The new year has begun and I am still trying to understand what happened last year …

… and my optimism for 2017 is very subdued. I just do not believe in the statement ‘We can do it!’ I am convinced that – unless we finally see a change of thinking in the EU’s political community – we will be in for a rude awakening – this is my opinion! But nowadays you can no longer express this view without immediately inviting criticism or – worse yet – being called a right-wing populist.

This is a violation of my civil rights because:

Freedom of opinion or freedom of expression is the guaranteed subjective right to freedom of speech and expression and (public) dissemination of an opinion in verbal, written or visual form, and by any other available means of communication.

Freedom of opinion is merely limited by the protection of individual honour and dignity against defamation, slander and libel, youth protection, protection against unfair competition, and national security.

As early as in 1789, in Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France, freedom of opinion was referred to as ‘un des droits les plus précieux de l’Homme’ (‘one of man’s most precious rights’). Up to now, it has been one of the key principles of any constitutional democracy.

One of the most frequently used quotes on freedom of opinion has erroneously been attributed to Voltaire, but in fact stems from his biography written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, where she used these words to describe his belief:

 “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

In case law, the German Federal Constitutional Court has substantiated and underlined the significance of this civic right. In the Lüth ruling from 1958 it said: The civic right to freedom of opinion, as the most immediate expression of the human personality, is one of the most eminent human rights of all. For a liberal-democratic system, it is plainly a constitutive element.

In a 1972 ruling on the right to freedom of opinion enjoyed by convicted prisoners, the Federal Constitutional Court specified that in respect of the term ‘opinion’ it was immaterial whether an opinion was a right or wrong, an emotional or a rational value judgement: “In a pluralistically structured state based on the concept of a free democracy any opinion, even if it varies from any notions that may prevail, is worthy of protection.”

Today, freedom of opinion in democracies is increasingly being limited by the imperative of so-called ‘political correctness’. The French diplomat, political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859, originator of comparative political science and one of the first critics of democracy) warned of the perils of a ‘tyranny of the majority’. Particularly in Book 2 of his work Démocratie en Amérique he emphasises that the pursuit of equality would lead to uniformity under a strong central power. This would incapacitate the citizens and make them dependent on the actions of the respective government. As a result, citizens would be weaned from acting independently.

Certainly, I do not expect everyone to necessarily share my opinion here – but perhaps the comments above will simply serve as inspiration to reflect on our basic values and how we deal with them.

On that note, I wish all readers and business partners a healthy and prosperous year of 2017!

Birgit Harreither

Sources: Wikipedia, further links and others