It’s the 21st century, and Estonia is banning books (27)

(LearningLark/Flickr)
Sebastian Suarez
2/3/2016 1:01 PM
Category: Opinion

Controversial Estonian writer Kaur Kender has been under fire the last few weeks after publishing a short story considered by many as child pornography. The story provoked a possible criminal investigation, and a state-mandated ban. This is not acceptable, finds Sebastian Suarez.

There is no reason, nor should there ever be, to ban a book. We have come a long way on the road of human evolution, and we like to think that banning books (or burning them, which is the same thing essentially) is a reviled practice from the past.
Generally, freedom of expression is not a problem in Europe, or in Estonia. But I would remind readers that well into the 21st century, books such as Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” are still banned in Europe. In fact, the whole of Nazi symbolism is mostly prohibited, except for specifically scientific use. Holocaust denial is mostly criminalized.

One could understand that this is done to prevent something. But what, and why? Those are the questions that should be posed to those who argue in favor of banning books, symbols and ideas. We should embrace the past, and learn from it, both from the beautiful and the bad. You can’t hide an inconvenient truth by prohibiting it.

Kender wrote and published his short story, called “Untitled 12”. It describes sex crimes committed against minors. This is what prompted a criminal investigation, and opposition to its publication.

This reaction seems a little far-fetched. There are at least a dozen ways that could be used to protect readers and the general public. The general consensus of banning the story, as a first hammer-like response to something that we don’t like or that makes us uncomfortable, is dangerous.

It can’t matter that the book is considered pornographic. Anyone is entitled to write pornography. Otherwise, publications like Playboy, Maxim, or Fifty Shades of Grey, next to countless movies, books, TV shows and so on should be banned too.
Pornography by itself is not a crime. If Kender's short story is considered pornography, so be it. Set up a system that protects minors through disclaimers or age screening, as frequently used for pornographic websites. Or sell the books shrink-wrapped and only to those over 18 years of age. This has been done before, and is done in many countries. This is done with games and movies, for example, which normally have labels indicating the appropriate age.

Banning a writer’s work only based on sensibilities, while the concept of sensibility is as subjective as could possibly get, does not feel like an act of a free, democratic society to me. It feels forced. It feels like an attack against freedom of expression. It feels wrong.

Why would anyone write something like this? And who would want to read it? Those are questions we shouldn’t care to ask, nor try to answer, in a free society. The author shouldn’t have his work banned just because someone thinks that he has poor taste.

Discussing the issue, I’ve come across two arguments. First, the short story should be banned because it describes the sexual abuse of children, among other things, and the sexual abuse of children is a crime. Second, the short story should be banned because it might lead readers towards committing a crime of the same nature. Both arguments have their merits.
Regarding the first statement, it should be said that there are literally thousands of works of art and media that depict one crime or another. In most cases, we do not even give it a second thought. TV shows like The Tudors and Game of Thrones depict gruesome murders, rape, child abuse, and more. Award winning films like Zero Dark Thirty and Syriana, have intense torture scenes, and the 2009 Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes showcased a violent rape, followed by a murder.

Crimes of all sorts and nature have been the object of TV and radio shows, books, and films for as long as we can remember. Should they receive the same treatment? Because in essence, there is no difference between fictionalized child abuse and the fictionalized abuse of an adult beyond individual moral considerations. The same applies to fictionalized child abuse and the fictionalized abuse of a woman.

The second statement is easier to account for. The idea that a short story in particular or the media in general could lead to violent behavior has long been contested. In essence, there is no conclusive evidence that would allow us to hold this position based on facts. There has been no outbreak of violence associated with any of the shows I’ve mentioned here. Furthermore, humanity didn’t need mainstream access to violent media content to slaughter its way through history for thousands of years.

There is a possible third explanation why Kender’s story was banned, which says that the story needed to be banned because it is too graphic in its description of a very specific crime. But then what? We ban it, here and now, because we don’t like it, and because it makes us feel bad. But apparently, we’re quite comfortable with gruesome murders, as they can be had in crime and gore novels in any bookshop. What if that suddenly became an issue? Should we start banning books that describe gruesome murders? Who decides what to ban, when, and why? Who watches the watchmen? Who monitors the birds? Once we open this particular can of worms, should we prevent offensive speech altogether? Wouldn’t we be on the way to creating a spineless generation?

Sebastian Suarez is an Argentinian law professional, who is currently pursuing a Master Degree in Law with a specialization in International and Comparative Law at Tallinn University of Technology's Law School in Estonia.

---

ERR News welcomes submissions of opinion articles for publication at news@err.ee. The editorial staff reserves the right to reject contributions that do not satisfy ERR's standards.

Dario Cavegn

The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia needs hands-on approach to promote foreign trade
    17.01

    Talking about foreign trade, there are no simple solutions, which is what makes it an unpopular topic with politicians. All the while, Estonia needs an active minister that could work in just that particular area, former minister of trade and entrepreneurship and current Reform Party MP Anne Sulling writes.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Hannes Rumm on the yet-unseen reconciliation in the Reform Party
    16.01

    The events of Friday’s meeting of the Reform Party leadership, in which the new chairman Hanno Pevkur switched out party secretary general Reimo Nebokat and director of the regional development division Kalev Lillo following a 7:6 vote, showed that the the party remained polarized, found Hannes Rumm, one of the hosts of Sunday's Vikerraadio broadcast "Samost ja Rumm."

  • foto
    Imbi Paju: Can our shared culture manage to save the world?
    14.01

    As the media is dominated by headlines which stir up memories of political threats, torture, deporations and escapes from years of occupation in the Baltics, Estonian author and filmmaker Imbi Paju considers whether culture is enough to keep man's basic instict for destruction in check.

  • foto
    Rain Kooli: Calling fake news 'alternative media' like calling outhouse 'alternative restaurant'
    10.01

    When talking about "alternative" or counter media, one must distinguish between fake news, the producers of which are at least self-aware, and partisan media, which rejects anything not fitting their worldview as biased or outright false, ERR Opinion editor Rain Kooli writes in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Reform Party needs to make a number of changes
    06.01

    Estonian society is expecting changes from the Reform Party, including a return to liberal values and losing the attitude that the party is infallible and alone fit to govern the state. Should Saturday’s general assembly produce a result reflecting steps in this direction, this year in politics can be counted as off to a good start, Center Party board member Raimond Kaljulaid writes in an opinion piece published by daily Õhtuleht.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Administrative reform and the accuracy of the population registry
    05.01

    The disappearance of local governments from the Estonian map is a radical but no doubt effective motivator for registering one’s actual place of residence in the country's population register. Thus there is reason to hope that, regardless of how the population itself is doing at the moment, the country can get at least the population register into model order, Alo Lõhmus finds in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Security sciences academy in Narva would work against prejudices
    04.01

    Moving the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Ida-Viru County would contribute to local development. It would also work against the prejudice Estonians hold against the area, and improve the quality of state institutions, the Justice Ministry’s deputy secretary general for the Prison Department, Priit Kama, wrote in an opinion piece in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Pevkur can become chairman of Reform only if able to mobilize less active party members
    19.12

    Michal had the current inner circle of the party on his side. Pevkur needed to mobilize party members that were much less active in order to win, political commentators Hannes Rumm and Anvar Samost said on Sunday. In addition, he couldn’t bring up the pary’s 2012 financing scandal and Michal’s involvement in it, as it might cost him additional support.

  • foto
    Peeter Helme: What kind of conservatism does Estonia need?
    2016

    Estonia needs a unifying conservatism. In a society in which left-wing and liberal forces are taking advantage of people’s various understandings of nationalism, immigration, same-sex unions, gender roles or family models, nothing unifying can come from anywhere but the conservative wing, writes ERR editor Peeter Helme in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition
    2016

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role
    2016

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced
    2016

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War
    2016

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context
    2016

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together
    2016

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation
    2016

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’
    2016

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation
    2016

    On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers
    2016

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?
    2016

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?
    2016

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality
    2016

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics
    2016

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections
    2016

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues
    2016

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper
    2016

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia
    2016

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party
    2016

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact
    2016

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis
    2016

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.