zaterdag 13 juni 2015

The portable homeland

The Estonians are worried. They feel vulnerable because their big neighbor Russia, who in the past regularly walked them underfoot, seems to be aggressive again. What is happening in Ukraine frightens the Estonians, and so does the language that Russia uses lately.

“Because of that lunatic in Moscow, we are working on a concept to be able to survive as a country, even if we would for a while have no own territory anymore”, Taavi Kotka, the Chief Information Officer of the Estonian government, was quoted in NRC. “We not only make a digital backup, but also a mirror, a version that is always on call.” The content includes all information from citizens, communicationsystems and government systems.

The Estonians are digitally well organized for some time already. After gaining independence in 1991, Estonia was ready to work with digitization. In a relatively poor and sparsely populated country that was simply the most effective way to reduce costs and to offer services that could not otherwise be delivered.

But what began as a cost-saving operation has now also generated other benefits. For instance the time saved by citizens because they can fill all government forms digitally and do not ever have to repeat their medical history. Furthermore it leads, through export of digital knowledge and products, to economic success. And now this advantage is added: the guarantee of national survival in a situation without your own territory.

What does this make me think of? Indeed, of the codification of Jewish tradition in the Bible, Mishnah and Talmud, containing rules and agreements concerning liturgy, but also on matters of legal and administrative nature. Those writings have given Jews in the Diaspora for centuries so much structure and consistency that, in the formulation of Heinrich Heine, they could be referred to as the ‘portable Jewish homeland’. They made sure that, however much the Jews were scattered across the globe, a shared Jewish identity could survive.

So, what the CIO of Estonia has in mind, has been tried once already, and it appears to be managable, to some extent. Especially when it would concern the situation in which “for a while” there would be no own territory. But how do you know it will not last two thousand years?

Except that it is doable, something else may be learned from the Jewish diaspora. Namely that the exile was never able to take away the deep desire for a tangible state on a tangible territory. That’s why I don’t begrudge any nation, however digitized or marginalized, a private, secure, analog territory.

Also see The many dimensions of Ari Shavit