Est-ce que nous sommes Charlie?

Freedom of Expression is one of the most crucial values in a democracy, and yet we are right to disgree what it entails.

Freedom of Expression is one of the most crucial values in a democracy, and yet we are right to disagree on what it covers.

Vienna EUDC is a festival of Freedom of Expression. It is vital to understand that exercising this freedom means respecting each other while contesting authorities.

We debaters are ambassadors of freedom of expression. Debating is based on the assumption that we can only make this world better if everything is debatable and everything can be criticised. The freedom to do this is valuable and, in public discussion, often poorly understood.

Expression or speech is a power, it allows people to articulate ideas, to spread them and to organise in order to make them happen. Indeed, it is the most valuable power that exists, as there is no invention, no revolution, no development that ever happened without people having an idea first, communicating it and transforming it into reality.

Free expression is the natural enemy of authority. As long as people can speak up freely, criticise and organise against an authority (be it a state, an organisation or similar), that authority cannot exist without the people’s consent. It exposes itself constantly to the threat of an organised public with different opinions. This is the underlying principle of democracy. We owe all our wealth and our other freedoms to people who used speech to convince others of good things and strived to make our world better. These people continue to exist as critics, as journalists, as intellectuals, as students, as ordinary people. They are the guardians of democracy, because they speak up as soon as their rights are about to be violated or otherwise driven away.

Our mission at DKWien and other debating societies is precisely to educate these people. To teach them self esteem to speak up against authorities, be it the state, the church or any other kind of institution. We use rhetorical and argumentative training to empower them to spread their ideas – and especially to speak up to make our world better. Freedom of Expression means that we do not have to fear disrespecting authority, that the only consequence might be a battle of words, but no physical harm that will shut us down.

We should be aware though, however, that with the power of speech comes responsibility. As much as we should disrespect authorities and those who tell us what to think or do, we need to respect others who might be harmed by our words. Therefore, we should rightly limit ourselves in using our Freedom of Expression where we inflict harm. Yet, in many cases, this is a difficult decision, as the distinction between bullying and criticising an illegitimate authority can be narrow. As a brief example: we do not believe that religious leaders should be able to tell anyone what to think and they should be criticised, at the same time we have no right to ridicule another person for their beliefs. This is something no authority can decide for us, instead we, who are endowed with the right to speak, need to judge. So how can we solve this trade-off?

We debaters believe debate is the means to finding the answer. Only in a careful and nuanced battle of arguments, we can explore and find out where harm is done and agree on a fine line after a peaceful battle of ideas. We believe that a discourse among sharp clever minds can solve (and will solve in the future) what violence and dogmatism only make worse.  Yet, for their ideas to be free they need the liberty to say absolutely everything.

At Vienna EUDC students of all religions and all countries of Europe will come together exactly for that purpose. They will show their skills in argumentation and train to solve the conflicts of the future with nothing else than words. Welcome to the festival of expression.

Stefan/dpr

Posted in Convener's Logbook, Crow's Nest, Main Deck

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Crow’s Nest

Crow's Nest is the Blog by our Convenor Stefan Zweiker. He reflects on Vienna EUDC and gives you updates about the organisation process

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