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Round Tables

Title
Limits to Free Expression about the Past
Session code
RT11
Date Time
Wednesday, August 24th / 09.00-12.30
Organizers
Antoon de Baets
Place
Collegium Maius, 327
Abstract

Society has a strong interest in the free expression about history and in a robust public debate about it. This interest even increases when past public figures are involved, in the case of victims of atrocity crimes, and with the passage of time. According to international human rights law, this interest in the free expression about history and in a robust public debate about it can be restricted only under carefully determined circumstances and narrowly formulated conditions in the service of a few pre-selected permissible purposes. Memory and tradition are not among these pre-selected permissible purposes. However, memory and tradition can be rephrased in such terms with relative ease: “Respect for the memory of the dead” can be rephrased as an application of the permissible purpose “respect of the rights or reputations of others,” and “protection of the tradition of the ancestors” as an application of the permissible purpose “public morals.” With these reframing options in mind, this paper balances the interests of history, memory, and tradition against each other. Within strict limits, “memory” can be seen as a guarantee for reputation and privacy, and “tradition” as a guarantee for morals. If that is the case, memory and tradition act as acceptable checks on how a society deals with its past. Memory and tradition then trump history. In all other cases – the large majority – they constitute problematic limits: in overprotecting them, memory and tradition distort and censor the free expression about history and the public debate about it. Memory and tradition then trample history.