Confronting Intolerance and Bigotry
Soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the American Jewish Committee jointly set up the “Promoting Tolerance Programme”. Over a period of 25 years, a total of 320 participants from 25 countries in Central and Eastern Europe have participated in the Programme, advancing democracy and building civil society. The anniversary was celebrated in June in Berlin.
Then: young and dedicated; Now: political trendsetters and leaders
The topic of “Confronting Bigotry and Intolerance in the Face of Rising Populism” brought together active participants, alumni and interested guests in order to take stock of the interim results. The success of the programme was confirmed by the quality of the speakers – “Promoting Tolerance” alumni from different years: Ivo Goldstein, Ambassador of Croatia to France, as well as UNESCO ambassador of his country, highlighted during his panel that, in view of the social and political situation in the world, he was not as optimistic as he used to be. Without the “Promoting Tolerance” Programme his optimism would probably fade away completely, Goldstein surmised.
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Environment in Estonia, as well as member of the Estonian parliament, was less pessimistic. She expressed her conviction that when we celebrate the 30th or the 35th anniversary of the programme, we will be able to talk about the age of “post-populism”. According to her, populists do not offer any solutions of their own, instead always making a point of being antagonistic – you cannot get very far like that.
Máté Hajba, Director of the Free Market Foundation, basically agreed with Pentus-Rosimannus, even though the political developments in his native Hungary do not necessarily give him much cause for optimism. He urged that populists and their prospective supporters should not be marginalised, but instead they should be engaged in dialogue. “True, populists live in their own bubble, but so do we. We must step out of it and seek dialogue”, Hajba insisted.
Afterwards, Emil Kirjas, Secretary General of Liberal International, added a personal touch to the discussion and described a number of occasions on which he had come across intolerance of minorities, including in his native Macedonia. Like the previous speaker, he also emphasised how much he could draw on the experience of participating in “Promoting Tolerance” in such situations and in his normal daily life.
Liberals have a special responsibility
In a passionate speech, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, former German Justice Minister and Board Member of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, made a plea to all democrats, and in particular liberals, to take decisive steps against intolerance, xenophobia and populism. We should be under no illusion that democratic values are automatically protected only because they are for the most part socially anchored and politically institutionalised, the way it has been in the past decades. Quite the contrary: democratic values are at risk because they have come to be taken for granted.
Liberals have a special responsibility: liberal values are diametrically opposed to populist, xenophobic views. It is important not to erode rights and freedoms, but rather to stand up for them, particularly in these times – it is often the case that the strength of radical trends is proportional to the weakness of democratic forces.
Different challenges but always the same goal
As a ‘founding father’ of the programme, Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee gave a very personal keynote speech and praised the good partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. A lot has been achieved since the programme was launched 25 years ago, as demonstrated by the exceptional social position of the numerous alumni. They take on the important role of ambassadors of good will in their countries of origin. However, the current developments in many European countries, as well as in the USA, show that we still have a lot of work to do.
Ulrich Niemann, Head of the International Department at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, also dwelled on those signs: he stressed the importance of the programme 25 years ago, when the transition of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was set in motion and the consequences of communism had to be dealt with. Today we face different challenges and the focus of the programme has changed accordingly over time; however, the most important message remained the same for a quarter of a century: promoting tolerance with the help of an exemplary German-Jewish partnership.
Please visit our Facebook album below for all photos from the anniversary celebration.