MAGAZINE
Index’s summer magazine launch party takes a look at the Weimar Republic and the lessons for today
05 Jul 2019
BY MAYA RUBIN

“What is said and what is written is unbelievably important,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the board of Index on Censorship, at the close of the recent launch party for the Summer 2019 edition of Index Magazine.

The summer 2019 edition, Judged: How Governments Use Power to Undermine Justice and Freedom, looks at attempts to undermine freedom of expression through attacks on the judiciary. The magazine covers issues ranging from new laws in Venezuela intended to limit freedom of the press to instances of self-censorship due to government control of content-sharing platforms in China to new technology created by journalists to check back against threats from politicians regarding the coverage of recent elections in South Africa.

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index magazine, explained that the idea behind the theme came from conversations she had with journalists in Italy covering areas with limited press freedom and hostile environments for journalists. She said, “one of the things that [the journalists] said kept them going was that there were still lawyers who were willing to stand up with them and defend them when they were attacked, when they had libel suits against them, when all the things that happen to them mean that they end up having to stand before a judge.”

This inspired Jolley to curate the latest edition of the magazine around legal issues, to address the legal fight for free speech behind the work of journalists to liberate the media under repressive regimes.

The keynote speaker of the evening was German writer Regula Venske, whose article What Does Weimar Mean to us 100 Years On? was published in the issue. Venske spoke about the history and ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic, which is now known for fraught democracy and the promotion of freedom of expression, though Venske spoke about how attempts to preserve free speech in the republic were often complicated or insufficient. She walked the audience through some of the influential writing and art produced before the republic’s fall to Nazism.

To conclude, Venske quoted Weimar-era author and poet Erich Kästner: “You cannot fight the avalanche once it has developed into an avalanche, you have to crush the snowball.”

Venske added: “I think that is quite a good saying for the times we are now living in, though unfortunately, he did not leave a recipe for how one could prevent this. I think we need to keep on working for it.”

Phillips, the last speaker of the evening, lamented the state of media freedom in the multiple countries where right-wing leaders have recently come to power. He mentioned specifically the rise of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, two countries covered in the summer issue. “My time at Index has been marked not by the incredible march of progress but actually a reminder, pretty much every week, why what this organisation does is so important,” he said.

He applied Kästner’s quote to the work Index on Censorship continues to do around the globe. Like Kästner, he explained, Index works to warn the people before the snowballs represented by the arrest of a journalist or the censorship of an artwork become an avalanche of fascism.

“The avalanche starts long before you hear it,” Phillips concluded. “A large part of what we do is give the avalanche warning.”

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The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

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Maya Rubin

Maya Rubin is an undergraduate intern at Index on Censorship. She is a student at Wellesley College and was an Adam Smith Fellow at the Freedom Project 2018-2019.

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