The freedom of parliamentarians in the exercise of their activity is limited by hate speech. This is the opinion of Augusto Santos Silva, president of the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic, a position equivalent to that of president of the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil.
In an interview with the column, Augusto talked about the way he deals with hate speech, defended that democracy is natural as the air we breathe and highlighted the importance of maintaining permanent vigilance so that democratic foundations are maintained.
Regarding the freedom of parliamentarians, including those of the extreme right or extreme left who are in parliament, Augusto said that everyone is free to express themselves, but without hate speech or incitement to violence.
“Each deputy has exactly the same rights as any other deputy and has to be subject to the will of the majority that results from the parliamentary composition decided by voters. So the rule is: each deputy in himself has all the rights to exercise his mandate because he was elected by the people to be there,” he explains.
“What is the limit? Hate speech. The word is free, everyone expresses their ideas, they can speak ill of democracy, the constitution, speak ill of others, present these policies or those, they are free to exercise their mandate, but they are not free to carry out hate speech in parliament, that is, denying human dignity to anyone, attacking ethnic, religious or whatever groups, or inciting violence against anyone,” he says.
Augusto makes it clear that the definition of hate speech must be objective.
“We use this expression of hate speech and call to violence in a very precise sense. For example, if I say ‘I think Portugal should be inhabited only by Portuguese’”, I consider that a stupid statement but freedom of expression also includes freedom to say stupid things. When I say hate speech, it’s a speech that encourages violence like ‘let’s do this to that group, we understand that people of this ethnic preference or religious conviction should suffer this or that’”, he explains.
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For him, the fact that the center-right and center-left parties remain separate, without forming a central bloc, contributes to reducing extremist discourses.
“The two parties, center right and center left, both our more conservative party here in Portugal that is called Democrata, and our left democratic party that is called Socialist, have alternated between themselves and have fled the temptation to form a central block. When this central block is constituted, the extremes grow. When people can choose between a center-right party and a center-left party to lead the government, the extremes don’t grow,” he says.
Another important point highlighted by Augusto to the column is the differentiation of voters of populist leaders from populist leaders themselves. For him, this differentiation is fundamental when dealing with the people.
“The questions that voters from the extremes ask are meaningful questions, like these: ‘Why did I lose my job? Why is my family’s income falling?’ These questions make sense. What doesn’t make sense are populist responses. And so we must respect everyone whatever the party they vote for and we must seek answers to the questions that populists voters ask, which obviously cannot be as simplistic answers as those offered by populism”, he argues.
Regarding the strength of Portuguese democracy, although the country has already lived under a dictatorship, the President of Parliament says that there was a process of naturalization that makes democracy as natural as the air we breathe.
“That is the great strength of Portuguese democracy: having made it all natural. In such a way that, from time to time, we have some nostalgic people who say some barbarity but in practice no one disconnects or even gets sick because that is so episodic, so circumstantial that it is like a kind of hot flash. A spark that lights up and then goes out”, says he, who is on an official visit to Brazil.
About the risk of a return to the defense of the dictatorship in the country, Augusto extols the importance of always being vigilant.
“It is always necessary to have a permanent vigilance. It’s like fireworks, even when the landscape seems peaceful we always have to keep watch over the towers”, concludes the president of the Portuguese parliament.
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