People from all over Europe gathered in one of the most extreme points of the continent to discuss the Western tradition of liberty under law. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote and Trump’s election, there was a general sense of the need not to take for granted the liberal foundations of our institutions and everyday political preferences.
I enjoyed that the Forum’s meals represented an occasion for organising memorial lectures in honour of key-figures in the history of liberal political thought and leadership. From Winston Churchill, to George Washington, and Konrad Adenauer, these figures remind us of the mutually reinforcing British, American, and European continental traditions, each offering a unique perspective contributing to what we imagine as our heritage of liberal principles.
I was one of the participants at the Europaeum special debate. This year’s motion was: “Does the New Wave of Populism Threaten the Balance of Our Democracies?” My colleagues and I defended the idea that populism should not be seen in antithesis to democracy. Rather, it should be understood as a legitimate expression of grievances and preferences which have been stigmatized in the liberal marketplace of ideas on which much public discourse relies. The debate itself was very entertaining. While the forum mainly featured experts’ interventions, here students found the opportunity to express their thoughts in a structured yet informal atmosphere. Most importantly, it represented a moment of reflection. Students’ interventions siding with this idea pushed us to analyse current dynamics outside our intellectual comfort zone. The liberal ideals we hold onto should not be considered as a natural state of affairs. The Estoril Forum is one of the platforms on which such collective effort towards self-criticism takes place.
The final gala dinner was an explosion of freedom of the mind and of the body at the sound of swing music. People from all generations found the perfect way of closing three intense days where ideas and people saw no boundaries for further discovery.
I am particularly thankful to the Europaeum network for facilitating my participation at the 2017 Estoril Political Forum. This kind of occasions is a good reminder of the need to cultivate efforts and pull resources to enable young people to experience such international milieux and not just theorise about them. On the edge of the Atlantic, I believe we all got a feeling of the many shores of the map and of the mind which we ought to further explore.
Kyiv, 30 August 2017