Freedom is a creative project
“I’ve always thought that advocacy is a creative project,” said Patricia Kandou of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS). Kandou recognized the archipelagic setting of Indonesia as a challenge to promote values like liberal democracy and freedom. However, she was also quick to say that this same intricacy becomes an impetus to be imaginative because “there are many ways to deliver your message to the society.”
Ilhan Kwon from Korea Local Information Research & Development Institute (KLID) in Seoul, is an expert on topics like smart cities and big data. He acknowledged how South Korea’s KPop culture has invaded the international scene. Yet underneath this fame is the country’s economic woes, affecting especially the youth. “The young are deprived of opportunities, which should not be the case. They are brilliant, with a lot of skills and talent that can surprise you,” shared Kwon.
Kandou and Kwon joined 19 other delegates representing countries from Southeast & East Asia: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, in a workshop on Youth and Civic Engagement in Building Liberal Democratic Societies on June 27-29, 2019 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Country issues that hinder youth civic participation were listed, and common challenges were grouped together to come up with a regional agenda. Karry Sison from the Liberal Party’s policy institute Center for Liberalism & Democracy (CLD) stressed that “things that we have in common matter more than the things that make us different.”
Access to reliable information, economic hurdles, and an open attitude and mindset were identified as widespread concerns in the region. Projects like producing a digital learning manifesto, an economic literacy school tour, and online community building are expected to roll out as regional initiatives.
The group came from a shared background – all had attended a seminar at the International Academy for Leadership (IAF), the training program of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) in Gummersbach, Germany. Their experience at IAF gave them fresh perspectives on political topics, and altered their personal views.
“I attended the seminar Promoting Entrepreneurship and Open Markets. I was with a number of young participants who displayed a lot of positive energy, which made me ask myself: What can I do more?,” said Kanokporn Kungwalsong, Associate Dean for Academic Service and Social Engagement at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand.
Burmese-American Community Institute Myanmar Country Director Nwe Nwe Lwin joined the Human Rights Defenders International Institute of Human Rights (IIDH), IAF’s annual study session in Strasbourg, France in 2018. A lawyer, Lin shared that she had always wanted to see a regional court. This was realized when IAF brought the study group to the European Court of Human Rights. “We may already know the theory on how to put up a regional court, but we don’t practice it yet in Asia. Setting this up may not happen in my lifetime, so it was precious for me to see a regional system in action,” shared Lwin.
DJ Nana, a social media celebrity in Cambodia, was an IAF alumna, too. “I went to Gummersbach when I was only 17 years old. Everything was new to me, including using a headset!,” she revealed. “It was all eye-opening. But what was life-changing was the statement from one of my co-participants that sometimes government does more harm than good. There should be less government intervention. I hold on to this until now especially since I am an entrepreneur and I encourage others to have their own business,” added DJ Nana.
“All these stories are personal because freedom is personal,” commented FNF Southeast & East Asia Regional Director Moritz Kleine-Brockhoff. “Liberalism is under attack everywhere including in the region, but there are developments here that are encouraging. Most of all, there are people who continue to work in defense of liberal democracy in spite the pressure,” he continued.
Kleine-Brockhoff then addressed the workshop participants: “I have utmost respect for you who tirelessly labor to promote civic education, human rights and rule of law, and economic freedom.”