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Debian devs decide best response to Richard Stallman controversy is … nothing

Two-week vote dismissed options to back or sack controversial FOSS figure

The Debian developer community has decided to say nothing about the new controversy surrounding Richard Stallman reelection to the board at the Free Software Foundation.

The decision to say nothing came after a call for the project to support an open letter that called for Stallman’s removal from all leadership positions in the free software community and the removal of the entire Free Software Foundation for enabling Stallman.

Stallman resigned from the foundation in 2019 after making incredibly insensitive remarks, in which he questioned whether the term “assault” was applicable in the case of a young woman who claimed she was coerced by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Stallman's friend and AI pioneer Marvin Minksy.

But in March 2021 Stallman returned to the foundation’s board and vowed not to resign again.

Numerous protests ensued, most calling for Stallman’s removal. Red Hat voted with its wallet and pulled all funding from the foundation.

Richard Stallman

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The Debian GNU/Linux Project decided to offer its voting members eight options to consider, as follows:

  • Call for the FSF board removal, as in
  • Call for Stallman's resignation from all FSF bodies
  • Discourage collaboration with the FSF while Stallman is in a leading position
  • Call on the FSF to further its governance processes
  • Support Stallman's reinstatement, as in
  • Denounce the witch-hunt against RMS and the FSF
  • Debian will not issue a public statement on this issue
  • Further Discussion

Voting on those options ran for a fortnight and concluded on Saturday.

The winner was option seven: “Debian will not issue a public statement on this issue".

Debian votes use the Condorcet Method, a complex preferential voting scheme, to reach a decision. The post tallying votes suggests options five and six never achieved a majority.

Debian stallman vote outcome

Details of Debian's Stallman vote. Click to enlarge.
Explanation here

While the Debian project will remain silent, option seven includes the provision for “Any individual (including Debian members) wishing to (co-)sign any of the open letters on this subject is invited to do this in a personal capacity.”

And plenty have: The Register counted 117 signatories with Debian affiliations among the 3010 who put their names to the open letter calling for Stallman’s removal (which stopped listing signatories on April 1st). A letter in support of Stallman lists six Debian-affiliated names among 6,415 signatories. ®

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