Snowden: A Reluctant Celebrity
Peace, Democracy and Law, 16/09/2016
By Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director, Right Livelihood Award Foundation
When Oliver Stone’s film Snowden hits the screens today, its protagonist – US whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – will not be rubbing shoulders with Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet. Instead, he will likely be sitting alone somewhere in Moscow, communicating with the rest of the world through a video camera and a Twitter account.
Since Snowden received the Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, for his courageous revelations in 2014, he has amassed numerous other accolades and has even been tipped as a favorite to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Such international recognition has no doubt ruffled many feathers – not only in the United States, but also here in Europe. At the same time, we have seen some promising developments on both sides of the Atlantic in recent months.
Earlier this year, former US Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that Snowden performed “a public service” – a huge change of opinion from someone who was once his fierce critic.
And last October, the European Parliament called on EU member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender”.
But still, to date, Snowden is forced into exile in Moscow, because no western European government is prepared to give him these guarantees. It is the ambition of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation that he should be able to come to Sweden freely and safely to receive his award.
What struck me from my very first meeting with Edward Snowden, just a few days after the award ceremony in the Swedish Parliament he had addressed via video link, is his insistence that “It’s not about me, it’s about the story”.
And yet he became the story. But instead of fame and fortune that celebrities ostensibly aspire for, Snowden craves fairness in the treatment of his case and freedom to travel outside of Russia – both of which appear elusive thus far.
Today, we have a window of opportunity before President Obama – himself a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – leaves office. The world’s leading human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union are petitioning President Obama to grant Snowden a presidential pardon, and Stone’s film will hopefully help shift US public opinion.
And Sweden, the home of the Right Livelihood Award, has long prided itself on being the world’s conscience. It can demonstrate it right now by opening its doors to Edward Snowden.
The Right Livelihood Award is presented annually in Stockholm to courageous people and organisations offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems. The announcement of this year’s Right Livelihood Award Laureates will take place on 22 September.