11/10/2021

Speeches, freedom of expression and fundamental rights

2 min
Image of the interior of the headquarters of the CGIL trade union in Rome, assaulted Saturday by neo-fascists

"There has been some loss in the international consensus on what human rights are." "In five years we have seen an explosion in the repression of free speech". These two sentences are by Carles Torner, until recently executive director of the PEN International Club, and correspond to the interview that opens the Culture section. Torner can provide the global overview that the position he has held for seven years gives him, especially on freedom of expression and the serious problems faced by many writers. But he is not alone. He has encountered a generalised outburst that pushes back against fundamental rights, whose starting point he places in Donald Trump's election victory in 2016

More generally, the key is when extremist and reductionist discourse gains access to power or quotas of power, or – and this is no less important – when there is a partial assumption of this discourse by other candidates, even if they use it only to gain access to power. Examples of the first case would be Vox; the party that leads the coalition government in Poland, Law and Justice; Viktor Orbán's Hungarian Fidesz, and Matteo Salvini's Lega, among others. As for the second, in reality there are not few parties or political leaders who have flirted with positions more typical of the extremes, especially on immigration or territoriality. Casado and Ayuso's PP, Boris Johnson, and the Austrian Sebastian Kurz did it until he resigned after being investigated for corruption.

The speech, the argument, may be more or less sweetened, it may or may not have passed through the hands of experts to adjust the wording. But in any case it generates a climate in which the most radical groups feel unpunished and legitimised, in the first instance to show off and, in time, to start intimidating.

Three weeks ago we saw a Nazi demonstration – with unmistakable cries of "Sieg heil!" – roaming the Madrid neighbourhood of Chueca trying to intimidate and threaten the LGTBI community. It was organised by groups that should have made any official suspicious and, at least, once authorised, it should have been rerouted.

And on Saturday a further step could be observed. Protests against vaccination were called in Rome. Taking advantage of the context, groups of neo-fascists from Forza Nuova threw rockets and smoke bombs at the seat of government, Palazzo Chigi, and then attacked a hospital and the headquarters of the main Italian trade union, the CGIL.

These are two examples of a crescendo that cannot leave us indifferent as a society. Immigration, economic crises, and now also the pandemic, end up stressing societies. And in the tension the ultras multiply; they did it years ago in football and they do it now in more areas. Everyone plays with freedom of expression, everyone makes a dress for themselves. The task of societies is to see which discourses are thought-provoking and which are only reactive.

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