Celebrating 60 years of Freedom
On Wednesday, September 26th, 2018, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Ukraine and Belarus celebrated the Foundation’s 60th birthday in Kyiv’s D12. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation was founded on 19 May 1958 by then German federal president Theodor Heuss. One of the Foundation’s goals was to provide civic education to people in order to turn as many citizens as possible into guarantors of freedom and democracy. As the German ambassador to Ukraine Ernst Reichel, who opened the evening part of the event, noted: Ukraine is a very logical place to celebrate sixty years of freedom, for “Ukraine currently fights for its’ freedom”.
The celebrations in Kyiv consisted of two parts: an afternoon program for the Foundation’s Ukrainian alumni and an evening program with a panel discussion for a larger audience. FNF board member Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger discussed the topic “Freedom is always worth fighting for- today more than ever?” together with leader of political party “Power of People” Oleksandr Solontai, head of the Journalist Ethics Commission Andrii Kulykov and writer Mykola Riabchuk.
All panel members agreed that freedom is worth fighting for, and moreover, that freedom is one of the biggest values in politics. Andrii Kulykov even stated that “it is worth it to fight for freedom and moreover, it is worth it to win!” Throughout the panel discussion, it became clear that there were three topics that were very pressing concerning freedom in Ukraine. These topics were the freedom of Ukrainian media, the unification of the Ukrainian liberals and the responsibility that comes with being liberal.
The elephant in the room was obviously the Ukrainian presidential elections, which will take place in March 2019. For the first time since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a liberal candidate has a fair chance of winning the presidency. The liberal parties in Ukraine are thus contemplating whether or not they should unite in order to have a bigger chance of winning these elections. Oleksandr Solontai thus received many questions from the audience about uniting with other liberal parties, varying from a plea to unite to the rhetorical question “How many liberals have to become desperate before we can unite?”
A final concern Solontai had with uniting with other liberal parties is the number of attacks its activists have to endure. Just last Saturday, September 22, Power of People activist Oleg Mykhailyk was shot and wounded in its hometown Odesa. Human rights activists and anti-corruption activists have to endure lots of these attacks in Ukraine, and Solontai fears that if liberal parties unite their political power, “the number of attacks will rise, are we ready for this challenge?”
“The problem of liberals is that we obey the rules and those who fight us don’t”
A second big issue during the panel discussion was the road towards becoming a liberal, free country. When Andrii Kulykov was on a business trip in Berlin, he was stunned by seeing cars and people freely crossing the street without hindering each other. In Kyiv it can be difficult to cross the street sometimes, where cars do not always stop for zebra crossings. Kulykov believes that Germany is the example of a liberal country, where people take their responsibility and do not only pursue their own interests, but take into account the greater good.
Oleksandr Solontai believes that in order for Ukraine to become a fully liberal democratic country, it needs to get rid of its poverty. He believes that poor people are so occupied with their daily struggle to survive, that they cannot be active citizens who participate in a democracy. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger disagrees with his view, and believes that although poor people cannot be as politically active as rich people, they still have an opinion. It does not mean they are without any values. Mykola Riabchuk believes that Ukraine is already on its way towards becoming a liberal country.
There is no crisis of liberal democracy, for liberal principles are being realized.
Guests from the audience were widely concerned about press freedom in Ukraine. Although the media is officially free in the country, almost all media outlets are owned by oligarchs, who want their media to publish mainly in accordance with their own views and interests. One guest noted that journalists are being bought and if they aren’t for sale they are being punished or put in jail. Andrii Kulykov noted that not everybody can be bought, threatened or killed, and that free media should earn their own money.
In the concluding remarks, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was positive about the direction Ukraine is taking. “Everybody wants to go to the EU, but Ukraine isn’t that bad, and there are some very good developments”.
In general, the celebratory event was a great opportunity for the alumni and other invitees to network and to get to know each other. We hope that this will lead to even more cooperation amongst our friends and alumni!