|Date: September 2009 - November 2009|
"Observergate" was a journalism scandal that erupted in September 2009 and was centred on the St.Charlian Observer and the Democratic People's Republic of Erusia. Carl Pierson, an Erusian legislator, sparked the conflict after he sent the Observer a damning letter describing Erusia as dictatorial and undemocratic. Tensions between Erusia and St.Charlie escalated rapidly and following the publishing of Erusia's official response in the Observer, a two-month period of cold relations followed.
Although at the time it appeared to be a genuine information leak, in light of the departure of Robert Lethler from the community Observergate has been shown be a complex machination of his, intended to investigate the effects of newspaper censorship on the liberal democracies of the community.
Prior to the scandal, the Federal Republic of St.Charlie and the Democratic People's Republic of Erusia enjoyed positive foreign relations and bilateral ties, having previously signed a mutual non-aggression pact which prevented both countries from involving themselves in the affairs of the other. Furthermore, there had been serious contacts between the St.Charlian Socialist Party (at the time known as the Socialist Movement) and the Erusian National Communist Party. In particular, Fabiana Gallo della Loggia was awarded the highest honor in the DPRE: the Order of Lenin, 1st Class, the only non-Erusian to hold that title. Robert Lethler was also ennobled by St.Charlie and was made Knight of the Order of the Blue Star.
On 17 September 2009, the St.Charlian Observer published a two-page article containing a letter from supposed Erusian legislator Carl Pierson and a brief comment from then Director Magnus De Armis. The letter had been received on September 4th and De Armis had taken the decision to publish it after verifying the source, who wished to remain anonymous, through the use of IP searches. On the 5th, Pierson also sent his ENCP membership card to the Observer as further proof of his identity. At 21:11pm UTC, Alexander Reinhardt published that day's edition of the Observer on MicroWiki, a decision that would later cost him his place as Vice-Secretary General of the GUM and a great deal of criticism.
The letter was a stunning revelation and challenged the idea of a free and democratic Erusia. Pierson claimed that the ENCP had systematically lied about the electoral process in Erusia and that although they insisted the country was a democracy, "nothing could be further from reality". He went on to specify that the "the whole [electoral] system is controlled totally by the Communist Party", since all the members of the People's Electoral Commission were high up in the party hierarchy. Thanks to this control, Pierson asserted that the ENCP told the Commission which candidates could stand for election, systematically removing those who were anti-communist, and thus making sure people could only vote for one, communist candidate. Pierson also criticised the counting method used by the DPRE, whereby "the foreign counters are always other Communist Parties with strong ties to the ENCP", which would ensure a high degree of control over the theoretically independent task. He then went on to state that citizens "get told who to vote for" and that they will always "be instructed to vote for the ENCP candidate".
The letter then moved to the topic of media, where Pierson claimed that "state media, which is meant to be totally independent, campaigns heavily for the Communist Party" and that there was no way for other candidates or parties to have their say in the election campaign because ECN "refuses to run any kind of story or advertisement that promotes an opposition candidate". He went on to cite other cases of media injustice before concluding that "it isn't fair at all, it's horribly biased and corrupt".
Pierson then proceeded to criticise the Erusian Assembly. He claimed that he and his fellow legislators were powerless, as they were "fordibben from proposing a bill or motion without permission and approval" from the higher echelons of the ENCP: "in practice I have zero power". Pierson asserted that all law proposals were screened by the Central Advisory Committee, who edited them as they please, thus ensuring that "almost every legislative bill that goes into the Assembly generates from the Central Advisory Committee". Pierson went on to say that the whole legislative system was a fraud: legislators like himself were forced to vote one way or the other, the ENCP "just picks a random member to submit the bill for it" and that "sometimes they'll pick two or three of us and order us to vote against it to make things look better to the public". He concluded by stating that "democracy and fairness are just lies".
Pierson finished off the letter by asserting that he was no "anti-Socialist or anti-Communist or anything of the kind" but that he wished to show the intermicronational world "the oppressive, Fascistic way" the ENCP operated and how the DPRE was an "authoritarian one-party state that doesn't even allow its parliament to work freely!"
De Armis himself wrote a small conclusion to the article, were he wrote that "the real truth is that there's something that really stinks in that country". De Armis went on to criticise the DPRE by stating that "cruelty and injustice, lack of choice and oppression" were rife in the country. He also wrote, in rather poignant tone, "Where there was once the liberty to object, to think and to speak as we wish, now you have censurers and powerful 'Gerarcas' nb1". He concluded with two questions that were left unanswered for almost a year: "How did it all happen? Who's [sic] fault is it?".
The article and the decision to publish it prompted outrage within Erusia and attracted an immediate response from the DPRE's government. On 18 September, barely 15 hours after the newspaper's printing, Ambassador to St.Charlie Kai Roosevelt (one of "Robert Lethler's" many personas) published the official Erusian government's response, both on MicroWiki and on the St.Charlian forums.
In the text, the article was described as "a false, slanderous and politically offensive piece of anti-Communist propaganda (...) filled with abhorrent and disgusting lies about the Erusian nation". Roosevelt also claimed the portrayal of the DPRE "as a corrupt and oppressive nation with few political freedoms or civil libreties [sic]... [attacked] the very heart of not only Erusian society but Erusian democracy". The Ambassador also went on to say that the article "is nothing more than a deliberative and calculated attack on the Erusian People and their democratically elected government" and that "the Democratic People's Republic of Erusia is a fair and free democratic state."
Criticism was levied against both De Armis and Reinhardt. In particular, the official response claimed that the story was "sponsored and endorsed by the government of Alexander Reinhardt", although none of the Government's officials had any role in the scandal, Reinhardt's being limited to publishing the article on MicroWiki. De Armis was said to have "betrayed both the Erusian nation and the Erusian people by his actions". The response also claimed the editor of the Observer had "shattered the relationship between the SCSM and the ENCP, just as Reinhardt has shattered the relationship between the DPRE and the Federal Republic of St.Charlie.".
The response further notified the St.Charlian Government that "diplomatic relations between our nations have been irreperably damaged by this treachery". The Erusian Government also demanded that the source's name be revealed and that "the government of St.Charlie immediately recall all copies of this edition of the Observer and issue a full official apology". On the same day, Robert Lethler publicly disowned his Knighthood in the Order of the Blue Star, denouncing it as a "mark of national shame".
Following the official St.Charlian response, Ambassador Kai Roosevelt went om to make various claims. For example, that as far as the DPRE was concerned, the views in the Observer "reflect the views of the St.Charlian government." She also asserted that by publishing the article, Reinhardt "offered his official endorsement to the contents of the newspaper and publicly promoted the views presented in it." Supposedly because of this, she informed the St.Charlian Government that the Erusian police had found evidence that St.Charlie was "violating the GUM constitution by intentionally and systematically subverting Erusian lawfound" and that because of this, they would bring on a vote of no-confidence against Reinhardt, then Vice-Secretary General of the GUM.
Finally, she ended the response with four demands: that the identity of the source be surrendered, that the St.Charlian Government collaborate in the follow-up criminal investigation, that the edition of the Observer be censored and that a "full and unconditional apology" be made to the DPRE.
The article brought various other responses from the many fictional characters in the Erusian government. Chiefly, Robert Lethler posted a response to De Armis on the St.Charlian forums where he informed members of the St.Charlian Government that he and Reinhardt were negotiating and that "the diplomatic issue between Erusia and St.Charlie is en route to being resolved" However, he maintained that a vote of no-confidence for Reinhardt would still be pushed forward because of supposed "political and moral" responsibilities on his part. This was validated by an official post on MicroWiki, which also confirmed "anti-government demonstrations" in Erusia.
Lethler went on to criticise De Armis, calling him a traitor and asserting he had "no concrete evidence to backup the allegations". He then informed De Armis that Pierson was facing corruption charges and that he was about to lose his place in the Assembly. He also added that Pierson was once a neo-Nazi and that "he rose to his position of power through treachery and backstabbing". He concluded by branding the article De Armis' "little conspiracy" and by asserting that because of him the "democracy movement will now be more unpopular than ever within Erusia."
Further criticism was levied against De Armis and the Observer by Erusia for the design of the newspaper edition the article appeared in. The cover page depicted Vladimir Lenin against the flag of the Korean Workers' Party, the ruling party in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Furthermore, the article depicted the character V from the popular movie V for Vendetta. The ENCP, or rather, Robert Lethler, were supposedly offended by the two parallels with Erusia.
On 2 October, Lethler was interviewed by the Flandrensis Times, where he stood by his previous words by stating that the allegations were "completely and utterly false" and "nothing short of ridiculous". He proceeded to reaffirm the democratic process in Erusia was alive and functioning and refuted Pierson's claims. He also claimed that the media was unbiased: although the ENCP had received over 30 articles, he stated that the opposition had received coverage more than twice: "at least seven or eight times surely". Lethler also confirmed that Pierson had acted out of revenge and that he had lost his seat.
In a surprise move, Lethler also stated Jamie I, Grand Duke of Francisville would count the votes at the next elections and that later that week he would be attending "the first ever unscripted Question and Answer session in Erusian history." Lethler also denied a lack of freedom of expression in Erusia by stating "Article 36 of our Constitution clearly guarantees every Human being... the right to speak freely", although he then seemingly contradicted himself by claiming that "the media should be carefully regulated and monitored". He concluded the answer by adding that "the Erusian people are content with the level of press freedom" On Alexander Reinhardt, he stated that many colleagues in the GUM had agreed that the Prime Minister had "crossed the line" and went on to once again claim that Reinhardt had helped "to subvert the laws of our country."
The official St.Charlian response to that of Erusia was published 12 hours later by then First Ambassador James Lunam both on MicroWiki and on the St.Charlian forums. Ambassador Lunam clarified that the Observer was not a "political-party" newspaper and that freedom of press was an inalienable right in the Republic. He also stated that "there's no reasons to break Treaty [sic] between our nations" and that instead the Erusian government should publish their own response on the Observer.
Along with Lunam, many other St.Charlians, such as Athlon Strauss and Nick Maggiore, offered their support to De Armis and Reinhardt. The Prime Minister himself replied to the Erusian government, reinforcing the idea that the Observer was an absolutely neutral newspaper and that its views "are not forcedly the same as the ones of the St.Charlian Government". He went on to recognise his degree of blame, but stood by his decision of publishing the article, though he made it clear that "the Government of St.Charlie is not involved in this". He also requested that the GUM vote of no-confidence be postponed till he could defend himself, a request which was to be disregarded.
De Armis too replied to Ambassador Roosevelt with a sarcastic post, where he stated that "in this contry [sic] we also have the strange and exotic habitude [sic] to leave our journalist free to find a source for their articles and write them". He claimed to be disappointed with Erusia's reaction, which had focused too much on the Government rather than on his person and the Observer, and concluded by asserting that Erusia was using the scandal "as an excuse to truncate relationships with St.Charlie".
Fabiana Gallo della Loggia also issued an official statement, on 20 September, in which she claimed that De Armis had acted as Director of the Observer, not as Vice-Secretary of the Socialist Movement, and thus did not have the party's approval. She also stated she would not associate with the article, as she believed it to contain "pure lies". She concluded by saying that both countries were "victims of a liar" and that it was Pierson's own fault, more than anyone else's. Throughout the crisis and later tensions, Gallo della Loggia played a pivotal role in keeping diplomacy between the two sides going, thanks to her status as a respected socialist politician.
Official intermicronational response to the scandal was very limited, if not non-existent. The only official response to be found was published in the Flandrensis Times dated 25 September, where Lyam Desmet (who had already had an article censured by the DPRE) stated: "The Flandrensis Times support [sic] and congratulates the St.Charlian Observer for acting like a professional newspaper."
Supposedly, there had been a series of responses, both positive and negative, from foreign micronationalists, but barely any sources could be found, and it must be assumed the majority of these took place in private circles. In particular, it is said some supported De Armis because of his right to the freedom of speech, and others because of his decision to stand up to Robert Lethler and for the quality of the reporting. In an official statement Reinhardt also claimed that Erusia had received many emails criticising them based on the article and that "their intermicronational reputation collapsed".
Allegedly, other nations criticised De Armis for not researching his sources carefully, for not notifying the Erusian Government of the publication and for the biased, anti-Erusia tone of the article.
The most immediate consequence of the scandal was the frosting of diplomatic relations between the DPRE and the FRSC. On 22 September, Reinhardt caved in to Erusian pressure and censored the article on MicroWiki. He also provided Pierson's name to the Erusian police and promised to co-operate in the investigation. On 26 September, the Erusian government notified the community that the Supreme People's Court would be judging fictional "anti-government demonstrators" the next day, while a date had still not been set for Pierson's trial.
The decision to censor the article was heavily criticised in St.Charlie and especially by Heinrich Schneider, who stated:
|“||I really don't understand why Erusia came after you, after all, the Observer is not linked to the state. I really don't think you should have censured that article. Freedom of speech down the drain there. I mean, we should have just said: you know what Erusia? We've got something called freedom of speech in St. Charlie. If that doesn't exist where you come from, fine; but don't try to force your ways on us.||”|
Another similar response came from Frederic I of the Empire of Pristinia, who criticized the censorship in an open letter to the St.Charlian Government dated 20 October. Frederic stated that "censorship is by no means democratic" and provocatively asked "who is Erusia to interfere with your Media? Are you an independent micronation or a dependency of Erusia?" Reinhardt responded to this three days later in his own open letter by quoting Voltaire and claiming that "their democracy... ended when MY democracy, by means of liberty of expression, went too far".
The next day, 27 September, the ENCP branded De Armis a "reactionary and revionist" with a "unanimous vote", supposedly after 14 citizens had presented a petition calling for his condemnation. Furthemore, Kenneth Maisano (yet another of "Robert Lethler's" personas) condemned Reinhardt as an "Enemy of the State". Although this decision was officially appealed by Lethler himself through the Flandrensis Times on 2 October, it was officially rejected on 13 October and all further appeals forbidden. On the same day, the vote of no-confidence against Reinhardt was voted favourably 5-0. Reinhardt later criticised this as he claimed he had not been given the possibility to defend himself.
Finally, on 22 October 22, almost a month after the scandal, the Supreme People's Court found Pierson guilty of nine of the thirteen charges brought against him, although his sentence has never officially been stated.
The Maisano letter
For almost two weeks, it appeared as if the scandal had died down, and that normal relations between the two countries would resume. This climate of détente was shattered by an open letter published on 25 October by Kenneth Maisano. In the letter, Maisano branded the Observer a "pathetic rag" and claimed Reinhardt had "lied" when he had promised the Erusian government that an official letter would be published on the Observer. He went on to brand Reinhardt and senior St.Charlian officials "cronies" and a "clique", as well as asserting that Reinhardt had purposefully delayed the publishing of the reply "as long as humanly possibly [sic]" to avoid more attention being drawn back to Observergate.
Maisano went even further and publicly stated that a fictional testimony had said "Alexander Reinhardt was actively involved in the microterrorist plot to bring down our democratic government". He then proceeded to label Reinhardt as a "micronational terrorist" and asked for him to be "brought to trial for his crimes against the Erusian nation". According to Maisano, the DPRE was convinced Reinhardt had taken "aggressive action", which had been interpreted as a "prelude to military action". He also called for a "full diplomatic boycott" of the FRSC.
A response from Prime Minister Reinhardt was swiftly published on 25 October as a preamble to that day's edition of the Observer. Reinhardt stated he could not accept being called a liar, and blamed the lack of publication on non-micronational problems, not the least the death of Patrizio I. He then proceeded to print the Erusian response, which was commented upon by Nick Maggiore.
The reply to Pierson's letters was written by Robert Lethler and although originally three pages long, was summarised when it appeared in the Observer. Lethler refuted Pierson's claims that democracy in Erusia was non-xistent by stating "it is not in our interests... to oppress our people or to repress their political freedoms and activities". As an example, he cited the fact that many citizens had written letters to the Observer concerning the article. Lethler went on to say that in the monarchical period, crimes such as homophobia and rape were legal, and that the richer castes dominated society, while in the DPRE "everyone can be elected, everyone can vote."
Lethler then claimed that Pierson's statements on the Assembly were absolutely false and cited controversial bills on marriage and religion as examples. He also answered the "1 million Pianeta question", why Pierson wrote the letter, by claiming it was an act of revenge after he had lost his seat in the Assembly. Lethler also criticised De Armis as "incompetent" and found him responsible for the scandal. In his article, Maggiore supported Gallo della Loggia's view that "the sole responsible [sic] of this situation" was Pierson.
Even after the official response had been published, tensions remained high. On 30 October, ECN ran two stories, both regarding St.Charlie and Observergate. The first reported Eugene Taylor's (yet another of "Lethler's" personas) words on the "authoritarian dictatorship" of Alexander Reinhardt. Taylor's letter stated that "St.Charlie must be liberated from Nationalist oppression" and that "the Reinhardt dictatorship cannot be allowed to continue". He also claimed that under certain circumstances, "a revolutionary struggle for liberation" would be the only option.
The article received a harsh critic from Heinrich Schneider in a private conversation with Reinhardt:
|“||"Here we go again... Erusia sure makes me laugh when they post this kind off [sic] stuff. The funniest thing though is how hypocritical they are - I mean, ERUSIA tell us we're a one-party dictatorship? It's like Berlusconi accusing people of corruption!"||”|
In the second news item, Robert Lethler stated that the USMR had been refounded in last-minute negotiations, in "defiance of the Saint Charlian efforts to undermine... the attempt". He was also quoted as saying "the Saint Charlian conspiracy to prevent the restoration of our great Socialist Union has failed miserably". Although both Reinhardt, Gallo della Loggia and Maggiore had previously stated that indeed Observergate had had repercussions on the USMR, no official explanation of how the article could have interfered with a fictional union was ever given.
In response to the articles, on 31 October Prime Minister Reinhardt published a short statement on MicroWiki, while commenting that it was "just for laughs". In the statement, he congratulated the DPRE on the reformation of the USMR, sarcastically adding that he did so "in defiance of expectations". He also claimed that if his intention was to destroy the USMR, he "would be wearing a Nazi party uniform".
The same day ECN once again ran two stories critical of St.Charlie, both concerning supposed protests and riots within Erusia. In the first news item, it was reported that citizens had been protesting "en masse" against the decision not to bring De Armis and Reinhardt, who were branded as "international terrorists" and "dictator", to trial. The protesters supposedly demanded "brutal action" against the two politicians and their "co-conspirators", as they had "tried to prevent the reformation of the USMR and assisted in an attempt to overthrow the People’s elected government." The second article claimed that the protests had continued, "in greater numbers", and that a Politburo meeting was being called.
However, Prime Minister Reinhardt chose to disregard the ECN and kept this line throughout November and December, although the ECN kept publishing articles on his presumed dictatorship, which have since been removed. After weeks of silence from both parties, Observergate was finally declared over.
Following the startling news that Erusia and Lethler were fictional, as he himself would admit to the OAM after a report published by Secretary-General Gordon Freeman, Observergate started to re-examined in the light of the new evidence.
In his interview to Mr. Danforth, Lethler claimed that Observergate was nothing but a test to see how "Saint Charlie and the wider community" would react and in particular to see "how liberal democracies would react to hard evidence of a dictatorship" and "whether it would effect the community's view of how inviolable national sovereignty should be". He also admitted that the scandal "was one of the more ethically dubious elements of the experiment", although he also stated he believed it "to be most valuable".
Following the interview, on 14 August 2010 Alexander Reinhardt officially uncensored the article and made it once again available for view on MicroWiki.
- 17 Sep: Publishing of Observer
- 18 Sep: Official Erusian and St.Charlian responses
- 22 Sep: Censoring of article
- 27 Sep: Reinhardt "Enemy of State"
- 2 Oct: Lethler interview in the Flandrensis Times
- 13 Oct: Reinhardt appeal rejected
- 20 Oct: Open Letter from Pristinia
- 22 Oct: Pierson found guilty on 9 charges
- 25 Oct: Maisano Letter and Observer issue
- 30-1 Oct: "Dictatorship" ECN articles
- "Gerarca" - Italian word, initially used to describe a high-ranking Fascist Party official, it has come to indicate any person in the highest echelons of a party who shows dictatorial traits
- Treaty between St.Charlie and Erusia
- Talk:Fabiana Gallo della Loggia
- Fabiana Gallo della Loggia: Awards and decorations
- Robert Lethler: 1
- St.Charlian Observer 17/09/2009: Pages 3-4
- Talk:St.Charlian Observer 17/09/2009: Official Erusian Response
- Official St.Charlie Forums: UNACCEPTABLE BETRAYAL
- Robert Lethler: 2
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 18 Sep 2009
- Flandrensis Times 02/10/2009: Pages 1-3
- Talk:St.Charlian Observer 17/09/2009: Official St.Charlian Response
- Official St.Charlie Site: History
- Flandrensis Times 25/09/2009: Page 3
- Lettera Pristinia: Alexander Reinhardt - Page 2 - 22 Sep 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 26 Sep 2009
- Private conversation with Alexander Reinhardt
- Open Letter to the Government of the Federal Republic of Saint Charlie From His Majesty and Members of the Ministerate: HRIM Frederic I, Emperor of Pristinia - 20 Sep 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 27 Sep 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 13 Oct 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 27 Sep 2009
- Talk:Grand Unified Micronational: Open letter to members
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 22 Oct 2009
- Letter to St.Charlie: 25 Oct 2009
- St.Charlian Observer 25/10/2009: First of all, read this
- St.Charlian Observer 25/10/2009: Page 3
- St.Charlie “Must be Liberated from Nationalist Oppression”: 30 Oct 2009
- Private conversation with Alexander Reinhardt, 2
- USMR Reformation Talks Prove Resounding Success: Erusia Central News (ECN) - 30 Oct 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 30 Oct 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 31 Oct 2009
- MicroWiki Newsfeed: 31 Oct 2009
- New Wave of Anti-St.Charlie Protests Sweeps Erusia: ECN - 31 Oct 2009
- Protests Continue, Win Support of Senior Leaders: ECN - 31 Oct 2009
- Organisation of Active Micronations Forum: ERUSIAN SCANDAL UNVEILED, Post 3 - 02 Aug 2010
- Erusian Falsehoods: A1 Civil Security Service
- Talk:St.Charlian Observer 17/09/2009: Uncensored - 14 Aug 2010
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