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Austria: give free speech a try…

December 23, 2006

I’ll just say; you probably would’ve never heard of David Irving had not Austria thrown him in jail for denying the holocaust.  He’d be a nobody, and now he’s international news, and all it cost him was 400 days.

Nice going, Austria.  You can’t suppress nutty ideas by throwing people in jail.  In fact, you lend them unintended credibility.  Try “Free Speech” instead.  It works like this: some nutball says nutty things, sane people dismantle his BS with reason and facts. Since there are more sane people than nutballs, you get the right outcome without “suppressing” anything.  Why give the nutball any status as an underdog or even a martyr?

Categories: Politics
  1. December 23, 2006 at 15:22 | #1

    DOF, there’s a very simple solution. Become an Austrian citizen (or a German one, for that matter) and work towards changing the pertinent laws.

    These laws have been on the books for a long time (decades in Germany) and for a reason. You may disagree with these reasons, you may call the laws heavy-handed, and you may call them incompatible with your ideal of free speech. Of course, you may also ask yourself why most Germans and Austrians disagree with you.

    The only thing that concerns me is how a speech in 1989 resulted in a conviction based on a 1992-vintage law.

  2. December 23, 2006 at 16:08 | #2

    Become an Austrian citizen (or a German one, for that matter) and work towards changing the pertinent laws.

    Why?  It’s their country, I’m just making a suggestion.  They’re as free to disagree with me as I am with them.

    You may disagree with these reasons, you may call the laws heavy-handed, and you may call them incompatible with your ideal of free speech. Of course, you may also ask yourself why most Germans and Austrians disagree with you.

    I do, I do, and I do.  And it’s quite understandable that most Germans and Austrians disagree with me.  I agree with their dislike of anti-semitism but feel they are getting unintended consequences out of this law.

    I also agree with you completely that ex-post-facto convictions are “unsettling”, even scary.

  3. December 23, 2006 at 18:13 | #3

    DOF, it is indeed their country. It’s not so much that they disagree with you, it’s just that your opinion carries as much weight with them as a focus group with Bush.

    You haven’t really answered one question, though: Why don’t they subscribe to your point of view? And before you object, “dislike of anti-semitism” barely scratches the surface and it’s debatable if that’s even what motivated these laws in the first place.

  4. December 23, 2006 at 19:31 | #4

    I may be wrong, if so please correct me, but I think these laws were a requirement of the surrender, as penance.

    I can see your point that the laws are making martyrs of idiots, but I’m torn.  I grew up with Nazi nightmares after finding a box of pictures my uncle took when his troops liberated a concentration camp.  Emaciated bodies stacked like cord wood ….  “Never again.”

  5. December 23, 2006 at 23:36 | #5

    If you suppress the freedom to speak your mind and allow others to choose whether or not to listen to you.  You might as well suppress the rest of your rights as well to the government.

  6. December 24, 2006 at 01:12 | #6

    And before you object

    No objection to make; I don’t expect them to care what I think.  And it would be stupid for me to pretend any knowledge of what’s below the surface of “these ideas really screwed our whole country over once and we aren’t about to give them any room.”  My knowledge of the holocaust is limited to reading about it.

    My sole point – recognizing that some people don’t agree – is that I think such laws are counterproductive in the long run because in a backwards sort of way they provide shelter for bad ideas. 

    Should it bother me that my criticism of Austrian law will have about as much effect on Austria as a mosquito has on a battleship?  But the mosquito can see things from a different angle, possibly from outside the battleship entirely.

  7. January 1, 2007 at 13:34 | #7

    Geekmom admonished me to wrap this up.

    I’m not familiar with the Austrian side and a closed mouth gathers no foot.

    The first technicality is the definition of free speech itself. As far as I’m concerned, speech is universally free, it’s just that speech isn’t always free of consequences. For the purposes of this thread, the focus is on the scope of protected speech – the things you can say without legal repercussions. As a footnote, what you can freely say in one country may be legally actionable in another; the U.K. seems to be a popular location for people shopping for jurisdiction.

    The pertinent German law is ยง 86 StGB and found in the chapter that translates to something like “endangerment of the democratic constitutional state”. I am not a lawyer, but in my reading German laws asserts extraterritoriality – if you distribute Nazi propaganda anywhere on the planet, don’t visit Germany.

    I haven’t researched if the German courts include denying the holocaust as within the scope of that paragraph; it’s not a stretch if they would, but there may be more specific laws on the books. If the former, it’s not denying the holocaust per se that causes legal problems, but the direct or indirect support of (neo)Nazi propaganda that does. You may argue that neo-Nazis should succeed or fail in the political marketplace (in fact, I believe you must do so to remain consistent). However, a lesson learned from the Weimar Republic was that there are profound human rights that cannot be allowed to be stripped even by a democratic process. I have said before that the oath/pledge of German soldiers is interesting in this context – it does not ask them to defend the nation or the constitution, but the freedom of the people and the rights that the current constitution ensures.

    Anyway, the long and short of it that Germany is heavy-handed with regards to anti-democratic organizations and individuals that support them. I myself wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Returning from this detour, I am not aware of any public support in favor of abandoning these laws. “Never again” is a catchy phrase, but it’s only a part of the story. Have you ever considered that denying the holocaust amounts to “high slander” of all the victims of the Nazi regime?

    Seen from the outside, perhaps Americans should get their own house in order first – by repealing the Patriot Act and the Torture and Disappearing Act – before they criticize how Germany and Austria deal with their own history.

  8. January 1, 2007 at 15:41 | #8

    Thanks, that adds a lot.  And i agree the Patriot act needs to be repealed.  Not holding my breath, though.

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