More Freedom for All? Celebrating the Foundation’s 60th Anniversary in South Asia

Introductory remarks of Regional Director Dr. Ronald Meinardus at the anniversary celebrations in New Delhi, September 10, 2018
Friedrich naumann foundation 60 years celebration event in new delhi

We have come together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). And with it 60 years of programmatic work – mostly in the fields of civic education and political dialogue – to promote liberalism, or to use a wider term: freedom.

Also in this part of the world, we look back at a proud history. Our project work in India started in 1990; our work in Sri Lanka in 1968. Anniversaries are always also an opportunity for retrospection and expression of gratitude and appreciation. This is particularly called for in this context, as without the support and the cooperation of our partners, we would not be here today – yes, we would not have thought of coming in the first place. A special word of thanks goes to the authorities and the government of our host country. For without their consent and hospitality, we would not be here – and would not have thought of coming in the first place.

This remark has a special significance in times of – what is often referred to as – shrinking spaces, regulatory environments inimical to organizations like the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Important celebrations deserve and benefit from important guests. I welcome all the important well-wishers and participants. A special welcome goes to our chief guest Mr. Gordon Mackay, Secretary General of Liberal International, who has come all the way from Europe to speak to us and – importantly – engage with Indian friends and partners to learn more about liberalism in this part of the world. I am also very pleased that, once more, we are partnering with the Center for Civil Society (CCS), the foremost liberal think tank in India when it comes to promoting the ideas of freedom. Thank you! 

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Liberal International are close friends. Call us allies, and you’re right. We are united by a common objective to promote liberalism in the world. Unlike in most other parts of the world, where LI has members, South Asia may be called a white spot. To learn more about the reasons for this – and maybe even change that state of affairs - is one of the objectives of Mr. Gordon’s visit here.

Crisis of Liberalism?

As we celebrate our 60th birthday, we cannot but acknowledge that these are not the best of all times for liberalism. Long forgotten seem those glorious days – just a generation back – when after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 we collectively celebrated what some – prematurely - termed the culmination of world history, even the end of history.

If you Google the term “liberalism” today, the word will often show up in tandem with the word “crisis”. The liberal order is under attack – and the onslaught is visible both on the level of countries and internationally or the world order.

A crisis is defined as “a situation in which something or someone is affected by one or more serious problems”, and if not handled properly may turn into a disaster or catastrophe.

Several indicators lead to the conclusion that the liberal order is in trouble. In a recent talk at the Brookings Institution in New Delhi, US scholar Larry Diamond spoke of “a democratic recession” and bemoaned the “erosion of liberal democracy”: Hungary, Poland, Turkey, the Philippines are countries that come to my mind. To what extent democratic erosion is also happening in this part of the world, is a topic of heated debates.

At the same time, the liberal world order is under massive attack - with protectionism and nationalism on the rise. It is an irony of our times that the major culprit of the regression is the leader of the nation that for many and for large parts of history has been a beacon of freedom.

Just how disruptive the Trump administration has been becomes apparent in a recent opinion poll in Germany. Asked what they are most afraid of, 69 % Germans answered “a more dangerous world because of Trump”. Migration and how to deal with foreigners takes the second rank in this list of German concerns.

Our democratic societies need to take the concerns of the people seriously and address these with viable solutions. Here, political parties play a crucial role.

Liberal International is the federation of liberal and progressive political parties from all parts of the world. One year ago, the group adopted a new political manifesto - the Andorra Liberal Manifesto 2017. This aspires to give programmatic – liberal – answers to all the main challenges humanity faces today – be it inequality in income and wealth, the lack of equal opportunity, the threats to our privacy in the digital sphere, the challenges of access to education and health care or climate change and the technological advances – to name but a few.

Our guest will address some of these issues in his talk which will focus on his and Liberal International’s vision for a world with more freedom for all.

I could hardly think of a more appropriate theme to discuss on our 60th anniversary than this.