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Who's going to protect our democracy from our democracy?
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-10-23 07:51:02
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Thanks to internet the last few years I’m able to watch Greek television news and actually I have a choice of eight channels including the state one and the most popular private. So a few months ago I was in total shock when I saw the representative of the Greek extreme right party preaching about freedom of speech.

I lived the Greek dictatorship and I was in age to understand that freedom of speech was out of question. Freedom of thought was dangerous. Depends how you looked the policeman he had the right to arrest you. Actually the only ones who had any right during the dictatorship were the policemen, the army officers and the dictators.

So how it comes over thirty years after the end of the dictatorship the very same people to ask their right to freedom of speech? And respecting this right and really pushing myself I stayed and watch. It was unbelievable, the young man talked about race purity – something at least pathetic in the modern world – about the anarchist that should go to prison – he actually meant the left alliance – and a society that losing its values with all these …not men walking around the streets. And of course in the end he blamed the immigrants for all the crimes in history since the snake gave Eve the apple!

So, let me see, we have racism, prejudice, homophobia and xenophobia and all of them in the two minutes he had the right to speak. The four of them are constitutionally punishable crimes in every single democracy – we are not talking about Iran here! So how is violation of freedom of speech when you forbid this man to speak? He actually promotes a crime against society! When we started Ovi magazine we had a similar conversation, we are going to publish all opinions and ideas without any trace of censorship but we are going to reject articles that carry hate, racist, prejudice, xenophobic or homophobic messages.  The same applies to the comments; we delete as a principal all comments that violate the above rules. And don’t worry we had our share. We even had submissions that carried well covered messages like an article about archaeology and anthropology that was covering racist massages. Does that mean that we don’t respect freedom of speech?

But what happens when the channel is not a private channel in Greece but it is BBC, one of the biggest, perhaps the biggest news institution in the world and the young man is the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin. And of course there were demonstrators outside BBC and of course there was trouble. But what they were expecting? The only thing missing from Griffin in his entrance was the black uniform with the gold skull and the double s! amazingly wasn’t it Britain and the British people who were shocked seen one of the princess going to a fancy dress party wearing a Nazi uniform?

Griffin accused the protesters of "attacking the rights of millions of people to listen to what I've got to say and listen to me being called to account by other politicians", adding: "It really is a disgraceful thing." But what Griffin forgot to say or better didn’t want to say is that if he was in power there were be no protesters outside BBC, they would be in some kind of dark cell if not dead. Griffin forgot to say that gays would be imprisoned for life if not in a labour camp, that anything that didn’t cover his racial stereotypes would be dead and that any opposition labour, Trotskyism or whatever else would be in prison. And the problem is that he did say all that but because he doesn’t have a small pathetic moustache and doesn’t wear the black uniform, he is a …patriot who has the right to say whatever he likes because this is …democracy!

So, does fascism always wear a uniform? Who’s going to protect our democracy from our democracy? And what have we done? Don’t we understand where the line is? Do we forget that Hitler took over Germany through democratic elections?


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Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-23 12:39:58
Have I not seen this movie before? Indeed, I saw it only this past summer in Italy. Both Italy and Greece are of course proud democratic members of a democratic European Union and nobody doubts that democracy began in Greece and that Rome began as a republic, albeit it took a good many centuries to make democracy more inclusive, viable and universal. What we need to reflect upon a bit more is the fact that both Greeks nor Romans, with all their exalted concepts of freedom and democracy, tolerated slavery and never envisioned or conceived the concept of inalienable rights: rights that accrue to one’s humanity (even to one’s humanity on one’s mother womb) with a common brotherhood and a common fatherhood, and that no state can take away and no state can guarantee no matter how powerful. They are just there shining like the sun in the sky for all men of good will, and one has to be blind not to see them. As Kant puts it: the stars above and the law within. Indeed, not even Jefferson with all his political genius, invented them out of a cloud in the blue sky one fine day; he too got that concept out of the Judeo-Christian ethos, periodically thrashed in our scientifically sophisticated civilization proud of its gadgets but oblivious of its origins. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-23 12:43:41
What also needs to be pondered a bit more is the fact that Plato in his famous Republic has a rather skeptical attitude toward democracy; he suspects the rule of the mob behind the stage’s curtains; the mob that democratically sentenced a good man like Socrates to death for speaking truth to power. Of course, with all due deference to Plato, dictatorship or rule by a philosopher king or a group of elitist politicians is no solution either. Wait a minute, did I not also see this movie before? Yes, two years ago in an article to Ovi (on 17 September 2007 to be precise)titled: “Democracy as the Common Sense of the People.” It began thus: “In a relativistic age which believes in functional truths but not in Truth, when consequently many sing the praises of democracy but precious few can pin down its essence, a revisiting of Plato’s skeptical attitude towards it may lead us to a surprising discovery, that of Giambattista Vico in the 18th century: that democracy has never been based on the rule of a few all-wise leaders and not even on that of learned people, i.e., the philosopher-kings and the manipulating politicians, but on the ‘common sense’ of all the people.”

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-23 12:50:02

For the inquisitive or curious reader: the link above will take you to the article.

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-23 16:39:22
I have been pondering this issue of “free speech” all morning and I’d like to “get it off my chest,” as the commentary box’s caption declares. Given the fact that I happen to teach philosophy in a University the question naturally surfaces: how much freedom of speech ought one to grant one’s philosophy students as they debate and try to resolve a thorny philosophical rule? The temptation is of course to say that within an academic setting dedicated to the examination and exploration of ideas, they should be granted all the freedom in the world, but on second thought it also stands to reason that even free speech, even in a university where all ideas ought to be examined under the light reason, there are limits and boundaries when that speech not only offends but harms others and attempts to eliminate their right to free and unfettered speech. To shout “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire and cause a stampede is not an exercise of free speech but the commission of a punishable crime. Idem with inciting to violence and hatred. I can think of one such type in America, his name is Rush Limbaugh and he fancies himself a journalist.(continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-10-23 16:45:53
It seems to me that you are more than justified Thanos in insisting as an editor that even in a magazine of opinion there are by necessities boundaries and limits to free speech and those boundaries have to do with the violation of others’ rights and the observing of the common rules of courtesy and decency even when an issue is being passionately debated. In a way the posted rules of the comment policy are those boundaries and they make sense. For indeed even a magazine of opinion can be undermined from the inside, so to speak, by those intellectual bullies who utilize it to insult and intimidate those who disagree with them, to promote a mutual admiration society buttressed by political correctness and mutual disrespect (indeed, there are abuses on the left as well as on the right... of the political spectrum) to spread hatred and xenophobia and racism, and impose their pet ideology via insults and arguments ad hominem and biased views. Besides Rush I can also think of one such boor in Ovi who was a frequent contributor to this magazine but did not shy away from boorish speech. He has been silent for a long while, but I would not bet on the fact that the reason for that is that he changed his stripes and attitudes toward the meaning of free speech. I suppose, those who are in the business of writing and the exploration of ideas ultimately need a faith: faith in the ultimate triumph of truth over falsehood and bias.

Thanos2009-10-23 20:48:28
I think this "the boundaries have to do with the violation of others’ rights" is the perfect explanation to what democracy is all about, I think democracy is all about respect. Griffin and in extent his mentor Hitler. In Hitler's case in the beginning it was racial but it ended to be disrespect to humanity!
And I have to admit that it often upsets me how little respect people have even to the smallest things in our every day life. I always believed and practice that democracy is not just a political system but it is a way of life! But ...this is me! :)

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