Political dissidence in the who gives a damn times – The story of Niels Harrit

by Vladan Cukvas

Slavoj Žižek once wrote a book titled “Living in the end times”. Although the title of this essay echoes some of the things Žižek identified as end times the essay is not about Žižek or about any of his books. I want to write about political dissidence and about the case of Niels Harrit, which serves illustrative purpose in this regard. The “who gives a damn” times is the setting in which the case of his political dissidence is placed. This setting may be said to be a part of our coming to an end and a few words ought to be said about it.

 Political Dissidence

Despite standard definition of the term, the lists of dissidents provided by various sources suggest that the term is elastic enough to embrace different forms of dissent and different fates many dissidents had suffered throughout the history. One thing all these dissent forms and actual dissidents have in common is that the views they defend are not only in opposition to those held by the authorities, but their views, which are typically political ideas, were perceived by those in power as dangerous and potentially disruptive. However, for the past three decades or so, in the time described by many as post-ideological and perhaps even post-political, typical dissidents became the insiders who simply talk openly about government’s secrets. They became known as whistleblowers. A typical whistleblower is a former government employee, with access to classified documents, who at one moment in her life decided to quit doing the job which she no longer believes could be defended on moral grounds and is not afraid to disclose the government’s dirty little secrets. Edward Snowden is perhaps the most famous whistleblower today and the one whose defection wasn’t a matter of espionage, but a matter of personal and moral convictions. Continue reading