What’s Eating our Society: Free Speech, the Ukraine, and the Internet
As terrible as it might sound, the lull in the news coming out of the Crimean peninsula over the past few days offers something of an opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the issues plaguing our own society vis-a-vis: the ideal of free speech, and the inherent peculiarity of expressing your opinion on the internet.
On the face of it (whether rightly or wrongly), what’s going on in the Crimea can very easily (perhaps too easily) be tied into the re-emergence of a Cold War mentality highlighting the relative strength of Russia’s ability to directly assert control over the territories nearest to its geographic boarders along with the relative impotence (or unwillingness) of the so called ‘West’ to intervene. In fact, this implied impotence has proven true to such a degree, that the leader of the “post-uprising” Ukrainian government Aseniy Yatsenyuk has pretty much conceded the point for the rest of Europe by saying that: “Should Russia press the issue, his country is in no way shape or form able to oust the troops currently stationed within the peninsula.”
Now, just to clarify, I am in no way saying that what Russia is doing in the Crimea is somehow defensible or right, but rather that you might be surprised to know that some people are either directly or indirectly making this argument, and oddly enough they don’t even seem to be Russian. The conciliatory comments of German Socialist Party leader Gregor Gysi (who claims that Russia is simply acting out of an understandable sense of national self interest) aside, the subtle nuances of what’s going on in the Crimea go way beyond what I could ever hope to cover in one moderately long article.
A Brisk Jog Down History Lane
To be brief, all I will say about the history of what is going on in the Ukraine is this: In 1922 Ukraine was one of the four nations that opted into what would eventually constitute the USSR. This “opting in” is not without its own controversies as the years between 1917 and 1919 were rife with all manner of civil actions and political intrigue; but it is worth noting that before 1922 the nation which we now think of as the Ukraine didn’t exist and hadn’t since the latter half of the 17th century and even then the region was being contested by Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Austro-Hungarian interests. In 1954 the Soviet Union turned the Crimean Peninsula, which at one point had been recognized as a province administered by the governing body of the USSR, into a semi-autonomous entity (an independent peninsular state of sorts) and gifted it to Ukraine in celebration of what would have been the Ukraine’s 300th anniversary as a part of the former Russian Empire.
From 1954 onward, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic technically had control over the area with the notable exception of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic’s naval base located at Sevastopol. When the USSR dissolved in 1991 the Crimea remained in Ukrainian hands, except for a few “leased” territories which continued to remain under Russian control in much the same way that the United States perpetually “leases” the land sitting under its base in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay.
The Crimea of today is ethnically diverse, and a census undertaken by the Ukrainian government in 2001 found the following: “In 2001 there were approximately 2,033,700 people living in the region and of that 58.2% claimed to be ethnically Russian, 24.32% claimed to be of Ukrainian descent, 12.1% was made up by Crimean Tartars, 1.44% Belarusian, 0.54% Tartar, 0.43% Armenian, and 0.22% being of Jewish descent.”
In the wake of the protests which rocked Ukraine’s major cities over the past year, and supposedly acting at the behest of the ousted Viktor Yanukovych, argued to be the Ukraine’s “legitimate’ leader,” the Russian government claims that it has moved its forces into the Crimea in defence of democracy and the 58.2%. The subsidiary move to have the peninsula declare itself part of the Russian Federation, or become an independent state which will at some point in the future become part of the Russian Federation, falls in line with Vladimir Putin’s express desire to see Russia act in defence of the interests of Russian populations across the globe.
Taking a look around the inter-webs
So with that out of the way, lets talk about the internet and the weird things which it has done to the notion of free speech. I’ve pulled the following quotes from the comments section of Paul Wells article “A too-soft touch on Russia…” as found on Yahoo.ca:
What makes the world think Putin’s motives or moves have anything to do with anyone outside of Russia? Please tell me that the general population is intelligent enough to realize when politicians are blowing smoke out their bums in order to turn attention to what they want to talk about, not necessarily the real issues.”
This is the most stupid article I have read in months.The writer is suggesting that the Euro nations should put thier personal well being aside to help a country(Ukraine) that overthrew a democraticly elected government and break economic ties with Russia. Im sure that when Wells was finished writing this article ..he jumped in his BMW or Range Rover and went home to his 2000 ft condo. The Euro nations are in an financial mess(except Germany) and this fool wants them to commmit economic suicide.
Unbelievable! Just another media #$%$ out of touch with reality.”
This is the last of his territorial demands. I’m just waiting to see who plays Chamberlain in the sequel.
Does no one in the world read history? Have you ever heard of Adolph Hitler?
Same channel, same script, different cast and slightly different set.
Mankind has not changed and we are on the same road to war that we were following the Versailles Treaty of 1919.
What truly scares me now is that we have the capability to destroy the planet and everything on it, although that might be a good thing for the planet.”
All the West will do is make a lot of noise and tell everyone how disgusted they are but DO NOTHING of any consequence. Crimea as good as belongs to Russia so get used to the idea. There vis also the issue of what can Western Governments do? No one is going to have a war with Russia over this incident. Its far too risky and Nuclear Bombs held by both sides guarantee there will be no war- the possible costs are too great. Economic action is also dicey as Europe relies heavily on gas from Russia and any action will be sure to be ‘tit for tat”.So, the west can freeze assets of some wealthy Russian supporters of Putin and stop Russians traveling…that will be an inconvenience but will it change the situation- I think not. Putin is now and always has been a VERY DANGEROUS MAN. The solution is sure not easy but we all sat back and watched Hitler take one country after another with the same logic. German’s needed protection…just as Putin says Russians need protection in Ukraine. Is there a Winston Churchill somewhere?”
The answer belongs to the people of Crimea, let them vote and decide if they stick to Ukraine or rejoin Russia, same should be done in Eastern Ukraine, the answer belong to them: they live there, not to the manipulating devious rats who ruled what calls itself the “democratic” west! what is going on there is absolutely not harper or else’s business, dignity would have them shut their poisonous trap up! Ask those who live there first and only, not insanity barking jerks.”
can’t believe that 3 people gave me a thumbs down because I commented on the importance of the sanctity of national borders, International Law and Ukranian Law. So, I guess those 3 people don’t believe in laws or social mores of any kind. Please volunteer for an upcoming Mars mission.
These actually represent quite a civil take on peoples’ opinions of what’s going on in the Crimea, and their thoughts on who is justified in doing what. Or at least that is the case when compared to some of the more hardline opinions being expressed on Reddit. (But I’m here to defend people’s right to express themselves freely, politely and thoughtfully, dammit! So don’t be looking to me to try and deal with that kettle of fish!)
Making something of a soft focus lens
What I’m trying to highlight here is just how awesome it is that people can come to comment sections like these, and post a wide array of opinions without any real fear of being on the receiving end of some sort of punishment or censure…to a degree. If someone was intentionally lewd, or overtly hateful towards a particular person, persons or group, we’d expect a moderator to show up and say, “Hey, stop that!” and then proceed to delete the post.
But when it comes to free speech, especially when the tip of it is aimed against the nether regions of a government, discovering how “free” your ability to “speak” actually is, becomes a game of how long you can poke fun at the bear’s balls before a black van pulls up in front of your house and you suddenly find yourself being asked to “bend over” by a friendly blue gloved man in someplace that doesn’t appear to be a part of your local police station. (Or if it is, its definitely not the part which your lawyer is likely to know about. You know, one of those rooms which only the media and fiction writers infer exist despite the police’s claims to the contrary.)
And this is where I, and I should hope a great many others, become skeptical of those arguing in Russia’s (or any militaristic or imperialistic power’s) favour. It wasn’t so long ago that Putin had his press secretary publish an open-editorial piece in the New York Times where he claimed that: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become common place for the United States…” and “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”
Now I know many readers are going to be doing the mental equivalent of a slow cynical clap upon reading these words (if they’ve bothered to read this far at all). After all, you don’t have to look far to see that in the world of politics, political self interest trumps all, and to expect a politician to mean what they say and say what they mean is about as likely as waking up one day to find that the world’s wealthiest man slid down your chimney and filled your stocking with oodles and oodles of cash.
God knows I’m not exempting the USA, with its imperialistic tendency to treat the UN Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms with a “come as you like” attitude from this criticism. Nor am I exempting myself for not taking a greater interest in the struggles of the many people who are working against non-Western, or Western-installed/-backed, oppressive post-colonial governments. But I will say that what’s happening in the Crimea right now, and how the media is treating it, highlights the weird way in which free speech and the internet co-exist, yet rebuff one another.
The pen at one time may indeed have been mightier than the sword, but the keyboard has broken them both into a thousand pieces leaving the audience to mull over just what is to be done with the mess of broken plastic and shattered steel smeared across the floor. The internet itself is awash in this mess of razor blade riddled blue ink, and its hard to make any headway amidst the prevailing currents of media culture and popular discontent (legitimate, manufactured, or otherwise) without feeling like you’re being pulled one way or another, the moment you go to press down on the keys.
And furthermore, in a world where you can bring down one nasty beastie only to discover that all you’ve ended up doing away with was one small part of an overarching behemoth–which has been providing the chips and dip for the mobilization meetings the whole time–you have to sit down for a minute and go: “Huh? Isn’t there someway we can make the world a better place in some what that doesn’t lead to somebody somewhere getting paid off?”
I think that the question that has to be asked is this: at what point does having, or being able to freely express, a critical or negative opinion of something in this global village of ours, lead to action in the real world? My fear is that what’s happening in the Crimea, and to an extent around the world, simply demonstrates the unsubstantive nature of causes being trumped up in a medium where everyone can express whatever they want from the relative anonymity of their laptop without getting off their chair to go do something about it.
In many ways it could be quite legitimately argued that the relative freedom of the internet in the ‘Western World’ gives rise to the idea that the type of free speech that can be expressed as a member of this or that country (whether it be Canada, America, Germany, Sweden or the UK) somehow holds true to the same degree elsewhere in the world as well.
Realities, Stereotypes, and all manner of other things
And this is where we have to come back to Russia by way of a popular stereotype and a meme: Because in Putin’s Russia, “You don’t get free speech…” “Government regulatory body gives speech to you!
Ultimately, the thing which rubs me the wrong way the most about what’s happening in the Crimea, other than another nations boots being on the ground in an independent secular nation, and the number of people saying that we now find ourselves sitting on the precipices of something that rhymes with the phrase “Lets go to Earl’s for free,” is that the potential freedoms and financial benefits that the Russia Federation can offer to the “Russian” portion of the Crimean population may actually be better than what the Ukraine, or the Crimea (if it were to operate as an independent nation unto itself) could give to its citizens.
And if that doesn’t infuriate someone whose managed to catch the racially charged undertones of the previous statement, I don’t know what will…
But hey, maybe we should start a post about it on the internet or something?
Maybe it will motivate our leaders to do something about it!