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Robert Golob And The Forty Thieves

It is probably a coincidence that Robert Golob used the round number 40 when he described how many “representatives of the profession, civil society, ministries and other official institutions” were sitting around the table looking for solutions on “how to prevent hate speech from being created at all (…) and also how to punish those who do not want to stop spreading such hate speech in any way.” It is also probably a coincidence that the Strategic Council for the Prevention of Hate Speech has issued exactly 57 recommendations to the government.

The last number has a great symbolic significance, at least in Slovenia. Everyone is familiar with the 57th issue of the Nova revija magazine, which was published in January 1987. In it, brave and upright intellectuals presented the programme of Slovenian independence, and the magazine was charged with freedom-loving energy. Meanwhile, the 40 is reminiscent of the fairy tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. And if you just switch out the names (Ali Baba with Robert Golob, the thieves with the members of the Strategic Council for the Prevention of Hate Speech), you get the current reality: a grasping and power-hungry Prime Minister who, instead of the classic thieves, has picked professional and career killers of freedom (of speech) from the street and sat them down at a table to discuss what they call, and what it is fashionable to call it nowadays, hate speech. With the choice words they used (and abused), they wrapped the whole thing with a bow of good intentions to make it look nice and people-pleasing. But anyone who has been following the people who sit on the council for a little while has immediately realised that it is, in fact, an inquisitorial council of censorship that will sanction dissenters under threat of force and punishment.

But let us talk about good intentions first. I have experienced such “good intentions” first-hand with my colleagues at the magazine Demokracija in recent years. When we expected that at least on the right they would support – not the Demokracija magazine – but freedom of speech, we were stabbed in the back with almost longer and sharper knives than the ones from the left. I wrote at the time, in several comments and essays, that first, they came for us, and tomorrow, they will come for you. And now, the same people are moaning (correctly, they note) that the implementation of the autocratic ideas of the Governing Council may mean that (for example) the promoters of the film “The Miracle of Life” may be criminally prosecuted or at least prosecuted for a misdemeanour, for causing public outrage and uproar. Yes, they got what they wanted. When they attacked the Demokracija magazine, they also imagined that they could set their own limits. However, today, they are hypocritically complaining that the limits are only being set by Golob’s Council. There either is freedom of speech, or there is no freedom of speech. And these limits are set neither by the left nor by the right. As soon as a limit is set, we are no longer talking about the freedom of speech. Not even if the intentions are noble.

What the Government Council has recently presented is not so new either. Some of those who sit on it helped the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance of the Council of Europe (ECRI) write a report on Slovenia three years ago. In it, they complained about Article 297 of the Slovenian Criminal Code, saying that it did not allow for enough convictions for “hate speech”. They regretted that Slovenia had abandoned Article 133 of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s Criminal Code after independence, because that formulation of the “verbal offence” would have made it easier to prosecute hate speech. Today, they are realising these “good intentions” through the Strategic Council for the Prevention of Hate Speech.

Without freedom of speech, there is no freedom (and therefore no democracy). More than any other value, it is the freedom of speech that most defines a free and democratic society. As soon as we have various enlightened councils who feel called to curb (alleged) insults by restricting and punishing the free expression of opinions and views, freedom is over. Boštjan M. Zupančič was right when he wrote on Twitter: “This is an orchestrated attack on the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Constitution, the European Convention of Human Rights and, negatively, in the Criminal Code. Now, among other things, because they cannot get around Article 297 of the Criminal Code, they are planning an attack through a loose offence law (a Stalinist trick). HATE SPEECH DOES NOT EXIST! Now you are fighting censorship and dictatorship …!!!!!”

No one should be arrested, prosecuted or charged with a misdemeanour for what they say and for expressing their thoughts. It is rather strange and (for us lovers of free speech) depressing that this is something that needs to be pointed out in the 21st century. What Robert Golob and the forty thieves have imagined is alarming; a Stalinist prediction of censorship. Believe me, what Katarina Bervar Sternad, a member of this government thug pack, is saying, is a terrifying prediction of the future. According to her (because “the sociological definition of hate speech goes beyond the definition of a criminal offence in the Criminal Code”), it is necessary to resort to misdemeanour proceedings to prosecute those who are likely to upset the public. We have seen what this means in the punishment of Roman Vodeb. If anyone thinks that they will stop at the term “wild mare,” they are mistaken. The definition of what can cause public disgust or uproar is very flexible. It will not be long before they start punishing those who oppose additional taxation. For public opposition to higher taxation can cause the “vulnerable groups” to be disgusted or the public servants who live off the money collected from net taxpayers to be “upset”.

The tipping point is clearly social networks, where the left does not yet have the influence it would like to have. We are talking about the moment when there will be total digital hysteria, when grotesque inflators of their own importance will become career hunters of the dissenting voice and will encourage a wandering rabble whose behaviour will be far more shameful and dangerous than the words that have angered them.

It is the freedom of speech of individuals who strut about in the Strategic Council, who consider themselves important, to silence ideological opponents, to intimidate dissenters. Their aim is not dialogue, as Golob says, their fight against alleged hate speech is to bash, insult, smash, accuse and prosecute those who still dare to contradict them, who are not afraid to raise their voices and who still care about the truth. The diversity of professions that the Government Council likes to boast about has nothing to do with pluralism, it has no diversity of opinions and views, it has no diversity of faces. It has only one face, uniform and one-minded, but it hides under different masks. Our lives are now at the mercy of a few people who will change the fate of others every time they, more equal than others, feel offended and threatened. When this is the case, society is already in a totalitarian system. And Slovenia is already there, or at least well on the way there.

The American journalist  Lawrence G. Proulx, who has worked in the major American media, has three rules for identifying tyrannical rulers. Firstly, if someone has the right to say something, someone else has the right to say the opposite. This is the elementary foundation of freedom – the freedom to disagree. Secondly, if you have the right to say something positive about someone or a subject, you also have the right to say something negative or offensive. Otherwise, dialogue is not possible. And thirdly, everyone has the right to be wrong. “So, we must give everyone the right to criticise someone for their opinion, but we must never give anyone the right to punish someone for their opinion,” Proulx concludes.

I really do not know where the days have gone when everyone, irrespective of ideological or political differences, was clearly on the side of freedom of speech. I fear that these are forgotten times, a lost passion for freedom.

Kavarna Hayek

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