How the right is fighting ‘culture of cancellation’ in the Czech Republic
While the current trend in Europe seems to be to censor social media content, the Czech Republic is considering the opposite.
Czech MPs passed first reading of a legal amendment that would criminalize social media companies if they ban content deemed to be of public interest.
It is seen as an attempt by the Czech right to fight against the so-called culture of cancellation seen elsewhere in Europe.
The motion was presented to the lower house of parliament by Vaclav Klaus Jr, son of a former prime minister and founder of the small right-wing party Trikolora, as well as members of parliament from various other political parties.
If passed, the amendment to the country’s penal code could lead to a three-year prison sentence for social media operators or administrators, a temporary ban on activities, or a heavy fine if they censor media. content that is in the public interest or does not violate domestic criminal law or international treaties.
Czech MPs appear to be making their way as other EU legislatures introduce laws that require social media companies to remove content at the behest of national regulators.
Last May, France introduced a new government-sponsored law to require social media operators to remove hateful content reported by users within 24 hours. But the French Constitutional Council annulled most of the provisions of the law a month later, deemed unconstitutional, for violation of freedom of expression.
In Germany, the 2017 Network Enforcement Act, which requires social media to remove content that violates hate speech and defamation in the German penal code, has spread elsewhere on the continent.
If ratified, the EU’s long-awaited digital services law, a draft of which was published by the European Commission last December, will allow social media operators to choose what content they deem allowed or not. through notification and action mechanisms.
Does this amendment aim to combat the “culture of cancellation”?
Klaus Jr has proposed such an amendment to the law since at least 2018 and the amendment was first tabled in the Czech parliament in January 2019.
The coalition government opposes the measure. The same goes for the Pirate Party, the second largest opposition group in Parliament.
The amendment was co-sponsored by Radim Fiala, vice-president of the far-right Party for Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD). Some members of Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ ruling ANO party also supported the amendment, as did lawmakers from the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the largest opposition party.
Supporters of the amendment argue that not only does censorship by social media companies violate the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, there is currently no law preventing companies from removing content posted on their platforms. The amendment has now been sent to the Constitutional and Legal Committee of Parliament for consideration.
Miroslav Mares, Czech political scientist and right-wing political expert at Masaryk University, believes MPs may pass the amendment, but it is almost certain that it will be rejected by the Senate, the upper house of parliament. or the Constitutional Court.
But even if ultimately rejected, Mares added, the issue of free speech could become prominent in the political right’s election campaign ahead of the October general election, which is expected to be fought firmly and could see a number far-right parties dominate. on which of the biggest parties will form the next government.
According to a survey published in 2017 by the global monitoring agency vpnMentor, the Czech Republic had one of the lowest internet censorship rates in the world. But Mares said the issue of free speech was divided between two competing narratives in Czech politics.
For some, Mares noted, the issue of free speech is linked to liberal democracy and the legacy of Vaclav Havel, an anti-Communist figurehead who defined the liberal establishment of the Czech Republic when he was became the country’s first president after the fall of communism in the Czech Republic. 1989.
In direct opposition, Mares added, there are those who see the struggle for free speech as a rejection of “Western progressivism,” a vague label by which they refer to current debates over “the cancellation of culture.” , political correctness and the limits of offensiveness.
“This means that prejudices and traditional expressions towards various entities are protected by these people, mainly from the nationalist spectrum around the president. [Milos] Zeman and Klaus, ”Mares said.
“ The new left wants to destroy freedom of expression ”
Klaus Jr’s father, Vaclav Klaus Sr, was a major political figure in the 1990s, serving as Prime Minister between 1993 and 1998, and a nationalist whose politics contrasted directly with Havel’s liberalism. “Klausism” has become an epithet for a national conservatism mixed with economic liberalism.
Last year, President Zeman sparked controversy when he criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for being “racist, because all lives matter.”
Expecting a public reaction to what he saw as political correctness, he added, “I don’t need new Big Brothers; I don’t need new opinion leaders. “
In his speech to parliament when the amendment was introduced, Klaus Jr denounced what he called the “new left”, a label that he and other politicians on the political right often use to describe the Party. pirate, who tends to defend “progressive” issues.
“I want to defend freedom of expression and democracy and not let the attacks of the new left multiply,” said Klaus Jr.
“They distinguish between ‘hate speech’ and ‘fair speech’, between perverse statements and correct statements … This is, of course, devastating for the society in which we live,” he said. he continued, adding that the “new left” wants to “destroy freedom of expression”.
Mares, of Masaryk University, said the label “new left” is an attempt by some parties to portray the Pirate Party as a “vanguard of Western neo-Marxism,” a term commonly used in Europe and in North America to refer to “Progressives”.
Tomas Martinek, a Pirates MP, berated the amendment as being loosely worded and nearly impossible to enforce, as well as hypocritical, alleging that Klaus Jr regularly blocks people and removes content from his social media pages.
Pavel Havlicek, a researcher at the Prague-based Association for International Affairs, said the amendment is “more about fringe right-wing parties against the mainstream politics, in the sense of the traditional populist agenda of anti-elitist, dominant anti-logic. “
Paternalistic limit on freedom of expression?
Klaus Jr’s Trikolora Party – which he formed in 2019 after being kicked out of the center-right ODS – has been endorsed and compared to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in the UK and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor’s Fidesz Orban.
At the time of his training, Klaus Jnr was ranked as the “most reliable” Czech politician, after a survey by local pollster CVVM. He resigned his post as party leader in March, citing personal issues, but retained his seat in parliament. It is not known whether he will pick up the torch before the general election in October.
The program of far-right parties, such as Trikolora and the SPD, Havlicek said, is “to argue that some [imaginary] the powers try to “silence” them, which is not the case. ”
However, it may not be an unpopular idea in Czech society. Last September, dozens of prominent figures, including game developer Daniel Vavra, musician Pavel Fajt and writer David Zabransky, signed a petition calling on the government to impose legislation to oppose censorship on social media. .
Political parties, including the Trikolora and the SPD, have been at the forefront of anti-lockdown protests since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which they argued that government restrictions on freedom of movement are comparable to a paternalistic limit on free speech for the sake of political correctness.
Czech public confidence in its government and parliament has fallen to the lowest in the EU, according to the latest Eurobarometer report released last week. The share of the Czech population that trusts their government has fallen from 40% to 19% since the start of 2020. Confidence in the Czech Parliament has fallen by 10 percentage points to 15%
The latest poll by Kantar CZ, a local pollster, puts the new Pirates and Mayors coalition – formed late last year by the Pirate Party and the Party of Mayors and Independents – in the lead if the general election of October was held today, with 27% of the Popular Vote.
According to Kantar CZ, ANO, the main party in the current ruling coalition, has lost considerable support since the start of the pandemic and only enjoys 20% of the vote. The Social Democrats (CSSD), junior partner of the ANO coalition, are expected to lose most of their parliamentary seats in October.
The ruling coalition also lost support last month from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), whose minority government of Prime Minister Babis of 15 lawmakers was counting to push legislation through parliament.
Because neither the Pirates and Mayors coalition nor ANO are likely to win enough seats to form a government on their own, and if ANO cannot rely on its current Social Democratic ally, the two groups will likely have to find new partners. they want to train the next one. government.
So far Babis has vowed not to ally with the far-right SPD, which currently holds 20 seats in parliament and is expected to be the fourth-largest political group after the general election, according to Kantar CZ polls. However, in October, the far right could become kingmakers.
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