Jeffrey Gedmin, a well-known advocate for freedom and democracy, former CEO of the Radio Free Europe, and current CEO of Legatum Institute is convinced that freedom is a possibility to create a better life for ourselves. It is not, however, a “magical solution to all problems”.
At a Public Conversation organized by the European Humanities University (EHU) that took place at Novotel Vilnius Centre hotel on 3 February Mr Gedmin spoke on “Why societies need freedom”.
“Freedom in itself does not naturally make us happy, affluent, and able to pay our heating bills. Freedom gives us a possibility to create a society we want to live in. It gives us a chance to criticize, change, and question,” claimed Mr Gedmin.
The guest admitted that these are the challenging times for freedom. Yet he remains convinced that discussions on how to fix existing problems are the strongest side of freedom. Without it, such discussions would be much fewer.
“Many people in the United States of America and in Europe are questioning whether our societies are functioning in the way they should be, they see many mistakes, but freedom gives us a possibility to talk about it and then fix these problems.”
Mr Gedmin did not deny that authoritarian regimes can sometimes ensure more economic prosperity than free societies, and that freedom alone is not enough.
“People must be able to survive,” he admitted.
However, according to Mr Gedmin, empirical analysis shows that in general free societies are more affluent, and every country decides for itself how to use its recourses. But in the same way freedom alone is not enough, the society needs more than just economic well-being.
“Yes, the Chinese economy is growing, the income is increasing, but you can have state security knocking on your door at night, people can be imprisoned without a trial, tortured. If the market economy is not functioning the way we would like it to, let us discuss about it, protest, change it, but let us not allow other people to decide our destinies.”
Mr Gedmin is convinced that it is much more difficult to make the government respect its citizens in an unfree society.
“There is a mechanism in a democratic society that allows us to throw out those leaders who are not serving the people. No such possibility exists in an authoritarian country,” reminded Mr Gedmin.
According to him, there is no universal definition of freedom that would fit every country.
“Every society chooses a model based on its culture, history, traditions.”
When asked how to increase people’s trust in public institutions in Lithuania, Mr Gedmin claimed that 20 years is a very short time to reach this objective.
“The government must be by, for, and about people. Education, communication, criticism would lead to people trusting the government more,” he claimed.
Public Conversation with Mr Gedmin was organized by the European Humanities University which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The venue and refreshments were provided by Novotel Vilnius Centre.
EHU Public Conversations are conversations with renowned public leaders on how ideas can be turned into action to create a prosperous society.