by Atahan Erbas & Marit Pepplinkhuizen
Contributing Writer & Opinion/Politics Section Editor
As the meeting point of international students, Pangaea decided to continue to provide students with various activities online. One of those activities is Speakers' Corner. By taking freedom of speech as its foundation, the main aim of Speakers' Corner is to create an inter-subjective space for a diverse range of opinions on current political and social issues. In addition, Pangaea has discussed many topics relating to daily life in Leuven, such as: discussing whether sustainability is a cultural and/or economical problem as well as discussing if Pangaea had become an isolated study place on another occasion. In this sense, Speakers' Corner is an open space for students who want to share their opinions about their immediate surroundings and more general issues; at least, it used to be.
Nowadays, Speakers' Corner, as all events/activities of its kind, is semi-permanently suspended due to the new measures taken by the Belgian government and KU Leuven in order to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic.
Initially, the measures taken in response to the spread of Covid-19 and the pandemic itself might be seen as a threat to the future of Speakers' Corner. However, Atahan Erbas, a student of philosophy and organizer of the upcoming Speaker’s Corner, urges us to consider the positive aspect of this story, maybe not positive it a very joyful sense, but rather energizing, at least mentally.
“Initially, the suspension of Speakers' Corner might not be seen as a topic worth being discussed compared to the inability of the governments to provide health resources or the potential economic crisis following the pandemic crisis. On the other hand, […] it is still important to investigate the symbolic meaning of this suspension. The condition of this suspension does not only denote the cancellation of an event, but also the absence of the freedom of speech and the other inter-subjective achievements of human beings.” Atahan goes on to say that, although, it is valid to claim that the measures taken are normatively justifiable because of the lethal aspect of the pandemic, it is still a basic right - and it is still necessary by the definition of democratic decision making processes - to examine the measures of any government or international institution. Therefore, Atahan argues that Speakers' Corner pulls its weight and continues to provide students with an open-discussion online.
“For the first online session, discussing Giorgio Agamben's radical comments (and his respondents) on the Covid-19 crisis and the measures taken by the governments is a must to tackle the recent political, social and private issues.”
Atahan explains that the first online session will focus on Agamben’s statements because in his short article called “The state of exception provoked by an unmotivated emergency” published on the 26th of February, he argues that the "emergency" measures against the pandemic are “frantic, irrational, and absolutely unwarranted”. “Following this analysis, he claims that in the name of public health and safety, the governments imposed the limitation of freedom on us. In addition, he bases this claim on the model of a social mechanism, which he calls a vicious circle, in which the governments are both the real creator of the state of panic (not the pandemic itself), and the ones which are satisfied in the sense of being powerful (not the citizens). Then, what is exceptional in his presentation of the current situation is the lack of the presentation of the pandemic as a lethal danger to public health and the future of human beings. In this respect, it was not surprising that various philosophers (and many other people regardless of their profession) came to disagree with Agamben on this point.”
Thus, the first online Speaker’s Corner will mainly be on the dispute between Agamben and the majority, yet, there is a further point to be mentioned, which Atahan emphasizes. “Regardless of whether Agamben is right or wrong, his dispute is pragmatically instructive for the concept of Speakers' Corner as such. In his article, he does not only criticize the measures, but also tries to remind us of that our freedom to discuss the social problems is prior to the measures taken by the governments, regardless of whether the governments stipulate them for the sake of public safety. In this respect, reading Agamben and many others' texts reminds us of our right and responsibility to provide an open-discussion space for all of us to practice our freedom of speech. And this is what Pangaea exactly aims to achieve during the sessions of Speakers' Corner."