Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, various states have taken harsh measures to make sure the neoliberal/neoconservative line against Russia is monolithic. Countries like the United States have reliable allies in Big Tech to carry out this censorship agenda. Europe has that in addition to governments who have weaker traditions of protecting free speech.
Western governments can no longer claim to be “exceptional” with how they are clamping down on freedoms in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At Multipolarista, editor Ben Norton noted that Western governments are “imposing authoritarian policies and harshly cracking down on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, banning Russian media outlets and even making it illegal to support the Russian military intervention.”
Some of these notable shutdowns of free speech include actions taken against Russian state media outlets such as RT and Sputnik. The European Union has flat out banned these outlets, while Big Tech giants in the US like Google and Twitter have censored their accounts.
Even more egregious have been the actions of EU and NATO members such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These countries have criminalized support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, effectively making said action punishable by years in prison.
Norton noted how the Ukrainian embassy in the Czech Republic emphasized the provisions of this harsh free speech law:
The Ukrainian embassy in the Czech Republic made this new policy clear beyond a doubt, tweeting happily on February 27 that, if Czech citizens express support for the Russian intervention, they can be charged with support for “genocide,” and potentially imprisoned.
Igor Stříž, the prosecutor general of Czech Republic, published a statement that warned citizens about how it is a crime to manifest support for Russia’s military operations or congratulate Russian leaders for invading Ukraine.
According to a local media outlet in the Czech Republic, Czech citizens caught in violation of these laws could potentially face up to three years in prison.
Stříž asserted that the Czech government backs freedom of speech, but there are limits to what kind of speech is acceptable.
Due to the presence of stringent free speech restrictions present in the Czech Republic, people have been incentivized to work as de facto state informants by reporting those close to them for simple acts of dissent.
Several Czech newspapers reported on February 27th that authorities were already investigating various complaints against Czech citizens suspected of harboring sympathies towards Russia
Slovakia also passed similar draconian measures against citizens holding pro-Russian sympathies. Under its current legislative measures, Slovakian citizens who manifest support for Russia could face up to 10 to 25 years in prison. Slovakia’s state media outlet RTVS issued a report about the punishments that Slovak citizens could face.
The state outlet announced that endorsing the Russian government’s military actions could be in violation of section 417 of Slovakia’s Criminal Code, on “threats to peace.”
The Baltic state Latvia, an EU and NATO member that was formerly part of the Soviet Union, has adopted a similar policy.
Latvia now has a police hotline to report citizens who support Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. The police hotline’s website called on Latvian citizens to report neighbors who manifest pro-Russian sympathies. They can do so by providing the hotline with a phone number and email address.
According to a local media outlet in Latvia, Par drošību, four Latvian laws ban supporting and justifying the war. As Norton observed, “these statutes are similar to those of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.”
The West has prided itself for its respect for free speech, no matter how distasteful this speech can be. However, times of crisis present new opportunities for busybody politicians to clamp down on dissent. The “pro-Russian” content could be potentially broadened to attack anti-war activists and non-interventionists who are skeptical of Western countries trying to get involved in the Russo-Ukrainian war. That’s the nature of anti-free speech legislation. It expands to cover otherwise harmless activities
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is horrific, there needs to be honest discussions about this invasion and what led up to it. People like John Mearsheimer have talked about how US foreign policy moves such as NATO expansion helped create the conditions for the present great power tragedy. With these new laws slowly popping up across the West against the backdrop of wartime hysteria, free speech in the West is facing its greatest threat.
The West needs to pause and reflect. One can no longer yammer about being “exceptional” if your state’s laws look more and more like the despotic enemies you fight.