Why I signed ACTA

On Thursday, 26th January, 2012, I signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on behalf of the Republic of Slovenia, following the directive and authorisation of the Slovenian government. A somewhat longer clarification of the signature can be found on the Media section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, which explains the role of the Ministry and my role as the Slovenian Ambassador to Japan.  This explanation states that I signed the agreement because I was instructed to do so by the government, and because it is a part of my job.

And yet, why did I sign ACTA. Every day there is a barrage of questions in my inbox and on Facebook from mostly kind and somewhat baffled people, who cannot understand how it occurred to me to sign an agreement so damaging to the state and citizens. With this reply, which is of a purely personal nature and expresses only my personal views, I wish to respond to all those people, all my friends and acquaintances who have remained quiet, all Anonymous, and not least also to myself and to my children.

I signed ACTA out of civic carelessness, because I did not pay enough attention. Quite simply, I did not clearly connect the agreement I had been instructed to sign with the agreement that, according to my own civic conviction, limits and withholds the freedom of engagement on the largest and most significant network in human history, and thus limits particularly the future of our children. I allowed myself a period of civic complacency, for a short time I unplugged myself from media reports from Slovenia, I took a break from Avaaz and its inflation of petitions, quite simply I allowed myself a rest. In my defence, I want to add that I very much needed this rest and that I am still having trouble gaining enough energy for the upcoming dragon year. At the same time, I am tackling a workload that increased, not lessened, with the advent of the current year. All in line with a motto that has become familiar to us all, likely not only diplomats: less for more. Less money and fewer people for more work. And then you overlook the significance of what you are signing. And you wake up the following morning with the weight of the unbearable lightness of some signature.

First I apologised to my children. Then I tried to reply to those acquaintances and strangers who expressed their surprise and horror. Because there are more and more of them, I am responding to them publicly. I want to apologise because I carried out my official duty, but not my civic duty. I don’t know how many options I had with regard to not signing, but I could have tried. I did not. I missed an opportunity to fight for the right of conscientious objection on the part of us bureaucrats.

But there is a second, very important reason why I am writing this. There has been a demonization of “some sneak”, that is me, who in far-off Tokyo secretly signed something on her own initiative.  This was heard in the Slovenian parliament and in the Slovenian media, and it is spreading on the web. It is dangerous particularly because it conceals the responsibility of those who had the power to decide, and did in fact decide, that Slovenia would be a signatory of ACTA. This was decided by the Slovenian government and by the parliamentary committee for EU matters, and before that, Slovenia was for quite some time involved in coordinating the agreement. All this was done with too little transparency, judging by the outraged responses that have appeared following the signing. Back then, the Slovenian media did not demonise this decision to the same extent as they now demonise my signature. This I consider very dangerous for the continuous (non-)development of democracy in Slovenia. At the same time, this means that I was not the only one whose attention slipped, that we, as Slovenian citizens, neglected our civic duty. And that there may be a little known party in the Slovenian political space that missed an excellent opportunity to gain votes in the recently concluded electoral struggle.

On Saturday, 4th February, a protest is planned in Ljubljana for those who object to the ratification of ACTA. The true concern and determination of those Slovenian citizens who feel that the agreement must be stopped will be reflected in the number of people who attend this protest. I would like to ask for somebody to please attend in my name. One of my concerned correspondents asked me what my brother, the late Dr. Janez Drnovšek , would have thought of my signature. The struggle to protect civic freedoms is most certainly in the spirit of his heritage, much more so than the removal or non-removal of some statue. Let my example be a cautionary tale of how swiftly we can make mistakes if we allow ourselves to slip. And if nothing else, we then sleep very badly.

 

Helena Drnovšek Zorko

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