Year End Message from the Regional Director
Bangkok, 18.12. 2008
Dear friends of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom,
Soon 2008 will come to an end. I would like to take this opportunity to extend to you the Foundation’s heartfelt thanks. I wish to congratulate you on your many achievements and your successes in promoting freedom and responsibility, human dignity and the peaceful conciliation of conficts. In the context of this thank you note it is impossible to do justice to the many significant events and developments we have witnessed during the past year. Please allow me to arbitrarily select a few to illustrate some of the major trends in our region.
The devastating natural disasters of the floods in the Irrawadi delta and the earthquakes in southern China showed the world once again how vulnerable human beings are and that without lively and deep-rooted civil society, governments can do very little to care for their populations and protect them from disasters . In the course of these tragedies, we witnessed the intense and unstinting help and assistance which the citizens both of Burma and China extended so unsparingly to their fellow countrymen and women. These are signs of the strong emergence of solidarity. They give rise to the hope that even authoritarian regimes can recognize the value of their citizens sufficiently to concede the space necessary for voluntary action, philanthropy and emergence of civil society at large.
In 2008 we also witnessed devasting man-made disasters. The global financial crisis has dashed hopes for a better life and an end to poverty for many in Asia. The strong growth of the past led people to believe that Asian societies can do it all on their own. However, we were all obliged to recognize that in the 21st century borders are a largely artificial concept, and that our economies and lives are tied together over and above the powers of government. Nonetheless, the crisis showed that institutions do matter. The shape of the economic order governs the production of goods and services and forms people’s transactions. It is tantamount to governments and their policies. The protection of contracts and property rights is at the heart of any liberal decision making and the checks and balances often proposed by “ordo liberals” (the legacy of the Freiburg school) might not be such a bad thing after all. At the same time governments have to recognize that impeding or constraining markets and market forces ultimately does not serve the people. The significance of the subsidiarity principle of, ‘leave to the people that which they can do themselves and give to government only that which they cannot’, has proven its value.
Various incidents in the course of the year have revealed the need for the strengthening of ASEAN, first and foremost to avoid violence between its member states. Effective structures and procedures for dialogue and talks to avoid the escalation of violent conflicts and armed response are urgently needed. It is increasingly necessary to constrain powers and to rethink and re-interpret the principle of non-interference. In December we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Great progress has been made in the human rights field within ASEAN during the past year. Governments have ratified the ASEAN charter and are now discussing the establishment of the ASEAN Human Right body. The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism can present significant contributions to this process.
The development of democracy in our region stagnated during 2008; pessimists might even argue that it regressed. Indeed developments in Thailand give rise for concern. They have shown that democratic values were not as deeply embedded in society as anticipated and they revealed the institutions safeguarding democratic order to be weak or inefficient. In many other countries “the loyal opposition” is hampered by unfair rules in playing its part, which is so vital to the ability of a democratic system to present alternative solutions, prevent corruption and abuse of power and force the status quo to be changed for the betterment of society at large. Here more needs to be done to foster the acceptance of liberal values.
Complacency has to be shed in favour of an invigorated participation by the people in democratic and public decision making. Minorities have to learn to accept majority rule and submit to democratic outcomes. At the same time, the legitimate aspirations of minorities must be protected and mechanisms need to be created that allow them to play their role, to be heard and to have their concerns addressed by society.
In 2008 the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its work and achievements were lauded by many celebrities and public figures, foremost the President of the Federal Republic of Germany and the President of the European Commission. The Foundation will continue to vigorously promote freedom worldwide and to help individuals to protect these freedoms effectively in everyday life.
2009 will be a marathon election year in Germany with eight local and five state elections, as well as the election of the Federal President and of the European and the German parliaments. There are good chances that the Free Democratic Party will regain its governing power and become a member of a new coalition government at the federal level. Hopefully the necessary political change will be followed by vigorous policies promoting liberty and responsibility in German society.
Finally, I would like to thank you for your trust, your co-operation and your friendship. We at the Foundation value this above all else. Let us continue together to strive for freedom next year and in the years to come. Let us continue to contribute to a more peaceful, prosperous and ultimately freer and more open society in the future. I wish you and your families all the best for 2009.
Dr. Rainer Adam
Southeast and East Asia
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom