6 Pages

Introduction: Free speech under attack?

Traditional historical accounts of the emergence of freedom of speech are usually framed in terms of a long fought battle between the forces of orthodoxy and repression versus the liberal impulse expressed in phrases such as freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Such accounts tend to portray the long road to freedom of speech emerging as a reaction against varieties of religious orthodoxy, with the struggle gaining momentum around the sixteenth century and continuing until democracy and the liberties it secured were finally established in America at the end of the eighteenth century and in Britain and Europe in the nineteenth century.1 This longstanding and powerful perspective, in which freedom of speech is usually set against forces of repression and ignorance, has endured throughout the twentieth century. For example, during the last century, freedom of speech was framed in relation to the great battle between liberalism and the repressive and oppressive ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism. In the context of the ideological contestations between liberal democracy and for example Soviet totalitarianism, abuse against freedom of speech was just one of the many human rights violations widely reported in the West. Soviet literary dissidents such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak from the Samizdat movement provide us with important examples of dissent against the totalitarian Soviet state.