So I engaged in what might be my first Russian-language trolling on Vkontakte, and a “patriot” implied that the recent peace march in Moscow was not legal. In Russian, I questioned why it wouldn’t be legal. Does Russia not have freedom of speech? Isn’t that just Western propaganda spread by Russophobes? Then I got this reply:
“свобода слова это вымысел,петух”
That translates to “freedom of speech is an illusion!” Actually the whole sentence translates to “freedom of speech is an illusion, faggot.” But that icing on the cake only means that this is a real flame war, in Russian! I was thrilled to hear the same line about freedom of speech as Vice reporter Holly Baxter heard from a Russian journalism student on her press junket to Moscow.
Naturally I had to ask him to elaborate, at which point he tried to duck the question. I kept on him, but he claimed that it was too complicated to understand. I told him to try me, but no luck. I guess it’s just another esoteric thing that only people possessing the mysterious Russian soul can understand, just like the mystery as to why a country so rich in resources and human capital has an economy that is just ahead of the state of California.
Given my politics, I can write pages upon pages regarding the limits of free speech. In fact most Americans don’t understand the concept very well at all. A lot of people seem to think it means freedom from criticism or the consequences of your speech. Many believe that private businesses are required to respect your right to free speech; they aren’t. That being said, free speech is not an “illusion.” It is very real when you see a mime wearing a Putin mask being arrested. It’s not an illusion when an ill-conceived performance in a church leads to hard jail time as opposed to fines and community service. It’s not an illusion when a blogger in the Far East gets investigated for “extremism” and planning a “color revolution” just because he makes a joke about how the park benches in his city were painted blue and yellow like the Ukrainian flag. I’m sorry but there is a marked difference in terms of freedom of speech between North Korea, China, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the USA, the latter admittedly having what is arguably the best protection of free speech in the world.
So no, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean the concept of free speech itself is meaningless or illusory. The reason my new best friend on Vkontakte can’t explain how it is an illusion isn’t because the answer is so complex and esoteric. Occam’s razor says that it’s because he was just repeating the same shit that Russia’s pseudo-intellectual hacks in academia and the media ram down their throats without ever really thinking about it. When Russia is criticized for a lack of freedom of speech, you say it’s an illusion and move on. Pray to Orthodox Jesus that they don’t question that.