Rein Lang: Only some crocodiles fly and even those fly low

Rein Lang.
Rein Lang. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Sadly enough, our democracy has arrived in a place where votes come not through argumentation but harassment. And let us be honest, it is often much simpler to rail against or provoke one's adversary than it is to bring arguments to bear, Rein Lang writes.

Section 12 of the Estonian Constitution clearly states: "Inciting national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence and discrimination is prohibited and punishable by law. It is also prohibited by law to incite hatred, violence and discrimination between social groups."

Search as one may, the text holds no backdoors that would allow the legislator to stipulate that incitement of hatred is still somehow permissible. And yet, a political war has been waged over how the Penal Code should treat with incitement of hatred over the last 15 years. If something is prohibited and punishable, the Penal Code needs to provide as much.

Its section 151 is the result of past political horse-trading. The spiritual and cultural predecessor of the Isamaa party – Res Publica – managed to force on the government a phrasing that allows hatred to be incited with impunity unless the police can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the act endangers someone's life. Even then, such actions can be classified as misdemeanors and only carry a pecuniary punishment. The prosecution can only get involved once someone has been physically hurt.

This situation is not only contrary to the Constitution but also EU law that does not equate incitement of hatred with freedom of speech, unlike political forces in Estonia.

There was a joke about a lieutenant who assured privates that crocodiles do not fly but because the captain believes they do, one is to conclude that only some crocodiles fly and even those fly low.

The Russian media and its local mouthpieces spent years inciting hatred against the Ukrainian people, state and culture [in Estonia] until Russia physically attacked Ukraine. It was none of our business. It was also none of our business when our allies asked us why we allow a situation where one can safely produce Islamic terrorist material in a basement somewhere, and the Internal Security Service is content to make coffee trips to and from their target's "studios" as long as someone doesn't get their head cut off.

Why is this the case? This ageing but somewhat experienced lawyer-politician has two explanations. The Ukraine war and the vindication of the freedom of speech of Russian information weapons that preceded it only work to confirm my hypothesis.

Firstly. Democratic countries are home to hundreds of political PR consultants who are united in telling us that a clear conflict always kills at elections. The voter will support the side they most identify as in the conflict.

Unfortunately, a conflict debate relies less on rational argumentation and more on emotions. There are in turn hundreds of engineers of human souls out there offering their services at channeling those emotions and making their living not from creating political conflicts but reinforcing the position of the side that is paying them using emotional means. Malcontent and incitement of hatred are the tools of these "specialists."

As long as the law will allow incitement of hatred in the service of political goals, there will be those doing it. And it pays big bucks! We have seen plenty of examples in Estonia, but also at U.S. elections.

Sadly enough, our democracy has arrived in a place where votes come not through argumentation but harassment. And let us be honest, it is often much simpler to rail against or provoke one's adversary than it is to bring arguments to bear.

Secondly, the entire subject matter sports a geopolitical dimension. Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's honest admission that Putin's Russia is aiming for "an open Europe from Vladivostok to Lisbon" leaves no doubt that the psychological war waged against the Ukrainians for a long time is no accident or coincidence. Only someone who is both blind and deaf can fail to realize that the geopolitical goals of the Russkiy Mir can only be achieved if we, as people who do not want to inhabit that vision, weaken or even destroy ourselves in fits of anger. Bombs and tanks are not enough to conquer us.

The government has sent to the parliament draft legislation to merely bring the current penal law into conformity with the Constitution. Everyone is free to convince themselves of this fact by comparing the Constitution to the bill and the Estonian Penal Code. Changes were minimal and talk of a cultural conflict is just noise.

The amendment in the government's bill that would allow the police to also nab persons brandishing all manner of Great Russian symbols is directly tied to the fact that inciting hatred is punishable as a whole. Claims that it constitutes attaching the government's pipedreams to an otherwise necessary piece of regulation in the shadow of the war are just more noise.

But the loudest noise is the claim that venerable MPs were completely unaware of the government's intent. They were aware and then some! The only explanation is a last-minute telegram in which, just like a certain Sergey Lavrov has said that they attacked no one, it was said that we haven't heard anything. And that everything can be blamed on the squirrels (Reform Party mascot – ed.).


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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