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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Hate speech – who still values etiquette and cultural behaviour today

By: Dr Dimitrij Rupel

Tolerant comments on the creation of a hate speech council

Can Prešeren’s Toast (Zdravljica – Slovenian national anthem), which even entered the Slovenian constitution (Article 6), be understood as hate speech? It says:

Let thunder out of heaven

Strike down and smite our wanton foe!

Now, as it once had thriven,

May our dear realm in freedom grow.

Let fall the last

Chains of the past

Which bind us still and hold us fast!

Prešeren’s case will be a tough nut to crack for Slovenian evaluators and persecutors of hate speech. First of all, they will have to deal with the question of what is hate speech and what is spoken, perhaps backed by music, sang hate word? Is there hate writing? Is there such a thing as hate literature, as the Nazis and Communists claimed for a good part of the 20th century? They will then have to decide whether hate speech should include words such as hateful, hatred, enemy… perhaps choosing between those that are actually hateful and call for hate, and those that describe hate. They will have to come to grips with the legal and sociological treatment of hatred, as it appears e.g., with military experts or jurists, such as the famous German jurist Carl Schmitt (who argued that one cannot talk about politics without being aware of who is the enemy and who is the friend). Then they will have to tackle the mountains of revolutionary literature (including Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Kardelj…), which cannot be imagined without class and similar enemies, struggles and wars. Revolutions, as a rule, were caused by the growth of coarseness and indecency of all kinds. The greatest rudeness and indignities are associated with the French, October, Nazi, Yugoslav, Chinese, Cuban… revolutions. For the most part, revolutions have trained and buried their inventors and leaders, but some are still looking for a bridge to get to the right side of history. Where does the hate speech come from in today’s Slovenia?

There is a lot of tension, hurt, and embarrassment in political positions and media statements about hate speech (hereafter HS). On the one hand, everything seems to be clear, on the other hand, many if not everything about HS seems unclear and complicated. On one of the Slovenian websites dealing with HS, it is written that “297th article of the Criminal Code defines hate speech as public incitement of hatred, violence or intolerance” etc. It is interesting that the Criminal Code does not mention hate speech at all, but announces criminal sanctions against an individual who,

…publicly incites hatred, violence or intolerance based on national, racial, religious, or ethnic affiliation, sex, colour, origin, property, education, social position, political or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or any other personal circumstances, and the act is committed in a way that may endanger or disturb public order and peace, or by using threats or insults…

Legal texts that require a large number of words to designate a criminal act are probably a Slovenian specialty, but of course they also reflect the embarrassments I am talking about above. The current Slovenian constitution (not the one from the Republic Square) is better, although fairly cautious. Article 63 states:

Any incitement to national, racial, religious, or other inequality, as well as incitement of national, racial, religious, or other hatred and intolerance, is unconstitutional. Any incitement to violence and war is unconstitutional.

The caution of the authors of the constitution is a result of the dishonourable tradition of the Slovenian judiciary, which in the socialist past sentenced individuals to prison and death sentences against whom allegations of HS or hateful writing were fabricated and extorted. Once upon a time, in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, anything that did not please the members of the Politburo was considered HS. Today, this is still the case – or has already happened again – in Russia and China. Slovenian lawyers and theoreticians of constitutional law (France Bučar, Peter Jambrek, Tone Jerovšek…) definitely wanted to prevent the revival of party politics, which established various advisory bodies for its needs, such as e.g., current council for hate speech at the Slovenian government. The Slovenian Constitution regulated things in Article 39, which talks about freedom of expression:

Freedom of expression of thought, speech, and public speaking, press and other forms of public information and expression is guaranteed. Everyone can freely collect, accept, and spread consciences and opinions…

International law is also restrained regarding HS. It transfers the responsibility for assessment of HS to the signatory countries. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states in Article 20 that it is necessary to prosecute any kind of war propaganda:

Any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence must be prohibited by law.

In relation to current initiatives regarding HS, the United Nations has been encouraging for several years to consider, research and, of course, therapies from general tolerance to “responsibility to protect”. Their suggestions have been in circulation for quite some time:

The United Nations and many other actors are exploring options for countering hate speech. These are initiatives that support greater media and information literacy among Internet users, while the right to freedom of expression must be guaranteed.

The strategy regarding hate speech and its enforcement must be consistent with the right to free expression of opinions, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasises, the UN supports more speech, not less, as an essential element of dealing with HS.

Indecent, brutal, insulting expression, and defamation – online – started in Slovenia sometime after 2008, then spread in waves with distinct peaks in 2012 and between 2020 and 2022. The projectiles came mostly from the left, they mostly attacked conservative, liberal, church politics, and personalities from the SDS and NSi parties. (I admit that the right-wing pamphlets were often equally indecent.) I was once asked the editor of a website where disqualifications were accumulated at the expense of the so-called right wing, why he does not ask the slanderers to sign their insults with their real names? He said that in this case there would be no comments, but if there were no comments, the website would be significantly less read and popular.

Hate speech is part of the problem of hostile, black-and-white, frustrated, intolerant and indecent communication, for which the communication mess that arose after the collapse of the old communist regime is responsible. Disorder is associated with relaxation that followed a period of political and social inviolability; above all, it is the result of insufficient attention to the education system and new communication technologies. The big question is how much the crisis of traditional social and family life contributed to this. Schools have also changed: in the past, grades of the student’s behaviour were also included in the certificates.

Who still values etiquette and cultural behaviour today? If in the new world of hate speech, they are going to look for measures against its eradication, they should consider legislation that would ban unsigned media attacks and that would change the curricula of (middle? high? college?) schools to include education about decent communication and sanctioned zero tolerance for intolerance. Impatience would have a negative effect on school grades, bad grades would have a negative effect on employment, a bad job would have a negative effect on a bad salary.

Today, impatience is often rewarded with accelerated advancement.

The article was originally published on the Spletni časopis portal.


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