Civil society rises from the (pandemic) ashes!

Leo Olivero

Rising from the ashes, a term used to signal an emergence of the renewed, revitalized, or reborn as something different following some destruction, ruin or appearing, as in the case in point, from a globally devastating and destructive health pandemic!

The coronavirus crisis very much still presents fundamental challenges to governments around the world, this very much, includes the Gibraltar Government.

This public health crisis has led to unprecedented levels of government intervention and dramatic changes to social and economic life. Work stopped; borders closed; governments both encouraged and legally (or illegally) mandated people to stay in their homes and then put in place various quarantine orders.

Governments of all political persuasions also passed a variety of economic support packages.

The local tax payer was asked to foot the bill of our own economical relief measures to keep those laid off from work financially ticking over and on employer’s payrolls. This amount and scope of government activity has not been experienced in living memory, if at all!

Citizens and Their Political Views

So, how has all this government engagement affected the political views of citizens. A valid question, that has now become an interesting ongoing live issue!

Few, in fact, are critical per se of the government handling of the ‘public health pandemic’. Though it’s a different story when it comes to all the hidden packages and political Covid add-ons, cagily announced as part of a so-called ‘Unlocking the Rock’ route map back to normality which has seriously riled many people.

This includes those who have and continued to openly oppose what they believe is the government’s use of the pandemic to introduce a series of measures directly affecting lives. Important issues where, these people say, they have not had a say or asked for views, opinions or explanations.

There are those who are convinced this is no more than the government’s oppressed political strategies, not suited or welcomed in today’s democratic model. People, or a movement who intend to make their concerns and disapproval known, next Monday the 29 June with a public demonstration that has been organised. A situation, that has caused a disturbing and unwelcomed division in society!

As someone who has not been indoctrinated into the local political tribal culture. I have found it disconcerting to read the routinely ridiculously ugly and frequently toxic commentary that passes for much political debate in Gibraltar.  It is as if no end of effort should be expended to avoid serious adult discussion of important questions?

Freedom of Expression

The routine defence for the toxic nature of the many comments on social media is the oft cited right to full and unfettered freedom of expression. Despite claims to the contrary, no such unrestricted right exists and for very good reason. 

Freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is recognised in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

In summary, while vigorously upholding and defending the right of freedom of speech and expression, we must recognise that individuals and whole groups have the right not to be demonised, abused or terrorised by others.