A few hours before the conference in Copenhagen about freedom of speech, I was preparing and writing my notes in a hotel room, asking myself what I should say to Danish people about this topic. Should I just share experiences and horrible consequences of our fights in "non-democratic" countries like Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Tunisia that will be certainly understandable for them, or should I also be honest and question liberty in Europe at this event? Will Danish people be ready to share my scepticism?
Expecting a quiet event in a quiet Copenhagen, I was sure that the audience would not welcome my questioning of the level of freedom of expression in Europe. I was mistaken about everything. The event was loud, and Copenhagen was no longer quiet after this conference. And surely, at the end, the audience totally understood why I was pointing that often, it is just an illusion, that today we can fully enjoy freedom of speech, even in so called democratic countries.
The very first time I heard about "freedom of speech" was during the so called "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine by 2004, which was quite shamefully late as I was a teenager at that time, but simply could not hear about it before anywhere. It was a very important period for Ukraine, as people were starting to hope for democracy, and ideas like "freedom of speech" and "freedom of expression" that might seem very basic in Western Europe, were begged for at every street corner. But the euphoria did not last long and our hopes were rapidly deceived.
Soon the very high popular expectations of drastic changes were replaced by an ongoing strong sense of disappointment that was mirrored in the 2010 elections, as the dictator Yanukovich was elected. At that time, I was working as a journalist as I naively wanted to enjoy freedom of speech through my profession. However, I quickly realised that it was not the case: we could talk about freedom of speech, but could not exercise it. Criticising the government, the powerful oligarchs or the deep links between the Church and the political power was simply forbidden. That's why I rapidly became an activist. Whereas journalism did not allow me to practice free speech, FEMEN activists have been arrested numerous times, daily threatened, severely beaten on a regular basis, and even tortured in Belarus for their protests and ideas.
I had to flee my own country for practicing freedom of speech.
However, whereas all this seems comprehensible to you, it is only the case because the countries I am talking about are neither stable nor democratic, and are very often linked to political violence and corruption in your minds.
You will probably innocently think that it is not the same where you live, and many will disagree if I claim that thinking that we can fully enjoy freedom of speech in Europe is often an illusion. Nevertheless, it is simply the pitiful truth.
When we discuss freedom of speech, there will always be this opinion being: "yes, we all agree with freedom of speech, but... Why do we still say "but"? "... Right here my words were interrupted by dozens of Kalashnikov shots during the panel about free speech in Copenhagen cultural centre. Within a second, I was hiding under the stage hearing the killing noise of the bullets right behind the door. People from the audience were desperately hiding under tables and other places, some still remained on their seats, probably not admitting what was happening. Once someone opened the back door, we started to run outside as the shots were still being heard...
Later, after the evacuation, a young woman came to me at the police station and said "Thank you for everything. I am so proud to be together with all of you now in this fight. Today I saw, how much we need it even here." Yes, we do. Especially now, we need to speak out our ideas louder, with no hesitations and without any "but". Today, still hearing the sounds of the Kalashnikov around me, constantly receiving deaths threats, I understand that now it is either them or us. I am afraid, but I'm fearing more to give up in front of those who are ruled by dogmas and pointing guns at people expressing their disagreements with these dogmas. We have to win this fight. Why? Simply, because we are right. We do not need weapons to prove that we are right, our ideas are strong enough.
The idea of free speech is respecting the everyone's interests, whether you are religious or not, left wing or right wing etc, you are very welcome to express your ideas, but also need to be ready that others will express their opinions about it as well. When for instance religions do not recognise any other truth except of the one that is written in holy books and do not see possibility of someone questioning it, laughing at it or simply analysing it.
What is needed today is not only to condemn violence of terrorists but also to feel our own responsibilities and recognise our mistakes. Not to scream out our liberal ideas today, is simply a crime. We should not fall into self-censorship and create limits for ourselves in order "not to touch feelings of someone". If you believe in free speech with no offence to others, you don't believe in free speech. For example, many people for their own reasons are offended that gays are getting their rights. Exactly with this explanation Russian Federation adopted the homophobic law forbidding "gay propaganda". I believe, that the demand of "not hurting feelings of someone" is just limiting the freedom of others. Yes there are limits for free expression and they are at the point when someone can be hurt physically or one calls to hurt someone physically. There the crime starts and celebration of free speech is finishing. The rest, should not be a reason not to laugh, to speak, to scream about our most precious right: freedom of speech. Remaining silent, not expressing your liberal idea, you automatically, even if it is unwillingly, put in danger those whom speak out.
This is how people like cartoonist of Charlie Hebdo, Raif Badawi and many others of us become targets. They are too visible amongst others who prefer not to publish cartoons, not to speak, not to write, not to protest...
For this reason also governments should not try to stop or forbid for security reasons events dedicated to free speech or blasphemy, drawings, protests, books etc, as it would mean playing the game of the terrorists. It would mean giving up. We should rather have more protection of these events and louder calls to attend them.
Even if you personally do not agree with me or are sceptical of something, be sure, going through the experience of being a few times on threshold of being killed for what you do or the way you think, fear has never been a solution, and fear has never saved any life.
I call for liberals to enter this ideological fight, as it is time to defend pluralism against dogmas, cartoons, books, peaceful protests against Kalashnikovs, secularism against religious domination.
Dear terrorists, it's our time to win, as because of you we have read 5 millions copies of Charlie Hebdo in 16 languages instead of 35000 in French only. There is no space for religious demands in the public sphere. You are being condemned and rejected by your own community, by people whom believe in the same god as you. You lose.
Liberals, let's make our voices louder than the sound of their bullets! Let's just simply win, and show them the power of freedom of speech !