mandag 12. juli 2010

Monitoring, Sami people and freedom of expression

Ole Henrik Magga is Norway's most respected Sami politician. Did he participate in an illegal blasting of a bridge in Skibotn in Troms in 1975? Did he have a key role in a Sami rebel group that would use illegal means to achieve their goals?
The Norwegian Police Surveillance Agency, POT, believed so and created a file on him. Many Sami were arrested by the police after the bridge was destroyed, yet, it later appeared that the bridge simply may have been taken by the spring flood. Perhaps there never actually was a sabotage…

Five years later Magga earned a lot of trust (by both the mainstream society as well as other Sami) for his handling of the conflict around the development of the Alta-Kautokeino watercourse. Hunger strikes and civil disobedience actions were taking a hold. Distrust between mainstream society and the country's indigenous population was almost complete. The suspected bridge-blaster became the bridge-builder who subdued conflict and initiated constructive talks between the parties.

Ten years ago the Norwegian Parliament decided that people who thought they had been monitored and had a file, could apply for seeing it. If the police had used illegals methods to obtain information in their work, f.ex. phonetapping or mailcontroll, people could get a symbolic compensation.
I was one of three people who decided about c ompensation, and therefore I hade seen 4-5000 files.

One must be careful to review old events through the lenses of hindsight. But Magga's file illustrates one of the things that struck me most during my eight years in the Access Reviewing Committee on Norwegian Police Security: The police’s methods were extremely amateur. In many cases there was general suspicion of groups left of the Labour Party thus leading to registration of many groups.

Ole Henrik Magga’s only task when the registration began was being the chairman of the Sami language council. Thus, the police obtained information from ordinary meetings about Sami language issues.

Journalist Johs. Kalvemo of the Sami radio discovered that the POT had thorough information about what he had done professionally from 1977 to 1992, reports from private home visits and general information on his views as a Sami.

In 1977, the art student Synnøve Persen drew a draft of a Sami flag. The POT found that so suspicious that they created a file on her.

I could have mentioned mange examples, but I choose only those who are known from the public room. According to the Sami Parliament the content of some files confirms that there has been an ethnic monitoring of the Sami population. The committee did not have any material that could either confirm or deny this.
So were also other organizations like the peacemovement Sami organizations and representatives were actively monitored for many decades.
So were also other organizations like the peacemovement, and people mand groups to the left of the labour party.

POT probably thought it was important to follow what they ment was an attempt to create a separate Sami state and thus, in their minds, undermining the norwegian national state. This was probably a reaction to the majority of the population's national ideology of conformity and thus casted suspicion on those who were and felt different. As late as just recently it has been alleged that there are "some Sami" working to create a separate Sami State.
When Sami work to promote their own interests, it is easy to dismiss this with claims that what they really want to achieve is a separate nation state.

I mentioned Synnøve Persen, and with her I will draw a line to the issue of free speech. Maria and I sat together in The Freedom of Speech Commission from 1997-1999.

Synnøve Persen is, like Maria, an artist: In 1979, the POT registered that she was a member of a Sami Artist Group in Masi, which was accused of doing "extreme political activities."
The Masi-group was founded on ideas and trends from the Norwegian art environment in general in the 70's. Synnøve Persen and others challenged the boundaries of the freedom of speech. Opposition against the Vietnam War, Nixon and political repression was the theme of artistic production and exhibitions. And that's something I consider to be one of the most important tasks of art: to be the standard-bearer for freedom of expression.

Parts of the surveillance material that ended up in the POT files were about clear violations of freedom of expression, about registrations of expressions they considered dangerous, violations of the freedom to express popular political opinions, the freedom to be concerned and work for Sami character and culture.

For minorities, it is essential to reach out to a broad spectrum of people with information and their vision. It is equally important to develop their own public life in their own language. The Alta affair is a classic example of how information about actual conditions in the past and present led to a process that affected large parts of society and changed a minority’s status and their conditions. Without the media's disclosure this had not happened. The pressure that the media represented came from both the domestic public opinion and from other countries. The desire for fairer treatment of the Sami combined with the threat that the country's reputation would be diminished within a field in which Norway claimed to have an international prestige to protect, was very effective.

When the material conditions for using freedom of speech exist, minorities achieve a great deal. Freedom of expression and the ability to appeal to the public and its common sense is the best protection against abuse. The Alta affair also demonstrates how the international public can work in an area like minority protection.

Section 110 a in the Norwegian Constitution, obliges the government to facilitate in such a way so that the Sami ethnic group can secure and develop their language, their culture and their way of life. It is important to see this passage in the context of the new section 100, where the Commission added a part of the state’s responsibility to facilitate an open and informed dialogue. This is a requirement that the state is to actively contribute so that individuals and groups have an actual opportunity for expression. The government’s task is expanded from passive and refrained intervention to an active facilitation so that citizens’ freedom of expression is possible. The Infrastructure-requirement entails an obligation to facilitate the channels and institutions for an open and informed public debate. In short, an overall government responsibility for the construction of a public space.

The Commission had three main justifications for free speech: increase accuracy, democracy and the individual’s free opinion. We were concerned that the processes had to be strengthened through positive means if it could be established that one or more of the processes did not work as intended. Rather than simply prohibiting verbal attacks on the positions, actions and attitudes, it is more effective to create conditions to ensure that the affected can answer - and reach the same general public - with their version of reality.

Steps have been taken in the right direction when it comes to the minorities’ freedom of speech. One has an infrastructure-commitment, but it needs more material support for both developing the local public and to inform and to communicate with and within the wider public. If there is any area where prejudice must be driven out of the honest quest for the truth in accordance with the central argument for freedom of expression, it is precisely the area of creating a well-functioning multicultural society.

Conditions for freedom of expression are ultimately dependent on political will to protect this freedom. But this dependAnd precisely today’s wedding couple, Maria and Magne Ove, have better backgrounds and abilities than almost anyone else I know to carry this work forward. Congratulations - good luck with a meaningful future.
(A lesson in connection with the wedding of Maria Fuglevaag Warsinski and Magne Ove Varsi in Polmak, county of Finnmark 10.July 2010)


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