like Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion.

Now that Assange’s very survival is at stake, only such a movement can (perhaps) save him. Remember the lyrics (written by Joan Baez to Ennio Morricone’s music) of “Here’s to you,” the title song of the movie Sacco and Vanzetti:

“Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart / Rest forever here in our hearts / The last and final moment is yours / That agony is your triumph.”

There were mass gatherings all around the world in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti — and the same is needed now in defense of Assange, although in a different form. Assange cannot die — even if he dies (or disappears in a US prison cell like a living dead), that agony will be his triumph, he will die in order to live in all of us. This is the message we all must deliver to those who held him: if you kill a man, you create a myth which will continue to mobilize thousands.

The message to us of those who are after Assange is clear: everything is permitted (to us). Why only to them? What they are doing to Assange is radically changing the political weather, so perhaps we need new Weathermen.

Photo: drawing of Julian Assange by Daniel Fooks. 

Photo Source: Daniel Fooks on Twitter.

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