Category Archives: liberalism

The rebirth of Liberalism in Ireland

In this contribution, Ciarán Hehir, ALDE Individual Member, twenty one years old and entering his final year of my Politics and International Relations degree in the University of Limerick, talks about the rebirth of Liberalism in his Country.

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Ciarán Hehir

Two weeks ago, the Irish people were asked to vote in a referendum to remove an article ensuring a ban on abortion that had been added to the constitution thirty-five years ago. In those thirty-five years, it had caused countless women nothing short of trauma and shame. The referendum had followed another momentous vote, only two years ago, when the people legalised same-sex marriage.

These changes, monumental considering Ireland’s past, are a result of the rebirth of liberalism in the country. Liberalism, mainly economic, was first born in the 1980’s depression and while its legacy is questioned after the financial and banking crises that rocked the country in the late 2000s, it no doubt transformed Ireland from one of western Europe’s poorest countries into a modern, advanced country with a rapidly growing economy. Today, social liberalism has replaced the oppression of social conservatism that had ruled the Republic since its inception.

To talk of Irish conservatism is to talk of the Irish Catholic Church. The Church became the institution most associated with Irish nationalism and when Ireland achieved independence from the United Kingdom, it became the bedrock of political, social and economic life of the new state. Ireland was a theocracy in all but name, having exchanged the King for the Pope.

The crushing oppression of this Church-sponsored conservatism is still being felt to this day. From the stories of women who were held captive in the Magdalene Laundries – the last of which closed in 1992 – and subjected to forced labour to the censorship imposed by the Censorship of Publications Board, which still exists, and which established by the Committee on Evil Literature in 1922 to prevent the decay of public morality by ‘obscene’ foreign literature.

Social liberalism briefly shone through the darkness of Irish society in the 1970s with the Supreme Court ruling that a ban on contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. This ruling, coupled with the recent Roe v. Wade ruling in the United States, fuelled fears that an activist Supreme Court was beginning to undo the conservative regime. To combat this, Article 40.3.3., or as it is today more popularly known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the constitution resulting in a total ban on abortion on Irish soil.

However, by the 1990s numerous scandals rocked the Catholic Church and its authority over Ireland began to wane. Rights to information and travel for abortion were won as was a tightly fought referendum on divorce as a result. The repeal of the Eighth Amendment has definitively removed the idea that Ireland remains a small conservative country on the fringe of Europe. The referendum has transformed Ireland into a truly modern, secular, tolerant society finally at parity with its European peers. The definitive nature of the vote has also energised campaigns to remove other archaic clauses in the constitution such as blasphemy and the place of the woman in the home.

Through liberalism, Ireland has finally matured enough to face the mistakes of its past but also mature enough to address them. The central tenets of liberalism – freedom, liberty and tolerance – are alive and well in Ireland at a time when many are turning away from these in favour of protectionism, nationalism and mutual suspicion.

Ireland can now help lead the way to fight for liberal values against these spectres for a more free, liberal Europe and world.

Ciarán Hehir

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Spain, european patriotism and autonomous communities

In this piece,  ALDE IM Spain Coordinator,  Miguel Angel Sepulveda, considers the situation of liberalism in his country, and the presence of nationalism in the Autonomous Communities.

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Please note that this piece represents the personal views and opinions of Miguel Angel Sepulveda (ALDE IM Spain Coordinator)

INTRO

We are one year away from the European polls. They will also coincide with autonomous regions and municipal elections, which will be an indicator (again) of the local and national agenda, not of the wider European one. Spain have only a recent liberal political tradition, and that is one of the reasons of the rising of the phenomenon of nationalism in our country, irrespective of whether the Spanish, Basque, Andalusian or Catalan adjectives are used. We, as convinced European liberals, must set a clear distinction between patriotism and nationalism, bringing the idea of the European Union closer to the way in which citizens perceive patriotic ideals.

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We are one year away from the Spanish vote within the European polls on 26 May 2019. Looking to that day, all political parties are beginning to show signs of pre-campaign activity but, at least in the case of Spain, not for the light blue ballot, used to vote for the European Parliament, but for the white and light purple ballots, corresponding to the autonomous and municipal elections, respectively, that will also be held that day.

Europe is trying to get closer to the citizens, especially since the beginning of the economic crisis, which also resulted in a crisis of institutions and values, but that is still perceived as very distant by the citizens. In the last European elections in 2014, in Spain the focus was on the national agenda, also where white ballots associated with the Congress of Deputies were used; this time everything suggests that the vote will be more focused on the autonomous and local level. In short, whether they are held on their own or along with other elections, the the messages coming from these electoral campaigns never manage to either adopt the European perspective or give these elections the importance they truly deserve.

Furthermore, Spain  only have a recent liberal political tradition. At least if it is understood as a vision of humanity and society based on the affirmation of the human personal condition; on individual freedom as the foundation of social and political freedom. The phenomenon of nationalism in our country has been, and is, clear evidence of this, regardless of whether the Spanish, Basque, Andalusian or Catalan adjectives are used. Because wearing the colours of a flag, showing them in complements or just flying the actual flag, and singing or humming the anthem of your region or your country, can be considered nationalism or patriotism depending exclusively on what it represents to whomever takes such action. The gesture itself carries no weight. The same applies to those watching. So what is the difference? Patriotism is the bond created with your homeland, an entity that represents all of us through the civic principles and the institutions that define it. Nationalism, however, is loyalty to the group to which you belong, with whom you envisage a common origin or language, regardless of the values they represent. Therefore, the more daily and tangible the territorial entity is, the more difficult it is to separate the attachment to these values from the feelings and emotions for what surrounds us and their people.

This is our reality and, in view of this situation, we, as convinced European liberals, must work to move the idea of the European Union away from state sovereignty and nationalism, and devote all our efforts to bring the idea of the European Union closer to the citizens themselves,  collectively and individually, since European values are always relatively close but inevitably distant for what they represent: patriotic ideals to aspire to, a Europea as Homeland where we recognize ourselves. Nationalism has no part in – and can only be destructive too –  our European Union.

Miguel Angel Sepulveda

AN OPEN LETTER TO FELLOW LIBERALS

In this contribution, Anja Fabiani, ALDE Individual Member and former president of Liberal Democracy of Slovenia describes the liberal situation in her country, just two days before political elections of June 3rd.

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More than a year ago I was elected as a president of Liberal Democracy of Slovenia – LDS. My aim was to reconstitute liberal party with rich history in Slovenia and to contribute to the development of liberal democracy in Slovenia. Under the play of circumstances I had to resign shortly after.

I believe in liberal democracy, part of me was always a dissident. I listened to punk with the generations who departed from communism and the totalitarian system of Ex- Yugoslavia. Punk was part of our protest, I was of the opposition in the times when the others were position. I am liberal democrat today in Slovenia, where there is no longer popular to be a liberal democrat. I am an individual.

I understand people who today defend the red star in Slovenia, from the point of view of rebellion.

I do not defend the red star, but I do not want right wing parties. Soon we will have elections in Slovenia. Polarisation seems to get more intense.

“Slovenia, our land”, was a slogan of our independence. I am from the family of foreigners. I am only partly Slovenian by nationality. I am an Italian aristocrat and Hungarian Gipsy, among others. Is it possible to tolerate?

I believe in liberal values, in the path of middle, of ratio and understanding. I do not like political extremes. But I like acceptance of differences, all differences. Understanding of Individual and his / her personal fortune. Also individual fortunes of people innocently killed in Slovenia after Second World War. Is it possible to understand such a stance? Is it possible to tolerate?

What does it mean, to be a litmus paper for tolerance? Are litmus papers for tolerance LGBT+ rights? Too many times I have seen lifted eyebrow: “Yes, I am progressive, but gays and lesbians… they exaggerate.” You know, what does it mean?

Are litmus papers for tolerance rights of immigrants? The more political the question gets the more we have to defend them. Because immigrants cannot be allowed to become political weapon.

The weakest members of society cannot be a political weapon. Quite the opposite; exactly trampling on them show the germs of neo- Nazism, of neo- fascism. This is the very core which should be stopped immediately.

I believe in liberal democracy which could be renewed in the spirit of true freedom, true solidarity, understanding of different cultures and social stratums. In non-ideological liberal democracy. In liberal democracy, based on development and science, always corrected by ethics. In liberal democracy, which does not exclude any faith beliefs, but is critical to the abuse of religion. I believe in liberal democracy of marginal groups. I believe in liberal democracy which does not prevent, but enable. Which does not discriminate. Which does not close the borders. Which does not make political capital out of poverty and humiliation. I believe in human liberal democracy, which is able to put barriers to expansion and has a common sense of healthy self- criticism. And more and more I believe in renewal.

Slovenia needs such liberal democracy. Italy needs such liberal democracy. Balkan needs such liberal democracy. The one, who does not see changing society, is blind. This is smart liberalism; adapting to the context of society. And people will understand.

I believe in Europe.

I have just returned from Latin America. I was not a tourist. I was one of them; I wanted to feel how their lives are. More than felt I have experienced their poverty, misery, stamped dignity, but defying in pride; despite. I was in the heart of demonstration. I went out of comfort zone.

When turning back to Europe, I was ashamed. Ashamed of all privileges, which we have and are not aware of. I cannot be ashamed to be born on this beautiful continent; but I could do more in awareness rising of its worth and by trying to help underprivileged Others.

I believe in European liberal democracy. Refreshed, young, human, peaceful, solidary, and non-ideological. I believe it could blossom in Slovenia, in cooperation with other neighbouring countries, also with Balkan. It is minimal path from populism to the more dangerous politics. Slovenes from Primorska, together with Croats from Istria, led first resistance in Europe against fascism.

I believe in such values. And I will still walk on the brink, if necessary. Because it is easier to defeat the precipice, there on the brink.

Anja Fabiani

Liberal Values – a review based on Liberal International’s Manifestos

In this contribution, Tiago Dias from Portugal start from Liberal International Manifestos during the years to analyze what really being Liberal means, An interesting review about what being Liberal really means.

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Last weekend I was at a national political meeting in in Portugal. There I could reflect on the Liberal Values that drive me to participate politically, which in turn has led me to write an article about them.

In a simple approach, political parties can be said to be groups of people with a common set of values and vision for society. And, although subject to variants and hardly inexhaustive,, one can name a list of few of these by way of example. They could include Primacy of the Individual and fundamental rights, Market Economics, Individual liberty, Equity, Environmentalism and International Cooperation, which are important topics for discussion.

Primacy of the Individual and their Rights means that Liberals understand the human beings are endowed with fundamental rights, which it is the State’s function to defend by social contract, such as physical and psychological integrity, civil rights, free association, public opinion and expression, as well as private property.

A comprehensive set of rights, freedoms, and responsibilities allows for the pluralism of beliefs and ideas, as well as the diversity in backgrounds, that nourish this richness of difference without distinction based on gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, disability, or any other personal or social condition.

Andorra Liberal Manifesto of 2017

Liberty means that Liberals cherish the idea that an individual person can choose. It is the cornerstone of human happiness and of a community’s well-being, and includes the choice of conscience and religion, the choice to do as one whishes with his property, the liberty of expression, and the liberty of choosing a career or professional path. It is not only a state of non-coercion by law or prejudice but also a state of capability to choose.

We believe that the conditions of individual liberty include the rule of law, equal access to a full and varied education, freedom of speech, association, and access to information, equal rights and opportunities for women and men, tolerance of diversity, social inclusion, the promotion of private enterprise and of opportunities for employment

Oxford Manifesto 1997

Environment means that Liberals are well preoccupied with the degradation of natural systems due to human living. While standing for liberty and market economics, they are aware that deregulation and anarchy can lead to irreversible damages that negatively diminish human health and welfare. Nevertheless, this never becomes a sacralization of Nature or other life forms which are not human:

Liberals reject laissez-faire exploitation of nature and, bearing in mind that man alone can take responsibility for the future of our planet, reject the view of those who put equal value on the lives of human beings and other living things.

Helsinki declaration on the Environment

Market Economy means that Liberals do not give way to a form of anarcho-capitalism or a form of socialist planned reform. They fight for places where all consumers can benefit from competition among different players for better and less expensive products, as well as those where producers can benefit from the needs and wishes of people.

22. The link which exists for liberals between a social market economy and liberal democracy also implies a constant battle against monopolies, cartels, restrictive trusts, restrictive practices and so-called “dominant positions”, open or disguised, private or public, except for cases authorised by law for justified and defined social needs.

-Liberal Appeal of Rome 1981

Equity means that Liberals are in favour of a fair and economically strong society. For, though social, natural and economic circumstances at birth are unequal, everyone should have access to a path that gives them possibility, by will and effort, to pursue their dreams and happiness. This implies both access to education and health services for young people and protection from unemployment and opportunity for entrepreneurship in adulthood.

11. We believe that a substantial part of the increased wealth available should be used to promote equality of opportunity, both for individuals and for nations all over the world. 13. It also requires the provision of the best possible educational facilities, physical as well as intellectual, humanist as well as technical, for everyone, irrespective of birth or means.

-Liberal Declaration of Oxford 1967

Cooperation and Peace means that Liberals are especially committed to compromises that involve all nations in mutual gains, and see peace as the most fundamental need between nations. For it is only when political agents put aside national political interests which shield interest groups that people can live in a prosperous world without disasters of war, destruction and untimely death.

War can be abolished and world peace and economic prosperity restored only if all nations fulfil the following conditions:

a) Loyal adherence to a world organisation of all nations, great and small, under the same law and equity, and with power to enforce strict observance of all international obligations freely entered into;

b) Respect for the right of every nation to enjoy the essential human liberties;

-Oxford Manifesto – 1947

Tiago Dias

An Interview with Dr. Mahmoud el Alaily, President of Free Egyptians Party

In this piece Thalia Ntoka had an interview with Mahmoud El Alaily, president of Free Egyptians Party and ALDE Liberal Member. He speaks about perspectives for liberalism in Egypt and connections with Europe.

I met Dr. Mahmud el Alaily during the Congress in Amsterdam and I was impressed by his passion for liberalism. He is already an ALDE Party Individual Member working hard for the growth of the liberal movement in Egypt and interested in sharing his vision and political experience.

You are the President of “FEP – Free Egyptians Party”. How old is this party and what is its purpose in Egypt?  

Our party was founded in April 2011 after revolution of the 25th of January, it was mainly founded at that time to represent the growing liberal movement and the revolutionary youth, raising the values of freedom, democracy, citizenship and respecting human rights. In the meantime-since most of the founders were from economic background- the issue of free market economy was a key stone and was very clear in our campaigns in a country of a recent socialist background , coming up with new clear ideas for economic reformation .

It was also clear at that time that the country needed a strong party to represent the civil movement against the upraising Islamic stream at that time. Especially the very well organized Moslem Brothers and the Salafies. So the FEP was one of those and we played a very important role against them crawling all over the country before and during the year they ruled.

Are there any structural elements that prevent Egypt from fully becoming a liberal country?

Sure there are, especially traditions, and also very important is the influence of islamists on the religious mind set of the majority of the population and subsequently on the decision making. Also the effect of the successive authoritarian regimes which ruled the country since 1952 emphasized the parental ideas in the minds of both the people and the governments.

Putting all these elements together explains the obstacles that may face Egypt to transform to a fully liberal country soon which I find it extremely difficult, but never impossible.

Why you joined the ALDE Party and how you think we should work together so that our friends in Egypt stay more connected with Europe?

As in the last few years I worked very closely with some of the liberal institutions like LI and African liberal network (ALN). Being president of Arab Liberal Federation (ALF) I found it very important to join ALDE party at that point of time to go through real liberal political experience and to learn how to apply liberal values in politics without hindrance or suppression.

People in Egypt are by default connected to Europe, but the real problem is to connect them to European values, which most of them fear as imported western values which they believe are against our consrvative traditional values and of course against religion. So it is very important to start explaining that those are global human values for everyone on earth not restricted to a couple of countries or certain race and color.

Is there a country in Europe, you think Egypt has more similarities to and what is that you would wish for 2018 for your country?

Can’t name any specific country, as the circumstances are totally different, but maybe the ex-socialist countries maybe the nearest especially on the grounds of democratization process and its fluctuations, and changing the mindset towards values of freedom and human rights from the perspective of both the citizens and the authorities.

Wishing that Egypt will start flourishing somehow after the radical economic reformation steps that took place through the past few years. Also hoping also that the authorities there would be able to combat the growing terrorism and terrorist groups, stopping the stream of fundamentalism, extremism and radicalism, giving some space for real political reformation without excuses from security threats or economical uncertainty.

Thalia Ntoka

THE OCCIDENT AND IDENTITY: TWO YEARS LATER

In this contribution, Dr Sid Lukkassen, an individual member from The Netherlands, asks whether his book, written in Dutch and published two years ago, Avondland en Identiteit, is still relevant today. Risen to prominence in recent times in Dutch public debate, Sid in his book pleas for a political strategy and identity that is rooted in self-confidence, while also contemplating the question of the role liberalism plays in the decline as well as in any possible renaissance. 

As a young city council member for the VVD, I made my debut in 2015 with the book Avondland and Identiteit (Aspekt). The book draws attention from influential people. Prime Minister Mark Rutte posed with it while Dr Thierry Baudet wrote the introduction for the reprint. I was invited to speak in the European Parliament by ALDE Party individual members. Applying its analysis on Europe today: is it still relevant?

‘Avondland’ (in German: Abendland) is the overarching concept for the culture of the European civilization. The Abendland signifies the western sphere where the sun disappears after sunset. For the European Union, this sunset may be proverbial: thinking about Brexit, the debt crisis in the southern member states, and the discussion about constitutional reforms in Poland. Together with the migration crisis, these factors create the perfect storm that could end the European Union.

European self-esteem

The book is my plea for a political strategy and identity that is rooted in self-confidence while also contemplating the question of the role liberalism plays in the decline as well as in any possible renaissance. When I published the book in 2015, I was optimistic about the European project – marching Russian boots, the threat of Islamic extremism, China’s neo-colonialism and ethnical tensions in our cities would be the wake-up call for European citizens and their representatives. My expectation was that within a few years, Europe would restore its self-esteem and through that formulate a realistic approach to geopolitics.

The opposite has happened. By manipulating the migration crisis and European feelings of guilt, while supporting its ‘storm troopers’ in European cities, Turkish President Erdogan  blackmails the European Commission. The idea of a solid foreign policy through the unity of Europe has failed completely. Despite the acquisition of bonds by the ECB, monetary easing and the European Stability Mechanism, the economic outlooks are grim as well. Great amounts of financial aid are flowing back to financial institutions instead of helping economies in need. The resulting inflation damages the middle-class and their savings. In the midst of this, the British have lost all hope and resigned from the project.

The end of liberty

The explanation of the rise in popularity of Trump, Farage, Hofer or Beppe Grillo by mainstream political parties and media remains one-sided without self-reflection. These forces immediately claim the role of authentic moral resistance, while at the same time promoting the interests of the increasingly distrusted status quo.

Meanwhile, Merkel, Timmermans, and Zuckerberg cooperate to “eliminate hate speech on the internet”, aided by others such as Google CEO Eric Schmidt and George Soros. The latter financially supports Correctiv, which is supported by Facebook and German law to “remove messages from doubtful origins”, especially “negative stories on migrants”. Who determines what is fake news and what is truth? Who defines these criteria is ultimately a question of political power. People who haven’t experienced higher education, and who fail to voice their concerns adequately, will be frightened to voice their opinions due to this imminent censorship. They will be disconnected from the political debate and take their revenge in the voting booth.

Those we call “elite” today –those in control of the judicial systems, top-ranking public officials, media-moguls and CEOs – do not experience the negative consequences of these changes. They live in a safe and wealthy environment; their children enjoy the best education. They are mobile and are always able to escape the situation that may arise if civil society collapses. Psychiatrist Dr Esther van Fenema published about the cosmopolitan elite: the view of highly educated people in secure office buildings. From their privileged position, they survey the burkas that slowly but steadily fill the streets.

Ethnical tensions and economic resentment 

In Brussels I could see it with my own eyes. At the Berlaymont, where European Commission civil servants work, a secured parking garage was built. Made possible by the taxpayer. The rest of the people have to park somewhere on the streets. If damages to property occur, perhaps due to vandalism, the people request better law enforcement and more police. In response, they will hear that they should not “live their lives in fear”, that they have a “authoritarian worldview”, and they should “open their hearts towards their fellow men”. At the end of the day, these officials drive out of the secured parking lots. I mention this anecdotal evidence so that you may recognize the rhetoric and understand the class interests that are the basis for these statements.

Besides the ever increasing ethnical tensions within Europe, the economic resentment creates another problem: the disappearing of small retail, where the young used to gain their first working experiences in order to become middle class later in life. It is there where they learned the work ethics that defined the middle class. Nowadays these small business are replaced by multinationals that can avoid taxation through mailbox companies and legal loopholes.

Better prospects of work do not elevate the position of the young, but instead they are worsened through zero-hour contracts and financially inadequate internships/traineeships. In all the LYMEC and ALDE conferences I have attended between my twenties and thirties, I seldom heard young representatives voice this concern, which defines the struggle of our generation. These traineeships are being sold as “investment in your career”, while they supress their income and compete with workers who have completed the same education and now have to pay off their loans. This situation is detrimental for the formation of families – a vital topic I see ignored by many young cosmopolitans, which in turn increases the problems of demographic decomposition and ageing. Whilst problematic for one, employers see the demographic explosion of Africa – Nigeria alone will host 440 million people in 2050 according to forecasts of the United Nations.

Politics degenerates into emotional storytelling

All the while these substantial problems persist, the status quo tries to seduce voters with rhetoric and imagery language. As I’ve shown in my latest book Democracy and her Media, voters do not receive a coherent set of ideas but are the recipients of associative imagery.[3] The beauty of football matches, successful Olympic Games or recreational life on the terrace are used to distract people from social tensions. The imagery is as follows: pleasure above principle. The Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, explains how our demise is sold to us as a form of optimism: compulsory positivism with a ‘double-think’ vocabulary where failures are redefined as ‘learning experiences’ and the loss of individual rights are called ‘challenges’. Loss of security is framed as ‘agility’ or ‘flexibility’. The compulsory positivism of society supresses reasonable worries into a taboo: especially the concerns that cause people to think about cultural cohesion and national sovereignty.

We must conclude that Liberalism has the duty to defend the ‘Avondland’ from collapsing. After all, the philosophy of liberalism was born out of the need to defend freedom of thought and speech.

Dr Sid Lukkassen

 

 

 

[1] De Blauwe Tijger, 2017. ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen MEP (VVD) said about this: “A sharp analysis about the influence of the new technologies of communication on the political decision making in Western democracies; at the same time about the ways in which these technologies derail decision making.”