Freedom of Symbolic Speech in the Context of Memory Wars in Eastern Europe


This article addresses the historic evolution and recent proliferation of memory laws that prohibit symbolic speech in Eastern Europe. A phenomenon of the latter part of the twentieth century, these laws traditionally enabled democracies to defend themselves against extreme ideologies by restricting symbols of totalitarian regimes. An analysis of recently adopted laws in Ukraine and Russia, however, demonstrates a shift away from these aims to restrictions on the use of symbolic speech as measures to counteract external security threats and competing historical narratives. In the climate of ‘memory wars’ in Eastern Europe, these laws are increasingly employed for the politics of memory and are likely to be misused for expedient political gains while running afoul of international human rights law, including freedom of expression and other norms embodied in the European Convention on Human Rights. The article concludes that drafting these types of laws narrowly and derogating from freedom of expression obligations in times of emergency might help to ensure their compliance with international law.

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