Free speech not as important in Eastern Europe

With the whole controversy around Michael Savage being blocked from entering England because of his inflammatory comments I thought I would look at attitudes toward speech. One thing I've noticed is that Americans tend to be less instrumental when it comes to matters of speech; that is, speech is not justified as a means, as opposed to being a basic liberal right. In contrast in most other parts of the world people seem more likely to justify the right to speech as a utility in the service of some other end. This difference results in a variance in the way people approach offensive and patently societally unredeemable speech.

The World Values Survey has a question about national goals where individuals rate the goals as :

Very important
Not very important
Not at all important

Below the fold are the proportions of those who rated free speech as a not very important, or not at all important, national goal.


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I'm sure Michael Savage was the first to protest when Yussuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, was refused entry in the USA, for unknown reasons.

The Eastern European data is consistent with conventional wisdom and the ease with which dictators like Putin are able to crush opposition media.

I'm surprised at Venezuela. Chavez has been able to directly attack and shut down opposition media. That angered his opponents, of course, but his supporters didn't mind. So the data suggests the average Chavez supporter supports free speech, but also supports Chavez shutting down opposition media.

I know the hard left in America champions free speech, even when they physically prevent conservatives from speaking and use physical threats and mob tactics to shout down opposition speakers. But they are a minority of Obama supporters. I'd like to think most Democrats would object strenuously if Obama tried to shut-down FoxNews, talk radio, and Drudge.

I'm curious about the data for East and Southeast Asia. And what the trends have been in recent decades. Has Eastern Europe become more pro-free speech as it has joined up with NATO and the EU? I'd assume younger generations in Eastern Europe are trending to Western European levels - even those countries still dominated by Russia -- but maybe not.

Two details stand out: First, Puetro Rico is given a separate entry even though it is part of the US. By this metric PR is much more pro Free Speech than the rest of the US (although both numbers are so small that the margin of error may be contributing substantially to the difference.

Second, by this metric the most pro free speech country is Bangladesh. Bangladesh is in some ways one of the more Westernized countries in that region, but I'd be very curious as to why they would be so pro free speech. Can someone with more detailed knowledge about the culture and history maybe explain that further?

Yusef Islam said live on British television during the Rushdie affair that he would attend the public burning of the author and when asked to clarify he repeated it again and was serious. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner was sat right next to him, it was a debate on whether the Rushdie should have censored himself and both the Commissioner and Islam were on the same side.

Because Yusef Islam had very clearly broken the law, an opposite panellist pointed it out and was angry at the policeman for not making an arrest there and then. I don't think either the US or Britain accepts his comments as being protected free-speech and I think he's probably been on the US banned list for some time.

By Lucas McCarty (not verified) on 06 May 2009 #permalink

Don't forget, Michael Savage is not only banned from England - but also from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - the whole United Kingdon in fact. ;)

I'm a bit unsure about what it means to say something is or is not important as a national goal.

For one thing, does that mean important as an is, or an ought? I might consider free speech as something that should be critically important, while simultaneously recognizing that my country as a political unit does not favour the pursuit of free speech: how then do I answer?

For another, I might reasonably interpret 'national goals' as things that need to be pursued because they are at risk or because they are clear and current problems. As such, if I see freedom of speech as something that is secured I might not regard it as an important goal - even if I see it as vital in its own right.

Third, it's potentially ambiguous as to what 'important for this country' means: does it mean for the citizens of the country, for example, or for the country's international standing? I imagine translation artifacts could shift such ambiguities either way (through differences in implication deriving from prepositional choice, for instance).

Dunno; I think the question is badly enough written to make these findings rather unhelpful.

It's interesting that Brazilians come out so strongly in favor of free speech when, in all actuality, they are strongly supportive of government regulation regarding, for example, discussion of race issues.


I think that eastern european countries don't value free speech due to the reign of the soviets instead of the other way around. Free speech was not allowed in eastern europe for nearly 50 years in the 20th century so people learned to get along without it.