Free flow of information is a facilitator of democracy

During the cold war, the Soviet Union deployed radio jammers in the bay of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia. The purpose was to limit people’s access to Finnish television in the then Soviet Baltic states.

It didn’t work. When Finnish television aired the soft porn movie Emanuelle, the streets of Estonian capital Tallin were empty. And after every episode of Dallas, people in northern Estonia kept friends and relatives in other parts of the country up to date with the doings of JR & Co by mail. (There is a very interesting and amusing film about this, Disco and Atomic War.)

When the Berlin Wall fell, people in the GDR had a rather good picture of life in the west from radio and television, transmitted from the BRD and West Berlin. And they knew that the world was watching and supporting the change that was going on.

Free flow of information is a facilitator of democracy.

Today, we have the Internet. It’s global, it’s instant and even in places where the regimes try to build digital walls, there are often ways to connect to the global network.

The Internet is as important for people who live under political and religious oppression today, as radio and television were during the cold war.

With access to strong encryption and other tools, the Internet also allows people within such countries to communicate in a relatively safe way with each other. This is essential to build a democratic opposition, enable activism and build alternate structures.

It has turned out that it is very difficult to introduce and uphold democracy by military means. And the Arabian Spring shows that freedom and democracy cannot be won overnight. It is a frustratingly slow process, that frequently backfires. But to succeed it is essential that people in totalitarian and failed states can find support, inspiration and good examples from us in the (relatively) free world.

The fight for a free and open internet is not only about our freedom and privacy. It’s about a democratic and peaceful world.

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