This issue of Diplomaatia is dedicated to one of the bulwarks of free and democratic societies – freedom of speech. There are various restrictions to free speech not just in authoritarian societies, but also in free or semi-free societies where there is no ubiquitous censorship or no official censorship at all. This issue focuses on some aspects of those limitations, e.g. problems stemming from the development of the Internet and taboos surrounding the concept of the sacred. We take a look at the situation of free expression in some European countries where that freedom is curtailed in more or less conventional ways.
In the opening essay, an analyst at the Estonian Institute of Human Rights, Silver Meikar, assesses new challenges to free speech caused by the rapid development of IT, including copyright issues, attempts to regulate the Internet and efforts made by states to regain control over their public spheres. Meikar’s main argument is that by attempting to apply old rules to new technologies in the form of different treaties and regulations, nation states, struck by a global information flow, are in fact trying to protect their traditional power structures.
Roman Tsupryk, the chairman of the editorial board of a magazine Ukrainian Week, analyses the recent developments in Ukraine with regard to free speech and freedom in general. Tsupryk insists that free speech is a must if Ukraine wants to become an independent European state, instead of a Soviet style backyard. However, he is not optimistic about the current situation, even though freedom of speech is not completely suppressed. He fears that if present trends continue, Ukraine might become too similar to Lukashenka’s Belarus.
A Hungarian economist and member of the editorial board of a political journal Beszélö, Zoltí¡n ídí¡m, writes about the ‘authoritarian turn’ in Hungary and the problems related to its recent constitutional reform and new media laws. ídí¡m claims that in principle the new constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but it gives too much room for subjective interpretation. While the media laws have been interpreted in favour of free speech by minimising restrictions on hate speech, far right movements have managed to abuse the laws to change the tone of mainstream discussion about minorities.
British author and journalist Kenan Malik presents a philosophical analysis of the notion of blasphemy and describes how the concept of the sacred has been used – and is currently being used – to draw the boundaries between what can and cannot be questioned or criticised. While blasphemy laws have earlier also been used in Christian Europe, they have been re-introduced by Muslims and other representatives of minority religions who demand that their religious feelings be respected. Malik shows that arguments about the sacred are always connected to power, politics and attempts by those in power to discourage public discussion.
Member of the Estonian Parliament Juku-Kalle Raid approaches the topic of the sacred from the perspective of a recent protest action in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Raid writes that the dominant political culture in Russia is focused on the collective, not the individual. As the Orthodox Church has long ago become part of the political establishment, the controversy surrounding the protest is not so much about the sacred, but rather about fighting for individual freedom, albeit in an unconventional manner.
Political analyst Vladimir Jushkin offers the reader an overview of the Russian presidential elections and their aftermath. Putin who was re-elected as president will face, according to Jushkin, a ‘Lampedusian paradox’, meaning that ‘for things to remain the same, everything must change’. Jushkin argues that the authorities in Moscow fear their own people, as was demonstrated by their actions during post-election protests. Jushkin believes that the dialogue that had started between the power holders and the opposition has now ended. At the same time, the regime remains fragile and vulnerable to external factors, such as fluctuations in oil prices. So, something must change in order to keep the status quo: the regime must either submit to institutional reforms or strengthen the crackdown on the opposition.
The book review section is also dedicated to freedom of speech. The editor of Diplomaatia Iivi Anna Masso reviews a new book by British journalist and author Nick Cohen, You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom. Cohen analyses the most serious challenges to free speech (some of which are particular to Britain) in today’s free societies – threats by religious fundamentalists after the Rushdie Affair, English libel laws and quarrels over Internet freedom all indicate that even in free societies we still cannot take freedom of speech for granted.