Saturday, May 21, 2022

Gerhard Schroeder: How free is the Western world?

Just how much freedom is there today in the West? We know that after 9/11, many governments, including those in the US and the UK, armed themselves with sweeping powers to take away an individual's freedom on suspicion of links with terrorism. There is very little recourse in such cases.

But leaving aside restrictions linked to terrorism, just how much freedom of expression do people have even otherwise? You may not be jailed for certain things but the social and economic costs of veering from the mainstream or establishment line can be pretty steep.

A classic illustration is the hounding of Gerhard Schroeder, former Chancellor of Germany, no less. Schroeder is a friend of Putin's and he has refused to join the strident condemnation of Putin in his country from Russia's actions in Ukraine. Schroeder is certainly open to criticism for his position. But we are seeing is a lot worse. 

Schroeder was Chairman of the supervisory board of Rosneft, the Russian oil company, and Chairman of the shareholders' committee  of the Nord Stream gas pipeline projects. Schroeder came under pressure to quit these positions after the Russian operation in Ukraine. When he refused, he lost access to his office at the Bundestag. Next, the EU parliament drafted a resolution extending sanctions to individuals sitting on the boards of Russian companies. Schroeder has now decided to quit the two boards. 

Schroeder has also faced a storm of outrage consequent to the alleged atrocities in Bucha caused by Russia, he told an interviewer that the incident would have to be investigated, a perfectly reasonable stand to take! It is just not possible to have a legitimate disagreement on some matters in the supposedly free societies of the West. If this is the plight of a former Chancellor of Germany, just imagine what dissenters in, say, the media or academic would have to face.

India has come in for severe criticism in the Western media in recent years for displays of intolerance of dissent. Without in any way justifying acts of intolerance in India, it is time to tell the West: Physician, heal thyself.

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