Imagine a world where free speech, free choice, and free thoughts are a thing of the past, something merely forgotten by the citizens, yet still felt in their core to be missing. It might seem like the ultimate gloom, a distant dystopia based on contrivances produced by a restless mind – a writer, perhaps. Yet, despite this world being the thought experiment by many gifted minds, the truth is that it has also been the reality for millions of people throughout history. They have lived and died in oppressive states, never able to speak their minds, never given the opportunity to choose their own path. When sitting safely in a democracy, it might be difficult to grasp how fragile its structures are, but history will tell you, it is not a given that it will last forever.
We are the lucky ones; think for a second about what that means. For you to even be able to read this article, there needs to be a net positive interest in upholding freedom of thought and speech in this region of the world at the moment. This interest manifests itself throughout the free parts of the world in many ways and is the foundation upon which our democratic society is built. It is the belief that the individual’s freedom is worth preserving, and that we should work towards upholding it by letting all citizens equally raise their voices for what they believe is right.
But, those rights we talk about, that fundamental belief we all wish to preserve, are not only rights on their own. They come with certain responsibilities as well. In this regard, I would say they come with a responsibility to do our part by exercising our rights. This was not something I truly considered until I, during this last election, was tempted to vote blank. The urge stemmed from an uncertainty of what I really believed, and my distrust rising from the lies told by several parties. In the eleventh hour, I was reminded by a friend of that very issue; our right, and also our responsibility, as citizens of a democracy, is to uphold and partake in its function.
“Vote,” she said, “Goddamnit, vote!” and the disobedient child within me told her to mind her own business. It is of course our own business what we choose to do – that is the freedom we choose to upkeep – but her utterance was also one calling for respect towards those who live under an authoritarian rule and those who fight to get out of it. We are often oblivious to the good things while pointing out what we think falters. The problem comes when what is foul is criticised but never resolved. What you consider right becomes dormant and silent, and is converted into passivity. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone makes the effort to make that opinion heard through a vote. I have also found that people tend to downplay how lucky we are to even be able to criticise our government. The importance of this freedom was further reinforced in me when I read George Orwell’s 1984, which takes place in that very same reality I described at the beginning of this text.
Orwell’s classic is a plea to future generations not to let the downfall of a totalitarian government happen in the free parts of the world as we, at that point, might not be able to get out of the oppression. It is also a call for people to resist the tendency to fall silent in hard times, and instead, call out corruption where it appears. It has a tragic ending, which utterly broke my heart, but it was also meticulously crafted that way to inspire its readers to act. In some way, the victorious ending is reserved for the real world. Here is hoping that we will get to take part in it the best way we can; by refusing to let it happen to begin with. I ended up voting after all, and the close encounter I had with passivity has turned into a new urge; one for passing on the reminder to others.
I find it important to remember that our experience in Sweden is far from the norm in the world. In the last sixteen years, the number of democratic nations in the world has been on a steady decline, according to data from Freedom House. Though the decline does not imply that those nations now house a dystopian Orwellian reality, the possibility for countries to end up with similar traits certainly exists. We know this, yet when living a comfortable day-to-day life, it is not easy to deny that the democratic rights we have might one day be revoked.
In the good days, when it seems there is no immediate threat, it is easy to get complacent, saying that one vote will not make a difference. I am very guilty of having done this myself, but I will be careful not to let the thought creep in again. For the government to be representative of the people it serves, it will have to have been elected by the people – all of the people – it serves. All votes matter, since they all contribute to the measurement of the general opinion at the time. Every single one calls for a specific direction in which our nation might walk for the coming four years, and as evident in recent years passed – a lot can happen in four years.
No matter what party you choose, make sure you know what it will bring to the daily lives of millions, including yours if they were to represent you as a citizen. Also, as you know by now; vote goddamnit, vote!
By Karolina Tunon
Image: Unseen Histories