October 2, 2013
German writer refused entry to the United States
by Sal Robinson
In a move of spectacular classiness, at a moment when we don’t actually have a government, the zombie form of the US government (though, like a beating telltale heart, the NSA’s still reading your emails) has denied the Bulgarian-German writer Ilija Trojanow permission to enter the country.
Trojanow, the author of The Collector of Worlds and many other books, was traveling from Brazil to attend a German Studies Association conference in Denver, where he’d been invited to talk about his new novel EisTau (“Melting Ice”). But, as he recounts in an article for the FAZ, when he attempted to check in for his flight from Salvador da Bahia to Miami yesterday he was met first with the news that his presence in the airport had to be immediately reported to the U.S. authorities; then, questions about whether his ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) was valid and paid-up; and finally, he was told that he was forbidden to enter the U.S. Though, thoughtfully, he was told he could apply for a visa at the U.S. embassy. In other words, “we’re going to ban you and insult you, as well as waste your time.”
This is not the first time the U.S. government has attempted to keep Trojanow out of our fine, fair, non-functioning nation: last year, when he applied for a work visa to take a job as a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis, he was initially denied a visa, and it was only after protests from the university that the decision was reversed.
So what’s going on here? The root of all the trouble appears to be a book Trojanow wrote with author Juli Zeh in 2009 titled Angriff auf die Freiheit. Sicherheitswahn, Überwachungsstaat und der Abbau bürgerlicher Rechte (“Attack on Freedom: Security Madness, the Surveillance State and the Dismantling of Civil Rights”), whose contents you can probably divine. This was followed in 2013 by an open letter by Trojanow, Zeh, and others to Chancellor Angela Merkel protesting the German government’s complicity with NSA spying and asking Merkel to take action against the infringement of German laws that protect citizens’ right to privacy. The text of the letter is here and, initially signed by basically a who’s who of major German contemporary writers, it has since garnered 70,000 more signatures.
It may also not be a coincidence that Trojanow had trouble flying from Brazil, home of Glenn Greenwald.
Trojanow was given no explanation for the ban — the only thing he could get out of the American Airlines employee in Salvador is “Your case is special.” In his FAZ article, he writes that he hopes his case will show others that there’s no safety in pretending that these things are not going on; one day they’ll “get sent the bill for their innocence.”
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.