Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) From the very inception of the war in Ukraine, I have been a vocal critic of the kleptocrat and war criminal, Vladimir Putin, his venal cronies, and his war of aggression in Ukraine. I contributed what little I could to help Ukraine’s traumatized population.
But, the recent trial of Elena Kolbasnikova in Germany is reminiscent of Russia’s mistreatment of dissidents.
Kolbasnikova is a vocal proponent of both Putin and the war in Ukraine. She parrots the Kremlin’s counterfactual and propagandistic conspiracy theories: Ukraine is ruled by Nazis who have been perpetrating genocide against the denizens of the Donbas region.
This is all deplorable and abhorrent. But it sits well within the confines of her inalienable human right to speak her mind.
A court in Germany just sentenced her to a fine for her outspoken political opinions. She barely evaded a 3 years prison sentence.
The state prosecutor was being less than truthful when he denied that the charges had anything to do with the fact that the accused liked Russia or its president or had criticized the German and Ukrainian authorities.
Freedom of expression ends where the approval of crimes began, he thundered self-righteously. What crimes? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an act of military aggression that constitutes a crime under German law.
Kolbasnikova’s repeated calls for peace in Ukraine were “cynical”, he insisted.
The judge concurred: Russia had violated international law by invading Ukraine. The defendant’s statements were apt to disturb the public peace. In a chilling reminder of Germany’s past, she pointed out that one was not allowed to say everything in Germany.
But it is not the role of the legal system in any civilized country to effectuate mind reading (Kolbasnikova’s alleged cynicism) or to ban debates over geopolitical events and over the applicability of international law in specific cases.
Not all misinformation is created the same. Fabrications regarding the COVID-19 vaccines bear lethal consequences. War propaganda is often laughable and rarely believed.
There is also a hypocritical double standard here. Israeli settlements are illegal. I do not recall a single one of their vociferous supporters brought to justice in Germany (or elsewhere for that matter).
Nor did anyone pay a personal price for publicly supporting the West’s involvement in the wars in Kosovo and in Iraq, both of which were of dubious legal provenance.
And what about the fans in Germany of the dictator Erdogan? Why are they not being prosecuted?
Crises in the lives of individuals and collectives often push us to emulate the adversary: we take on the attributes and assume the misconduct of an abuser, a less-than-savory regime, or an inhuman ideology.
Instead, we should fight to preserve our liberal-democratic identity and fearlessly uphold our values. We should make scarce and sparse use of the state’s monopoly on violence, the judicial kind first and foremost.
The way to go about liars and the lies they spread is not to muzzle them: we should not become that which we decry. We need to confront each fabulist with the incontrovertible truth. To attach to each prevarication or confabulation the countervailing data that refutes them.
We must insist on a balanced presentation of every point of view with multiple angles of every controversy amply and aptly represented. We need fact-checkers, not censors, crowdsourcing not courts, eyewitnesses not armchair analysts.
It was a bad day for justice and for human rights in that courtroom in Germany. Let us hope it is an aberration and not a harbinger.
Opinions expressed in the op-ed section are solely those of the individual author and do not represent the official stance of our newspaper. We believe in providing a platform for a wide range of voices and perspectives, even those that may challenge or differ from our own. As always, we remain committed to providing our readers with high-quality, fair, and balanced journalism. Thank you for your continued support.Sincerely, The Brussels Morning Team