European citizens must not take 'democratic development' for granted

Elections are a time to remember the 'human sacrifice' made for our 'basic rights and freedoms', says Eija-Riitta Korhola.

Last year I became a grandmother for the first time. Of course, like any grandmother, my positive emotions flooded me as my whole family greeted our newest and most precious new family member.

Part of my joy was, of course, based on the confident knowledge that my granddaughter has been born in good health and into a free society where she can be guaranteed a good education, good healthcare and, as she grows, freedom of thought, opinion and religious faith.

As I campaign for re-election to the European parliament here in Finland, I am reminded that these basic rights and freedoms should not be taken for granted as they have been facilitated by centuries of democratic development which, in turn, have been the result of immense human sacrifice by those who stood for religious freedom, the right to vote and, in particular when I think of my granddaughter, equal rights for women.

In the current election, I do not see such issues at the top of the political agenda as the election process is one that must appeal to the current human struggles in my country like jobs, a return of economic growth, a balanced view on environmental issues and how the European Union affects life in Finland. Underlying all these issues is the assumption that our basic rights and freedoms will be preserved but they were part of the battles of the past in this relatively affluent country.

However, they are a great and sobering reminder of our past struggles when we consider that so many societies have barely started down this road of human struggle towards the destination of human equality and dignity.

Some years ago, I was chatting with my friend about her campaign for religious freedom in her country. She knew that she was putting her life in danger by being outspoken on this issue that we take as a basic right though her countrymen could not.

She confidently asked me to continue her work if she, as others before her, were to lose her life in the struggle. That friend was Benazir Bhutto who was, soon after, murdered for her beliefs and her love of mankind. A short while after that tragic loss to the unfree and free worlds, I accompanied Shahbaz Bhatti to US president Barack Obama's prayer breakfast. Shahbaz was, at that time the first minority minister in Pakistan and the only Christian in the Pakistan government. He too knew exactly the personal risk that was attached to his outspoken beliefs - and he too was murdered.

"Being an MEP opens doors for me and allows me to promote human rights where there are none, getting innocent people out of prison, to balance environmental initiatives with feeding our growing world population"

Of course my position as chair of the 'first step forum' allows me to advance the work of my dearly departed Pakistani heroes. That work has recently taken me into Egypt, South Sudan, and Pakistan. This work is, of course, in parallel with my official MEP position for the environment, our economy and our citizens but there are always overlaps.

Being an MEP opens doors for me and allows me to promote human rights where there are none, getting innocent people out of prison, to balance environmental initiatives with feeding our growing world population and most importantly to one day allow all new grandmothers to rejoice in the birth, the life and the freedom of our grandchildren.

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