We are living in an incredibly interesting period, when all established institutions are questioned, when technological creativity neighbours on social deconstruction, when society has decided to end one of its development stages, sentencing a god named Tolerance to death.

Nicolai Khalezin
Nicolai Khalezin
Co-artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre, playwright, director, journalist

If we look at the world history through the prism of tolerance we can see just one unfinished turn of the spiral: absence – birth – development – death beginning. It’s a process contrary to the escalation of violence in the world, which develops turn after turn, with a different degree in different historical periods. The escalation of violence can be compared with processes in visual art, when Romanesque art is followed by Gothic art, Gothic art is followed by the Renaissance, the Renaissance is followed by the Baroque… And closer to today – Modernism is followed by Postmodernism, Impressionism – by Post-Impressionism, Expressionism – by Neo-Expressionism… Violence tries new approaches and creates new turns in its development in direct relation to the development of science and changes in mass conscience, based on the expanding knowledge of psychology, both individual and crowd.

Tolerance is in its first turn, having approached the dangerous line close to its end. The rapid evolutionary development of this process has led to certain problems – the conservative part of the world community appeared to be not ready for radical changes in conscience. It has plenty of reasons: from religious ones, when orthodox branches of official religions oppose the development of tolerance, to active resistance from social and political institutions in a range of countries and regions.

There’s a number of factors that have brought us to the current situation regarding tolerance in the world.

Firstly, it’s a dynamic factor. A big gap between the rapid dynamics of certain processes and the retarded development of others.

For example, almost absolute sexually-oriented tolerance in the Netherlands; the lack of culture regarding this issue in certain European countries – Belarus, Ukraine, Poland; death penalty for homosexuality in a number of Asian and African countries – this polarity leads to the escalation of tension and is thus used by various forces for earning political capital.

Secondly, it’s a legal factor. A big difference between legal potentials in defending minorities in different countries.

Legal systems of different countries are ready to defend an individual or minority groups in entirely different ways. For example, if Britain needed just a few years of public discussion as a legal framework was being formed to adopt a law on gay marriages, most European countries don’t even have the issue on their agenda.

Thirdly, it’s a social factor. Social stratification both between countries and inside each individual country.

Total social stratification is a perfect field for obtaining political dividends against the background of an increasing degree of aversion to any otherness. Earlier, this factor could have been referred to mostly poorer and socially undeveloped countries, but it has also expanded to the “old democracies” in the past few years.

The world’s top countries, leaders in tolerance development, have taken unprecedented actions in recent years, planting a time bomb under the collective dynamics of tolerance development in the world, actually launching a series of reactive actions towards a range of minorities.

Homophobic, racist and sexist remarks by US president Trump; clericalisation of governmental and public institutions in Poland; a wave of anti-Roma and anti-Romanian protests in Hungary supported and to a great extent prompted by the government; demonisation and marginalisation of migrants and refugees across Europe… And a result of it, the growing popularity of right-wing politicians, who increase the escalation of violence and play the card of an aggressive attitude towards any form of otherness.

Of course, we shouldn’t blame politicians and right-wing parties for everything. The current situation is to a large extent a result of actions by left-wing politicians, as well as a range of civil society institutions.

For example, the initiative to cut spending on migrants, their support and adaptation, in the UK came from Tony Blair’s Labour cabinet. If we look at the imbalance in the ungrounded support of minorities to the detriment of the majority? which has led to discontent among various sections of the population in many countries around the world, it also was an “achievement” of the left sector in the political field – from parties and social movements to trade union organisations and civil society institutions.

In many cultures, tolerance is a synonym of toleration and acceptance. The term emerged in scientific discourse in the 18th century. It’s indicative that the term is often not used in totalitarian societies. For example, in the USSR, the word disappeared from scientific and public discourse in the early 1930s, when the last democratic institutions were eliminated, and returned to usage only in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The idea that there can be too much tolerance is perhaps not worth discussing. Otherwise, we will have to admit that toleration and acceptance must have some limits. What politicians and heads of state should pay attention to is the synchronisation of tolerance development in society with the growth of well-being, improvements in the legal framework and the development of sectors like education and culture. It is these areas that can lay a solid foundation for tolerance in society and warn against abuses in politics that provoke intolerance towards any otherness.

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