Monday, August 13, 2012

Freedom of speech

This is, as anybody who has read entries here before has realized, not a political blog. Of course, I do have opinions on political issues, some of them are even very strong opinions, and I cast my vote in general and other elections. I try to ride my bike wherever possible, buy more and more organically grown food, and I carry toads across the street in spring to save them from being squished by cars. But these opinions are not at the core of what I write about here.
Nevertheless, in these not quite two years of writing a blog I have repeatedly realized that writing a blog can be a serious political activity. Not only because I have written about Ai WeiWei’s blog as a book and imprisonment, and voiced an opinion on the apparent injustice of treatment he has received from his government.  I have witnessed the numerous Arab revolutions from a looker-on’s perspective and am worried about the various kinds of effects the developments in these countries may have on people’s lives. Did the Egyptian demonstrators really want the kind of government they are now getting, just to mention only one example? How are the new Arab governments going to affect women’s lives in these countries – women who demonstrated for more liberty in their lives?
And I have followed the reports on developments in Russia – how is it possible that a one-minute-performance by a (female) punk band in a church which used the text genre of prayer, “praying” for the removal of the current head of state, can be the reason for a Stalin-style trial?

"Pussy Riot" in glass cage at their trial in Russia -
photo downloaded from

The right to freedom of speech is a political right which is not granted to everybody in a manner as I have been lucky to experience. I admit that I have a rather critical opinion about many things happening in Germany, but I do value and appreciate the basic right to freedom of speech that is granted to me and every other citizen by our constituion. And blogging, even about minor  and seemingly unpolitical things, is a means of putting this basic right into action.
I have had an experience where somebody called me on the phone about a blog entry, blaming me for causing another person harm in her job. How could I do this, and I must be more considerate about other people’s situations, strongly requesting that I remove that specific entry entirely. At first I was taken aback – of course I do not want to harm anybody through anything I write on this blog. So I went back to that particular entry and checked everything I had written. I had to conclude that the difficulties the caller referred to must have been caused by the malfunctioning situation of the particular person’s working situation, namely that she and her superior just did not get along. Nothing I had written could possibly be taken as harmful to that particular person by any outsider, but had been severely twisted around to be harmful for her. I had not criticized her personally, I had not mentioned her name, all I had done was that I had mildly criticized the museum she was working for as a freelancer for not making the most out of some of their items on display. In the end, I did not change any part of the entry except that I removed one picture.
This took place on a very small scale only – but in hindsight I realized that somebody was trying to interfere with my right to freedom of speech. Even if I had raved about the quality of that person’s work, said that I did not like her, perhaps even mentioned her name, it would still have been my personal right to express that opinion. And I don’t really need to be diplomatic about something I don’t like if I don’t feel like it – in most instances I would, however, probably try to formulate criticism in a not-too-blunt manner. Nobody should have dared call me up to try and bully me into removing the post from the blog. Instead, there is an opportunity to execute their personal right to freedom of speech by leaving a comment in the comment box, which might lead to an open discussion about certain issues.
Simply writing a blog is a political activity, even if it is a blog about something as un-political as quilts and my personal experiences with art. I am deeply grateful to have this opportunity of voicing my opinion, no matter how much or how little importance this particular opinion may have, without having to fear to be thrown into jail for many years, or put under house-arrest for one year. Thank you to every single reader – because by reading what I write you show that there also exists that other side to the right to freedom of speech: the freedom to hear/read other people’s opinions so that you can enrich and broaden your own.

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