Love Hate Speech
Hate Free Speech
with permission from his http://thoughtsfromlatvia.blogspot.com/
(the occasion was
prior to the 2008 Riga Gay Pride parade)
If you follow the often heated Internet
discussions on the upcoming Riga (gay, lesbian, etc.) Pride March, you quickly
come to a disturbing conclusion: Latvians love hate speech and hate free speech.
I will come to the hate speech part later.
But on free speech, I would be a wealthy man if I had one lat (USD 2.20) for
every comment in a Latvian internet portal where someone writes: "I have
nothing against gays or what they do in private, but..
-- why must they show it in public?
--let them march at the city dump or in some remote location.
--this march is unnecessary, no one is discriminated.
--this march will generate more hate and revulsion.
--I draw the line at them flaunting their orientation and problems.
--I don't want them "showing off" to children and youths.
-- I don't want to be "forced" to listen to them defending immorality and
--I draw the line on freedom of assembly when it is an assembly of depraved
So there...8 lats, enough for a Tex-Mex
meal at the excellent but pricey Igvana restaurant just across the street from
my workplace. But there is plenty more...
Reading all of these comments, which are
from computer-literate Internet users, not the lumpenproles, I begin to see that
the debate really isn't about gay people. The issue is denying those who are
radically different the right to a public voice. Latvian public opinion, it
seems, is enthusiastically in favor of curbing free speech for those it doesn't
like. The mantra "democracy is not anything-goes" (Latvian visatļautība).
That is one of those wonderful "prelude phrases", the prelude being for some
kind of often crackpot argument for banning the gay (or Russian, or ex-Soviet
geezers) event, or even going further and arresting and punishing those who even
thought of marching, rallying or picketing and even further, passing a strict
law against expressing that kind of thought.
Last year, under the cover of a pro-family
event in Riga on the same day as the 2007 Pride, radical anti-gay activists
gathered thousands of signatures demanding a referendum that would ban some
nebulous activity called "propagandising homosexuality" and would have
purged any public service jobs involving contacts with children or youths of any
homosexual persons. In other words, bring back censorship and the screening
(including denunciations?) of a range of public service employees and job
It doesn't stop at that. The desire to
suppress free expression has gone beyond the gay issue that is just an excuse
for manifesting a widely held aversion to the fundamentals of democracy. The
Latvian National Security Council recently summoned the head of Latvian
Televison and told him that there was too much negative reporting, something
which could affect "national security". Then the speaker of the Latvian
parliament, the Saeima, separately said that Latvian television (which is
largely state funded) should start its news broadcasts with coverage of
government announcements and activities, rather than sensational murders and
other news. This would return TV news to the Soviet era, when the lead stories
were always about the actions of Communist Party and government officials,
followed by stories of eager and happy kolkhoz workers and the Komsomol leaders
at the State Detergent Factory 102.
Finally, a new scandal has erupted with
Maris Kucinskis, the leader of the ruling People's Party (TP) parliamentary
faction denouncing an unfinished short film as harming Latvia's image. The
film (as seen in excerpts on YouTube) shows a man with a pig's snout who
resembles former Prime Minister and TP member Aigars Kalvitis. The film has been
denied further state funding, allegedly on quality issues, but the politician's
remarks lend credence to speculation that the satirical work is being suppressed
as an act of political censorship.
These events lead to the disturbing conclusion that Latvia - both at the
political elite level and at grassroots - is drifting away from Western-style
democracy and a commitment to such basic human rights as free speech and
assembly. This may not be unique to Latvia, it is said to extend across Eastern
Europe and may be a signal that these countries are not paying off the credit of
trust and reliance on which they were admitted to the European Union. In other
words, the EU assumed that these issues - imperfect commitment to democratic
values, corruption, economic incompetence, etc. - would be taken care of or go
away once the "new EU countries/societies" ate the carrot of being let into
the club of democratic values that is the EU. It hasn't happened in Latvia.
And now to hate speech. Many of those who
say they have "nothing against gays doing it in private" then switch to
raving tirade mode and write that "ass fucking degenerates should not flaunt
their disease, etc." You get the picture. Instead of marching, these
abominations should be marched off for forcible psychiatric treatment, many
commentators said. There is, to be sure, no shortage of "hate speech", which
is nothing more than a profound and scary hatred of those who are different. The
same, by the way, goes for black people. A local organization of people of color
made what I initially thought was a silly objection to an ad about black (HP)
computers that work while white computers relax. But what followed proved (a
swipe at MacBooks/mine is black) they
may have been right. Nobody called the protest by the black people living in
Latvian and/or black Latvians silly, as I might have, but jumped right into
ravings about n***ers and apes daring to speak up in Latvia and how they
belonged back in the jungle or wherever they came from.
The hate level here is also well above
what is acceptable for being called a civilized nation. However, as a committed
libertarian, I am against any and all forms of criminalization of speech and
expression, including so-called hate speech. To punish pure speech, as in the
case of a Latvian neo-Nazi who calmly told an audience that gypsies and Jews
were not human beings, is also a threat to free speech. I stand firmly by the
American model of free speech as protected by the First Amendment (see Anthony
Lewis' new book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate) and see hate speech
legislation in Europe as making the continent as a whole less free. Once a group
whose advocacy of hate speech legislation is hard to controvert, such as people
of color (few people in societies outside Latvia are happy about open racial
abuse) get their way, the path has been cleared for others, for instance,
Islamofascists who can claim racism (many Muslims are from the Middle East and
look or dress "Arabic", others are black or Asian) but are actually, in my
opinion, a racially neutral ideology advocating a totalitarian society that
would make Stalin sit up in his grave in approval (minus the belief in God
part). Punishing anti-Islamic hate speech would amount to banning vigorous
public debate on what Islam intends to do with the fundamental individual
freedoms of Western society.
So, while Latvians merrily rant against
" depraved deformities of nature" and "blackasses" (they could save
their bandwidth if a gay black Latvian showed up), I don't think that any
problems would be solved by criminalizing this kind of speech.
speech doesn't eradicate the idea, whether it is right or wrong (and leaves
less opportunity to identify and criticize glaringly, obscenely wrong ideas). I
would rather know that I live in a potentially pre-fascist society rather than
have the people with the police, the guns and the jails keep me from knowing it,
just like they will if the totalitarians take over.