ALEXANDER SKIPIS / General Manager of the German Book Trade Association
“A citizen wants to contribute his country’s politics through public debates. This can lead to a demand for political change. Therefore, It is not surprising that
the authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, Egypt and Turkey or Hungary are so willing to prevent the free exchange of ideas.”
Freedom of expression is the heartbeat of democracy Freedom of expression and democracy are inseparable. Freedom of expression is the basic condition for a public opinion-forming process to take place in a society in which all citizens can talk and discuss together about how their country should develop. Central to this is the possibility for citizens to shed light on and criticize the actions of their government. And when the unlawful machinations against the own population of an injustice state come to light, as it did in the USSR at the time of Glasnost, it will be extremely diff icult for this state to stay in power.
A citizenry that calls for freedom of expression wants to know what is going on in their country and to participate in the discussion about solutions to social problems. It does not want to have to blindly trust its government, but rather to ensure through free information that it fulfills its mission for the good of the people. It wants to infl uence the politics of the country through public debates and contributions to the discussion. Th is demand can logically lead to the demand for free elections and political change. It is therefore not surprising that authoritarian regimes such as the communist cadres in China, those in power in Belarus, Egypt, Turkey or Hungary are so keen to prevent the free exchange of opinions.
Freedom of expression is there so that we, as a civil society, can enter into a discussion about the important issues of our coexistence. In this sense, freedom of expression demands more than a simple statement, with which one emphasizes one´s own position in a self-satisfied manner and then does not care about anything else. An expression of opinion should always be thought of as the basis or continuation of a conversation in which you discuss topics with others and come up with possible solutions. You should be open to the arguments of the other person, who might know more about a topic than you do. Your own opinion is only part of this process.
But unfortunately, many people are so hardened in their views that they cannot stand alternative opinions or even contradictions. Unfortunately, the reaction in such cases is oft en not curiosity or interest in what the other person has to say – the other person might know something I do not know – but discrimination and hatred. In addition to authors, publishers, booksellers, artists and scientists, it is mainly journalists who have to experience this again and again. And when they speak out against autocratic rulers for these unpleasant truths, they live particularly dangerously. A government’s statement that journalists are terrorists or enemies of the state is contrary to the principles of a democratic society. Democratic states must ensure that all citizens can express their opinions without fear for their freedom or their lives