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<nettime> Catalonian lessons: civil society has something to offer on the

Catalonian lessons: civil society has something to offer on the gaming
tables of governance

Simona Levi 21 December 2016

A statement made before the Catalan Parliamentary Committee for the
Study of Anti-Corruption Measures and for Democratic Regeneration.

Without claiming to represent anyone but myself, I wish to focus my
statement on what, under the present circumstances, I represent here
today, namely civil society, as a member of civil society.

The expertise I can contribute to the struggle against corruption
and for democratic regeneration has not been acquired through my
academic or professional training –which is in the arts – but my
experience as a person who, together with other people sharing similar
concerns and affected by the results of corruption and bad government,
has decided to act now that it is clear that our institutions are
neglecting their functions.

As I hope to show, I believe that one of the keys to ending the
problems this committee is confronting is precisely a joint effort
between organised citizens working outside the representative
institutions on specific problems and needs, and organised citizens
working within these institutions, which is to say, you. All too often
I have seen how democracy regresses and is weakened when this circuit
of action is broken.

What I can contribute today is what I have learned working with the
citizen platforms I have co-founded, Xnet and 15MpaRato [a wordplay
meaning “indignados versus Rato” – that is, former head of the
IMF, former Spanish Minister of the Economy and head of Bankia – and
also “indignados for the long march”].

I have mainly been working on Spanish cases of state-level corruption.
However, having shared our results with other groups and people, for
example those constituting the Citizens’ Anti-Corruption Working
Group in Catalonia, I can now say that the patterns of criminal
behaviour we have identified, and the solutions we can glean from
this are very similar everywhere and, accordingly, useful for this

I started the 15MpaRato movement in 2012. Long before any party or
institution took action, this platform began the campaign which ended
up in the Bankia case; which catalysed citizen contributions; took
the Bankia case to the National High Court as a private prosecution;
made available to the public the “Blesa Emails” and information
concerning the “Black Cards” [a tax-free, corporate credit card
for Caja Madrid-Bankia cronies]; and provided and publicised the
evidence by means of which preferred stockholders in general, and
Bankia shareholders as well, can now get their money back, as the
Supreme Court has finally decreed, inter alia.

Now, if you will permit me, I should like to ask a question,
although I know that, strictly speaking, you are the ones who ask
the questions. I shall therefore leave it in the air as a sincere
rhetorical question: are you aware that all the achievements I have
listed are the work of coordinated ordinary citizens?

I ask the question because, in the event of your not knowing how
such a relevant process began, the function of civil society must be
stressed, and will be a key point in what I have to say next.

Another experience which I can contribute to the Committee is the
result of the first. In order to obtain proof of what we needed to
reveal, while also ensuring that the people who provide this evidence
were not subject to reprisals, in Xnet, another group with which I
work, we learned about, and created the technical and legal conditions
for managing a safe mailbox through which we could receive anonymous
information about cases of corruption.

In this regard, I have been astounded to see the great number of
relevant cases that have reached us by this means. I refer to cases
that had already been reported through the official channels but
without results or, worse still, leading to the persecution of the
person reporting the corruption, or the use of this information for
political ends, or for warning individuals and officeholders about
whom complaints had been made so that they could escape prosecution. I
believe that it is not necessary to give examples of what I am talking
about since recent episodes involving the previous management of the
Catalan Anti-Fraud Office have occurred during this legislature.

With this mailbox, and aware of the vulnerability of people who have
reported wrongdoing, we ourselves have had to create the rules of
conduct for exchanges of information and training among equals in
order to help others to be more successful when presenting their

Finally, another perspective from which I can make my contribution
here concerns methodology in the strategic use of ICT for improving
democracy. Since 2006 when, as a theatre director, I was the victim of
a false accusation of copyright infringement, I have been working to
defend a free and open Internet, as a tool and as a philosophy.

Having described the standpoints from which I can make a contribution,
I shall now share with you some proposals, in every case backed up by
previous experience.

                                                       * * * *

While creating the 15MpaRato platform – which, as I said, is the
operation and accusation which led to the Bankia, Black Cards and
Blesa Emails cases, et cetera – we learned a great deal, and one
thing that was totally unexpected: it is easier to hold alleged
offenders responsible for corruption – and, in fact, we have
nearly eighty on our list – than it is to convey that this was NOT
achieved by their peers but by ordinary people, by real everyday
people. Neither the press, nor the political parties, nor (with a
few exceptions) judges and prosecutors, nor (with a few exceptions)
governments, are willing to publicly concede that almost anyone can do

This is a serious matter, not only concerning the respect that is due
and historical truth, but also its eminently practical implications.
To date, right now as I am talking, almost 70% of the cases of
corruption which have been brought to court have not been denounced by
institutions or parties but by ordinary citizens.

I have asserted that the government, political parties and the
mainstream media – and here I am not referring to journalists but to
the media in general – have made great efforts to claim undue credit
for these achievements, or to conceal from public opinion the active
and even necessary function of civil society.

A discouraging picture is offered of a world in which civil society is
passive and irrelevant, a world in which everything begins and ends
with the monopoly of this trinity: the government and institutions,
the parties, and the mass media. This does not happen as a result of a
well-planned political conspiracy – if only it did! – but is just
marketing, the monopoly’s product placement.

The fact that citizen agency – which, for example, is such an
essential factor in getting other people to denounce corruption – is
denied must be taken very seriously.

What I am saying may seem to be a cliché, or a generic kind of
moaning. But I ask you to understand it in all its realism. I can
assure you, this is a surgically precise description of what really

As ordinary citizens, working on specific cases, we are discovering
how much effort it takes to achieve a report; to get evidence accepted
in court; to ensure that the prosecution, if it represents the
establishment, is not just a defence of the accused; to see that
evidence from citizen sources is taken into consideration by the press
and, in particular, that it is not appropriated by any party. The
change in the struggle against corruption which has recently occurred
– which is to say since the 15M movement – is the result of the
fact that there are more and more citizens who are not going to let
this go on, citizens who are organising. It is clear to me, then, that
this is not institutional change. In fact, very little has changed in
the institutions. This is social change. This is not institutional
change. In fact, very little has changed in the institutions. This is
social change.

If we want to fight corruption, this must not only be recognised but
also encouraged, with new rules and procedures regarding veracity, and
free resources (such as reinforcing legal aid) that will encourage
responses to and replications of this model.

Finding myself in the midst of all this, I am keeping this inertia
in perspective. For some centuries now, only two political spheres
have been taken into account: the public and the private. Government
policies and party demands have oscillated between “more public”
and “more private”, which is still frequently the case.

But we are now in the digital age and its chief characteristic
is disintermediation, which is to say that the monopolisation of
intermediaries in their access to culture, knowledge, information,
production, economics and politics too, has been undermined by a
radical advance in democratisation.

As has also happened with other intermediaries of the pre-digital age,
the function of political parties has changed. I think this function
should not be about extracting the resources of others but one of
facilitating. Recognition of civil society does not mean sucking it
dry of its value, or forcing it into the associative formats typical
of the private sector but, rather, accepting its otherness and the
fact that it, too, has something to offer on the gaming tables of

Hence, the first thing I desire and request, in order to put an end to
corruption and achieve real democracy, is that civil society should be
recognised in equal place as a third political actor: “public” in
the form of government, institutions and also parties; “private”
in the form of businesses; and civil society in the form of channels
with resources which make possible simultaneously, collectively
and individually: (i) scrutiny or preventive monitoring of the
institutions; (ii) emendation, never starting from zero and in real
time, in the process of drafting and amending which takes place here
in the Parliament; and (iii) transfer of powers and responsibilities
without loss of identity. For me, this is what the participation of
civil society means in the twenty-first century.

For me, this is what the participation of civil society means in the
twenty-first century.

I have spent years championing citizen participation but have
never been referring to the kind of participation which is
currently in vogue. This is something that is, let us say, rather
“occupational” or paternalistic, and I believe it amounts to a
wilful, sometimes oversimplifying and self-serving interpretation of
the 15M movement.

I uphold participation as co-responsibility in work, not as the
proffering of ill-informed opinions which are inconsequential for both
the person opining and the person on the receiving end. (The latter,
often called freedom of expression, at times means not being able to
tell the difference between chalk and cheese – or so it seems to

To get back to the nitty-gritty, it means participation as efficiency
and excellence. In hacker philosophy it is termed Doismo. This is what
we apply, and with very good results, in online communities of action,
and it is similarly used in the sphere of scientific development. We
can also find examples in legislative experience, for example Marco
Civil do Internet and also, at times, in the European Union.

To sum up, it seems to me that the format of the democracy of
the future should be as we have practised it by deploying the
scientific-experimental device of the Partit X (X Party).

                                                     *   *   *   *

To return to twenty-first-century intermediaries, in all the cases
of corruption on which I have worked, the same pattern of criminal
conduct is repeated. The origin of the corruption must always be
sought in the same place: the political parties.

The pattern of criminal conduct is a conspiracy hatched in the very
core of the parties. Use is made of a “party” structure that
already exists for its – many – honest members, who are then
set up as a cover, and selected trusty men (or women) are sent out
into the mafia-clientele network to occupy positions of authority in
the public sector, as department heads, in advisory positions or in
ministries, and in the private sphere. The government then ends up
being the executive arm of a criminal conspiracy, legislating in its
favour it or just avoiding jeopardising it.

In no way do I wish to show any lack of respect in describing this
situation to you. In my years as an activist I have been in contact
with many of you as members of parliament, and with others who have
gone before you and, in most cases, I have found hard-working, honest
and committed people. However, I think we must avoid the trap of
exculpatory clichés. This is not a matter of a few rotten apples,
corruptors or mere picaresque roguery.

I believe my experience demonstrates that this is a problem of the
very structure of political parties as we have inherited them.

The solution presently being held out is that parties should be more
open. There is talk of primaries and one of the more recent panaceas,
open lists, and so on. I believe that the problem with parties is not
that they are not open. In fact, political parties possibly have the
most open structure in existence. There are very few organisations one
can join with so few requisites.

It is precisely this kind of openness that encourages the creation of
clientele structures. We have seen that these networks of favours and
fidelities are the spawning ground of corruption, with or without open
lists and primaries. In a nutshell, I believe that political parties,
as we now know them, are mechanisms with a clear dissonance between
their structure – an open community, the more members the better,
which any people who think (or say they think) likewise can join, in
which ideological fidelity and media ratings are valued above the
ability to solve problems – and the role they have been allocated
in society, namely to govern, with a very high degree of jurisdiction
over the most sensitive questions in the life of the whole community.

In methodological terms, it is obvious that this cannot work.

Once again, I believe and have positive proof that if civil society
channels are allowed to mature, we can lighten the burdens of party
functioning, which means that the parties can then work better. In
this regard, I think thoroughgoing changes need to be made in the
law, for example in party and electoral legislation, but it is not my
intention to venture into areas of authority that are beyond our scope

I am in favour of the professionalisation of politics but in the sense
of accepting this as a task of management contractually bound with
the voters, based on vocation and skills and with the same rights and
duties as other workers have.

A government that represents us and not one that replaces us. A
government that represents us and not one that replaces us.

I cannot elaborate further now but you will find this material brought
together and systematised in the Just Democracy blueprint.

                                         *   *   *   *

To return to the question of denunciation of corruption by civil
society, I shall move on to one last point.

In a milieu in which, as we have seen, a considerable proportion of
anticorruption cases consists of accusations made by ordinary citizens,
there is no legislation in this domain, either in Catalonia or in Spain.
What the so-called whistle-blowers, informants or accusers often receive
in return are charges of defamation, slander and libel, harassment,
persecution, unemployment and, all in all, a huge burden of expenses and
aggression which deters most people from making an accusation.

Although the national criminal code and other laws urge citizens to
denounce corruption, making an accusation is not feasible, as is the
case in any situation of unequal power relations. I use the English word
“whistle-blower” because, until two years ago, there was no equivalent
term in the European Romance languages.

This situation is so extreme that I use the English word
“whistle-blower” because, until two years ago, there was no equivalent
term in the European Romance languages. We had to introduce our own
words [in Catalan, alertadors and denunciants]. The Anglo-Saxon world
has had laws protecting whistle-blowers since 1778 and the list of
references is very long. We need to have specific laws here too.

Working in an ideologically transversal way, individual members and
organisations of civil society have now produced a legislative Decalogue
in defence of whistle-blowers and people wishing to make an accusation.

We are pleased to see that this Decalogue, which is appended here with
other documentation, is being taken into consideration by several
parties of a range of political hues. I believe that in the coming two
years we shall achieve both a European directive and legislation at
Spanish State level. Since a considerable part of the work has been
carried out by our organisations in Catalonia, I should be well
satisfied if Catalonia were in the avant-garde of drafting this type of law.

Finally, to conclude this matter of accusations of corruption made by
citizens, I need to deal briefly with anonymity and tools for
guaranteeing it, a highly relevant question after Edward Snowden’s
revelations. We in Xnet are recognised experts in the field but,
unfortunately, I cannot talk about it in any depth now as I am running
out of time. Instead I shall append two documents which defend anonymity
and encryption, one published by the United Nations and the other by the
European Parliament.

Anonymisation or, in other words, the use of (often demonised) tools
like Tor makes it possible to correct the asymmetries of power I have
mentioned. We must protect the anonymity of private individuals because
they are vulnerable. The difference between anonymity and
confidentiality is that anonymity enables the source to control the use
that is made of the information.

The difference between anonymity and confidentiality is that anonymity
enables the source to control the use that is made of the information.

Trusting in the “guaranteed” confidentiality of the institutions is
nothing more than an act of faith. Allowing all the power (information)
to be concentrated in the hands of just a few people (executive staff
and managers) who become all-powerful and a threat to everyone is not,
and never has been desirable. Experiences like the Catalan Anti-Fraud
Office scandal, on the one hand, and successful actions following
anonymous anticorruption leaks around the world in recent years, on the
other, make this clear.

In brief, these innovations contribute towards greater justice and
democracy. We must integrate them in a positive way but without being
disingenuous – wherever there are humans there can be abuse – instead of
prohibiting them because we do not understand their complexity.

We should all be aware, for example, that sending unencrypted emails is
like sending a postcard without sealing it in an envelope. Anyone along
the route taken by this message can read it. We hope that, in a few
years, encrypting emails will be as routine as sealing envelopes.

To conclude

I shall just reiterate a few key points and offer some suggestions.

The institutions cannot be their own watchdogs.

Governance can be delegated under strict contractual conditions but the
watchdog work of citizens cannot be delegated because, as soon as this
happens, the appointee becomes an institution and, accordingly, a cog in
the machine that is supposed to be monitored.

The solution, then, is not to be found with a specific individual or
thing but with what the digital technologies have now made possible: any
person. Please note the nuance here. I have said “any person” not

I therefore propose the following measures:

-       Preventive transparency (before things are done) in institutions
or businesses that affect more than 10% of the population. The
transparency of these entities is essential so that any person can have
the information necessary to form an opinion and to detect flaws in the

-       Channels for citizen co-responsibility (with rights and duties),
which is to say channels for monitoring, remedy and transfers of power
and, by this, I do not mean starting from zero.

-       Remedying asymmetry with more privacy and anonymity for people
confronting the great public-private powers.

-       A law to protect whistle-blowers which, rather than offering
state assistance and protection recognises, in this context, the work of

-       Reforming the structure of party and electoral laws – tending to
combine party lists with candidates chosen by constituency and

Thank you very much.

(With thanks to Lluïsa G.)


Decalogue for the Protection of Whistle-Blowers

The UN identifies data encryption as a human right: “[…] encryption and
anonymity provide individuals and groups with a zone of privacy online
to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary
and unlawful interference or attacks.”

European Parliament Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) on
Mass Surveillance

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