The free software community has been in turmoil for three weeks. In March, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) brought Richard Stallman back to your board, on the sly. Since then, demonstrations against the decision have continued to emerge. But the pressure has had no effect: in an open letter published on Monday (12), the organization defended the return of its founder.
Stallman’s departure from the FSF
On the one hand, Stallman has always received recognition for his contributions to free software, with emphasis on the creation of the Free Software Foundation itself, on the other hand, he carries the reputation of being a difficult person to deal with.
But that was not what, in September 2019, led him to step down from the FSF presidency. Although Stallman had already made numerous controversial and, often, disgusting demonstrations, the episode that served as the last straw for his stay in the organization was his attempt to defend Marvin Minsky from sexual abuse charges.
Deceased in 2016, at the age of 88, Marvin Minsky became known worldwide for his contributions to the field of artificial intelligence. However, during investigations into the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, a woman named Virginia Giuffre revealed she was told to have sex with Minsky when she was 17.
After the subject gained repercussions, Richard Stallman tried to defend Minsky, especially on the mailing list of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL), a division of which both were part.
In one of the messages, Stallman even said (in free translation): “we can imagine several scenarios, but the most plausible is that she [Virginia Giuffre] have introduced yourself to him [Marvin Minsky] of free will ”.
The demonstrations in defense of Minsky joined the controversial sexual statements that Stallman had already made. The situation was untenable. In addition to leaving the role of guest researcher at MIT CSAIL, he was forced to leave the presidency of the FSF, as well as his post on the organization’s board.
It seemed that the matter was closed. However, during a LibrePlanet conference held on March 21, 2021, Richard Stallman took everyone by surprise by announcing that he was back on the FSF board:
“Some of you will be happy with this, others may be disappointed, you will know. Anyway, that’s the way it is. And I don’t intend to resign a second time ”.
Richard Stallman (RMS) announcing his return to the FSF’s Board of Directors. Live steam https://t.co/OF2dtvR8Ck #GNU #Linux #OpenSource pic.twitter.com/uwAlvTSB8C
– nixCraft (@nixcraft) March 22, 2021
The reaction was immediate. Several personalities linked to the universe of free software showed indignation not only at the return of Stallman to the FSF, but also at the way it was done: by surprise, as if the entity wanted to prevent the decision from being questioned before it was carried out.
As a result, several organizations have stopped supporting or criticizing the FSF, such as Red Hat and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But the biggest action against the decision is an open letter with more than 3,000 signatures, including names like Molly de Blanc (Debian Project, GNOME Foundation) and Deb Nicholson (OSI, SeaGL).
FSF defends Stallman
Despite all the pressure, the FSF has not given up on bringing Stallman back to his board of directors. On the contrary: in a note released last Monday, the organization defended the decision on the grounds that the matter had been considered for months.
We decided to bring RMS [Richard M. Stallman] back because we miss your wisdom. His historical, legal and technical insight into free software is unquestionable. (…) Your global network of connections is invaluable. He remains the most articulate philosopher and an unquestionably dedicated advocate of freedom in computing.
Free Software Foundation
Stallman also released a note, on the same date. In it, he acknowledges having a difficult personality, but promises to try a more gentle treatment with people. On the other hand, Stallman still considers the charges against Minsky to be unfounded.
Later in life, I found that some people had negative reactions to my behavior, which I didn’t even know about. I tend to be straightforward and honest with my thoughts, and sometimes it made others uncomfortable or even offended them – especially women.
(…) Sometimes I lost my temper because I didn’t have the social skills to avoid it. Some people can handle this; others were hurt. I apologize to each one of them.
(…) False accusations – real or imagined, against me or against other people – take me seriously. I only knew Minsky from afar, but seeing him being unfairly accused made me act in his defense. I would have done that for anyone.
But it appears that both statements were not enough to convince supporters of Stallman’s departure. Demonstrations against his return continue. As the FSF shows itself to be irreducible, the matter still has to go far.
With information: Ars Technica.