Kalle Laanet: On enmity and freedom

Kalle Laanet (Reform)
Kalle Laanet (Reform) Source: Ministry of Justice

Many people, perhaps even society as a whole, will suffer if we fail to pay attention to incitement to hatred in present-day Estonia, Minister of Justice Kalle Laanet (Reform) writes, adding that the country's existence and freedom may even be at risk in the above scenario.

Everything is in a state of flux. Heraclitus, who conducted his affairs more or less two-and-a-half thousand years ago, offers historians and philosophers much substance for controversy in this day, even as, in the minds of some experts, it is not clear whether such a person existed at all.

However, it is generally the axiom panta rhei, everything is in a state of flux, everything changes, is commonly attributed to him.

Beyond the person-hood of Heraclitus, this line of thought offers controversy and possibilities for interpretation, but in the following piece I will stay within the framework of the ubiquitous translation and interpretation – ie. everything changes.

In Heraclitus' time, laws and other established norms, prohibitions and commands were few in number compared with those of the present, and not only for technical reasons, such as those areas that did not exist until recently and therefore did not need to be regulated by law.

Cyber crime, motor vehicles and firearms as sources of a so-called higher threat, but the list is long. Most of all, people were completely different, meaning communities, assemblies and societies also differed from those of the present.

By skipping many chapters on the legal development of humanity, I will go straight to hate speech as a phenomenon requiring normative organization.

Naturally, I would be delighted if I had not had to deal with an issue like this, whatsoever. People would be happier if those perceptions and unwritten rules that I recall from my childhood applied today. They were valid, that is, they were universally adhered to. There was no need to distinguish between evil and wrongdoing, since this last area was corralled by society, via its own attitudes.

Nowadays, society cannot organize itself via mere attitudes, and specific norms, laws and other so-called legal acts are needed, with the sanctions they entail, meaning the penalties provided for, and whose implementation in turn requires state coercion, and all kinds of bodies and institutions. To put it bluntly, there are shots bad cops and there are dungeons.

The most important set of norms commonly agreed upon with our restoration of independence, the Constitution, states that "incitement to national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence and discrimination is prohibited, and punishable by law. It is also forbidden and punishable under the law to incite hatred, violence and discrimination between any strata of society"

Among the nearly half-dozen sections of the Penal Code, there is also an injunction that:: "Conduct which publicly incites hatred, violence or discrimination on grounds of nationality, race, color, sex, language, origin, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or property or social status, should it cause peril to the life, health or property of a person, shall be penalized…

As we can see, this wording is more specific, mentioning a threat to life, well-being and property, but it does not explain where the line between freedom of expression and hostile acts lies.

At the end of the day it is not possible to foresee in the law all those cases that occur in life, so we are in a situation where the individual who wants and does a bad thing finds a way that works out – well, let's say: This person does not come, and then law enforcement agencies start working and the grist of the courts starts getting milled, mostly at the expense of those same decent citizens who have done nothing wrong.

In such a way, we arrive at one of the oldest, and likely the most major, principles of justice: Restrictive norms are imposed thanks to a relatively small proportion of society. There are relatively few who break the law with impunity. Those who, for fear of punishment, fail to commit an act of wrongdoing are also fewer in number than those who behave in a manner acceptable to their fellow citizens, but without thinking about the law and about penalties.

When threatened with punishment, potential victims are protected and dealt with, in every era, as best as current knowledge and experience allows. However, even the so-called hate speech bill which is currently being brought up primarily offends some people who clearly have no intention of inciting hatred and enmity. At least as far as we can see.

I do not know how to resolve this problem, and I am not at all comforted by the fact that many wise, and still wiser, people have not known how to either, throughout history. If we do not pay attention to incitement to hatred in contemporary Estonia, then it is likely that many people, and perhaps our entire society, will suffer, while our very existence and freedom may even be imperiled.

I will provide you with a simple example of so-called ordinary legal practice, which has been described to me by a friend who is the head of a hunting association. It is known that our norms and laws restrict movement on someone else's land. One of the clearest restrictions is the ban on moving on private land via motor vehicle. Young, headstrong men often shot (and perhaps still do) "straight" with their modern machines, most frequently ATVs. If the chair of the hunting society, and older man, called these characters to order, he would then hear in response, "But I don't know who the land belongs to!"

In this case, the solution is simple, and that is what this older and wiser man said: "Is this your land? It isn't? Well, then it must be someone else's, so consequently territory unfamiliar to you - where you are barred from going!"

This simple situation and the clear limitation are, in my opinion, explained quite clearly. Oh, that hate speech and incitement to hatred would also somehow be so easily outlined! But as we can see, it is not

Critics and opponents of this bill use free speech as a justification for their views. Of course, freedom of expression must be safeguarded, as one of the primary freedoms by which all our universal freedoms remain. Of course, the future legislation – once voted into effect – will not prohibit or restrict the expression of an opinion.

When thinking about regulating hate speech, one remembers from childhood when, in a coastal village, well-known aphorisms were often paraphrased, so it became "while the wiser side gives in, the cleverer takes a shot". Relying on free speech, this "cunning" feuds with his political opponent, or even just someone he doesn't like.

We, as "the enemy of the people" and as the state, have ostracized among us those who, similarly "using" freedom of expression, sow hatred and tension between people and groups of people in the hopes that there will arise not merely tensions in society, but even enmity and its physical manifestations. Similarly, the enemy takes advantage of our local "useful idiots."

This is not just a bad dream for the faint-hearted, it is, unfortunately, the reality of today's world, and in serving the country, or our people, we must somehow deal with it. There is no use in scolding and impoverishing the actors. '

I would stress that the bill intends to cover only the most serious forms of hate speech as a potential threat to the security of society. Arbitrary obscenities, insults and vulgarities remain under the purview of social norms as before.

If anyone comes up with any better ideas than the current solution, they have all the legal and free social tools to communicate these to the decision-makers, i.e. members of the Riigikogu, during the processing of the bill.

Together with colleagues from the Ministry of Justice, we will mediate to Toompea every little worthwhile thought that reaches us from anyone and anywhere, spoken or written.

Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: