By Bohumir Zidek
From the 10th to the 12th of April, on the first really warm weekend of this spring in Central Europe, European Students for Liberty organized their 4th annual conference in Berlin.
This year’s schedule featured a lot of interesting names. Among them the MEP and self-described “Old Whig”, Daniel Hannan, the Danish journalist responsible for publishing of controversial Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in 2005 and also a staunch defender of free speech, Flemming Rose, and the man who ended Orban’s two-thirds majority in Hungary, Zoltan Kesz.
“Libertarian” Islam vs. “Communist” Islamism
On Friday afternoon one of the first sessions was held by Admir Ćavalić and Zahra Sultan. Admir showed the audience that is possible to make an Islamic case for liberty and free markets. He supported this claim with a lot of citations from the Quran and other sources.
He mentioned that Muslims in the original Islamic state were only taxed 2.5% of their income and non-Muslims by 10%, which is much lower than in today’s massive states. A really important quote from the Prophet Muhammad states: ”Truly your blood, your property, and your honor are inviolable.” Unfortunately the IS and other jihadist groups probably don´t know of this quote. Or maybe don’t want to know.
Zahra is a Shi’ite Muslim, who fled from Afghanistan, lived in Iran as a refugee for 15 years and since 2008 lives in Canada. In her talk she focused on parallels between the communist utopian ideas, which have led to totalitarian dystopia, and the ideas of radical Islamism.
Nobody deserves to die at sea
In Friday’s keynote Martin Xuereb, Malta’s former Chief of Defence, presented a project named Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). This privately funded foundation aims to save the lives of immigrants inthe Mediterranean Sea.
Unfortunately the events of the last weeks proved, how much this sort of projects is needed. MOAS uses a 40m boat equipped with drones, fast rigid-hulled inflatable boats and a clinic manned by doctors.
As you can see in this video (MOAS video), which was also shown at the conference, last year in 60 days of operations the foundation saved 3000 lives, including women and children.
A few weeks ago, after the new disasters in the Mediterranean Sea occurred, the MOAS announced that they are running a new operation to save more lives. As the project is financed by private individuals, consider if you want to support them by donation.
We don’t need the government, to save peoples’ lives.
Hayek and Friedman in Iceland
Saturday morning started with Hannes Hólmsteinn’s personal recollections of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
Friedrich Hayek visited Iceland in 1980 after his 80th birthday, when the Mr. Hólmsteinn’s liberal organization sent him a birthday letter.
According to Mr. Hólmsteinn, Hayek liked Icelandic food and drank Burgundy. They had a discussion with him about his last conversation with John Maynard Keynes before Keynes’ death. Hayek asked him what he thinks about some contemporary Keynesians and JMK replied: “They are just fools.”
After that Hayek said to the Icelandic liberals: “The Marxists are worse than Marx. The Keynesians are much worse than Keynes. You have to promise me not to become Hayekians.”
Speaking of Friedman, Mr. Hólmsteinn recalled his bleeding heart libertarian face quoting his words: “Capitalism is good for consumers. Capitalism is good for workers.”
And Friedman’s message to libertarians? “Don’t defend me, defend our ideas!”
Ukraine, Hungary and Putin
Two Saturday’s slots belonged to countries which are facing Mr. Putin’s expansion – Hungary and Ukraine.
The panel on Ukraine dealt with the corruption, oligarchy and cronyism which have dominated politics of the land since the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The Russian journalist and libertarian activist/politician Vera Kichanova was speaking about the Russian propaganda machine, which makes Russian’s public believe, that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis, who are crucifying Russian children. But one thing has to be made clear: “Putin is not the same thing as Russia,” stated Kichanova.
Zoltan Kesz is a founder of the Hungarian think tank Free Market Foundation, who made the news worldwide at the end of February. He defeated a candidate of the governing Fidesz party and ended Viktor Orban’s two third majority.
The Hungarian crony prime minister Orban says that the place of Hungary is not necessarily in Europe and he has become friendly with Russia and its president Putin.
According to Kesz, 20 years ago Fidesz used to be very liberal party, but now they are a bunch of crony guys. Fidesz nationalized private pension funds, created a monopoly of tobacco retail industry, and introduced extra taxes on banks and telecommunications.
Mr. Kesz, an independent candidate supported by the left-wing opposition, defeated Fidesz’s candidate despite of a massive smear campaign by government run media: “One day I was depicted as a free market fundamentalist, next day as a communist.”
In the case of Zoltan Kesz the strategy of an independent candidate supported by the democratic opposition parties succeeded. Unfortunately, in another by-election the parties weren’t able to back up one candidate. The most successful opposition candidate was therefore a member of the fascist party Jobbik, who is even more pro-Putin than Orban.
So the biggest danger for Hungarian politics is that there will be just two alternatives – pro-Putin crony government and even more pro-Putin fascists, concluded Mr. Kesz.
Frank Schäfller and Daniel Hannan
Another Central European politician, Frank Schäffler, just founded a new free market think tank in Berlin, Prometheus – The Freedom Institute. Schäffler is a former German MP for liberal FDP. As a staunch supporter of free markets and opponent of centralization he often found himself at odds with his own party establishment. For example he was one of the few center-right coalition MPs who voted against ESM, opposing bailouts as a failed policy. “A role model for our think tank is the Cato Institute,” Schäffler said. He also stated, they are not willing to diminish the other like-minded organizations in Germany. Their aim is much more to connect them.
Saturday´s keynote speech was held by the MEP for the British Conservative Party, Dan Hannan. His persuasive speech focused on the criticism of the European Union from the classical liberal insight. Centralization and overregulation is simply incompatible with liberty.
It was interesting that Dan Hannon mentioned patriotism as a natural component of his libertarian philosophy. I think that this can work only for the British and Americans, who have the ideas of the Glorious Revolution or the Declaration of independence respectively as a part of their land’s “genetics”. This definitely won’t work for us Czechs, Austrians or Germans.
Political libertarianism and Rand Paul
On Sunday morning James Lark discussed libertarians’ attitude towards politics, which is made quite complicated by the fact that: “Libertarians hate politics.”
As a political libertarian Mr. Lark advocates limited government, a really small one, which is only there to protect peoples´ right. “Anything peaceful should be allowed,” he stated.
In the United States it is very difficult to speak about libertarianism, because many people don’t know what it is and confuse libertarians with librarians. FALSE- we don’t even know what librarians are
I asked Mr. Lark, what he, as a political libertarian and Libertarian Party member, thinks about Rand Paul’s candidacy in the Republican presidential primaries. Isn’t he afraid, it could hurt libertarianism by association with some Paul’s stances, which are not so libertarian and also not so popular (e.g. abortions, gay marriages)?
James Lark said that he is afraid and it is almost sure, that some media will try to use some of Paul’s positions to discredit libertarianism. Rand Paul doesn’t call himself libertarian, but Libertarian Republican or constitutional conservative. And he is still much better than anyone else in the Republican field. But that is not so difficult.
A dangerous keynote speech
James Lark’s speech was actually moved to another room, because of the security measures preceding Sunday’s keynote.
This was to be held by Flemming Rose, the Danish journalist responsible for publishing the infamous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad back in 2005.
Because of the security measures the beginning of the speech was delayed by an hour and a half. The people from the private security company and the public policemen really thoroughly searched us.
I didn’t expect much from the Flemming Rose’s speech, maybe some kind of je-suis-Charlie quasi free speech advocacy. I was proved wrong. Rose´s keynote was a bold defense of free speech. He criticized European hate speech laws and the worldwide criminalizing of speech.
More and more people today don’t really understand a relationship between freedom and tolerance anymore. They think that the tolerance is a burden, which should be beard by a speaker, and if the speaker offends a listener in any way, he is violating the listener’s freedom.
But, as Mr. Rose pointed out, we should let all speakers feel free to say anything, especially things we disapprove. This is what tolerance all about is. And this is true free speech.
Many people are also forgetting that there is a huge difference between speeches and deeds. If we think that words somehow equate to physical actions, Mr. Rose argues, we are denying the ideas of Enlightenment. It was common before the Enlightenment to think that is justified to jail or kill people for what they are saying.
Rose also reminded us, that it is incorrect to imply that the hate speech laws are needed for avoiding tragedies like the Holocaust from happening and that free speech was somehow co-responsible for the rise of National Socialism in Germany.
As Mr. Rose pointed out, the Weimar Republic also had hate speech laws. Nazi mastermind Joseph Goebbles was jailed twice in the 1920’s because of his anti-Semitism. Nazi publication Der Stürmer was prosecuted, confiscated or censored 46 times.
And worst of all, our hate speech laws serve as a role model for the 3rd world countries and all the authoritarian regimes who desire to restrict free speech. They can always say that if the European countries have such laws, there is nothing wrong with introducing their own versions modified in accordance with so called local traditions.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, everybody was speaking of their support for free speech. However, in France, many people were jailed right after the attack for their so called “glorification of terrorism” – the most famous is the case of the comedian Dieudonne, who wrote on the social network “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”- (Coulibaly was the surname of the terrorist, who attacked the kosher shop after the Charlie Hebdo massacre).
This is ridiculous. And we should stop it. Flemming Roses’ message is clear: Repeal all the “hate speech” laws in every country and embrace true free speech.
The list of speakers and presentations of the ESFL conference is incredible. There had been many more brilliant speakers, among them Tom Palmer and Pierre Garello. Please see more at http://esflc.org/