The Student Movement for Liberty in Europe

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[button url=”” style=”blue” size=”small”]See more videos from the Lausanne Conference[/button] [highlight type=”grey”]This is a transcription of the Alexander Kokotovic’s talk at the ISIL 2013 World Conference.[/highlight] [highlight type=”grey”]Transcription edited by Kenli S.[/highlight]

First of all I would like to say “Thank you” to ISIL, I would like to say “Thank you” not for just for having me here today, but also for something that I’m going to talk about in the next few minutes.

Before I go and talk about Students for Liberty, I just want to share a short personal story. My personal story kind of started with the ISIL Conference, which was a few years ago in Vulcano. Just a couple of months before that, I met Radovan Durana from Slovakia, who invited me to a Language of Liberty Camp in Slovakia. That was a very nice experience and then I got invited to this conference in Vulcano, which sounded very interesting. I decided that I should go there and that was the first Libertarian Conference I ever attended.

Since then in the past few years I have spoken at over twenty libertarian conferences on three continents. I don’t think anything would have happened if I didn’t attend that conference in Vulcano and I cannot say how much I appreciate ISIL because of that.

Anyway, that’s where I met Fred Roeder who spoke here on the second day. He invited me to this little thing he was starting in Europe in 2011 that was going to be called Students for Liberty, in Belgium. They were not really sure how many are going to attend, but he said he would like to see me there. I said yes, I’m going to give my best at school, but some things are more important like liberty, so I might actually go.

I did, and now I’m here.

To start my presentation, I ask “What happened before Students for Liberty began in 2007 in terms of students of liberty?” Well of course, there were some initiatives; some groups existed, but those were usually just smaller student groups in a certain country or inside a particular university. However, you could not say that there was a real libertarian student movement going on.

The problem was that there were only a couple, or very few, opportunities for pro-liberty students to find like-minded students. You could have students at their University who kind of shared these ideas, they would Google something and then ran across Mises or ran into an article by Robard, but they wouldn’t really have anyone to talk about this, to talk to about these ideas. It was something that just was not very common in Europe. Even if they wanted to do something and wanted to get out and talk about these issues, they couldn’t do it.

It was hard getting the right message across. It was hard starting an organization because you really didn’t have an idea of how it was supposed to be done. So they were largely left to just figure out stuff on their own, maybe have a circle of a couple of friends that were interested in the same ideas. That’s not truly a movement they could be a part of.

The problem is that politics just doesn’t cut it. We couldn’t believe that any single politician or political party was going to change things on their own. That hasn’t really happened in the past, well, that hasn’t happened ever. We couldn’t say “Yes, this is clearly a libertarian policy.” We really believe they just react to incentives to follow the changes in society. So we decided to start making that change in society by interacting with students, by organizing them, and creating leaders, not just in academia, not just creating a new group of intellectuals, but in every field possible.

We do want new Rothbards, Rands Hayeks and Miseses, but we also need new people who are just interested in entrepreneurship, who are going to start their own business. We need students and later young professionals who are going to get engaged in popular culture. We’re going to spread the message across the world by being popular singers or popular actors, why not? Also nonprofits. Pretty much any field you can imagine we want to have our students, leaders, and professionals in that field.

We definitely know it will take some time to change the common view that is held in society and we believe that our work inspires others. Our students as I will show later in just a couple of slides, have passion, have energy and have the opportunities to work toward our ideals. In the next few minutes I am going to show why Students for Liberty is proof of this.

Our theory is that there is no way to change the world without changing ideas which show how the world is conceptualized by other people. The best is not the only way to go to change how people conceptualize that world; we empower students to learn about the meaning of a free society. I can’t express how important this is and as I will try to explain later the libertarian movement has never been stronger. And I would like to think that a small part of that is due to what Students for Liberty have done for the last couple of years.

[alert style=”grey”]
The 2014 European Students for Liberty Conference is happening next week! March 14-16 in Berlin, Germany. It’s not too late to register! [/alert]

So just a quick pitch, Students for Liberty was started in 2011. Our first event was in November 2011 in Leuven, which is just a small city close to Brussels. Since then we got, in less than two years now, more than a 160 groups in 35 countries in Europe. That is almost all of the countries in Europe. We have 51 local coordinators from 27 countries, just finished our training in Gummersbach just a few days ago. Yaël and myself just came from there. So at this year’s conference, which happened in March also in Belgium we had 365 attendees from 40 countries.

These conferences are not just important as an event where they would to and just listen to great talks, and go back home and wait for the next conference. No, friendships have been forged at these conferences, a lot of student organizations, a lot of later events that follow have been a result of these conferences. I can’t say, I can’t express enough how important it is for students from Greece to meet their colleagues in Sweden, to meet their colleagues from Ukraine, to meet their colleagues from Serbia to think about that they conceptualize the world in the same way we do.

That creates and builds a sense of community; a sense of being a part of a larger movement and eventually, that will create those people and those students, attracting even more people; attracting even more young professionals and getting them involved in these ideas. So they’re not left alone at their universities thinking “Am I the only lunatic that thinks the government shouldn’t prohibit me from doing something?”

ESFL origins in 2011 we have 20 student groups in summer 2011 prior to starting our first event. We have over 160 student groups today and our major affiliates were our original directors on the ground in their own regions promoting these ideas and attracting young students. We have a lot of seminar presentations, a lot of events; we basically try to attend any larger events we can find in Europe or across the world.

We count a lot on people just talking about us because that word of mouth is still one of the best ways to send your message across. For this fall we have 10 conferences planned. So you can see all the conferences here. We have a conference in Rome that is going to be in Italian, Sophia, Munich, Krakow, Stockholm, Belgrade (which I am particularly proud of) and Maastricht. Also we are going to have a conference in Manchester, United Kingdom in October.

I wrote Paris- September 14 as something I would like to specially announce here because Christian Michel is going to speak there, there are going to be a lot of great speakers there and this conference is going to be in French. It’s going to be a great event. I am sure there are a lot of French speakers here, and a train from Lausanne to Paris and is not far away and I am sure that European Students for Liberty that have our team members there and Institute Coppet will also be happy to see you there. So please if you need any information regarding this please ask me or Benoit who is here as well.

This is our conference in 2013. You can see that we got a very full university room, the largest room they had and we probably are going to have to change the venue this year because we have grown too much.

That was partially about European Students for Liberty, but as this is the ISIL world conference. I would just like to spend a couple of minutes talking about the movement of Students for L iberty, not just in Europe, but across the world. How it all started was in 2008 in Columbia University. A couple of people who had a round table a couple of months before that decided to organize a Students for Liberty Conference.

It was planned for maybe 30 students, they didn’t expect more than that would come, but more than a hundred students from 42 schools and 3 countries came to the conference. That was why after that we didn’t call it a Students for Liberty Conference, but instead an International Students for Liberty Conference. That was the reason and that was the start of Students for Liberty as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

We saw that these ideas are actually much more prevalent in society than we initially thought. This is a picture from this year’s International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. We had more than 1400 students there. It was just amazing seeing all these young people from across the world just coming there sharing their ideas and talking about how they are going to improve liberty in their own regions and how are they going to attract more students to the talks. We had a taping of the John Stossel show there.

We had more than 150 great speakers and this is our annual event it’s going to happen from the 14th to the 16th in February 2014 from the Hyatt Hotel in Washington D.C. for everyone in Europe the attendance is free so they are more than invited to come.

[alert style=”grey”]
The 2014 European Students for Liberty Conference is happening next week! March 14-16 in Berlin, Germany. It’s not too late to register! [/alert]

What I would like to talk about furthermore is how this movement is not only based in Western countries. This is a picture from our West African Conference that happened in Nigeria only a couple of weeks ago. We had more than 350 students who came to this conference to discuss the ideas and what is important is that they’ve shown the potential we have in the regions that wasn’t present a couple of years ago. It’s incredible.

This is the group that also organized theater plays of Jonathan Gullible attracting more than 200 students coming from across Africa just to watch this play and learn more about free market ideas. Also there was one incident let’s say that was kind of connected with the government. We had more that were in a bus coming from Ghana that was full of students, but then they got stopped at the border. It was a very difficult situation and after 48 hours they wouldn’t let them pass, they just asked for bribes and more bribes. We couldn’t get those students in for the conference. At the end with the help of our donor first we paid and managed to pay the driver to just get them back home. This is one of the examples of how dedicated these people are because they could have gone back after two or three hours, but they waited for almost two days, waiting to go to the conference.

This is another example, from Venezuela. This is a free speech wall, but why it’s in Venezuela is important and why Venezuela is a country I want to talk about right now is because a year ago we had our first conference in Venezuela. We had more than 80 students there. But of course you know the political situation in Venezuela and this was a couple of months before Hugo Chavez passed away. So it wasn’t and still isn’t a real friendly place for libertarian ideas as you might imagine.

This conference couldn’t be advertised; we couldn’t go and give away flyers. Our members there couldn’t just go to the media and talk about something. How it was organized is it was all organized through personal connections, just word of mouth, and just inviting people to go. But that wasn’t it; it wasn’t just a room that was there for them to have, we had to organize shuttle buses to meet and then take our students to a location that was undisclosed before the event for security reasons. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop more than 80 of our students to be there to listen to great talks.

At one point there were two government officials who entered the room. They spent fifteen minutes there, browsed around a little bit, and then they left. Of course if you live in Venezuela that is a clear sign that something is not exactly right. That was at the end of the day so our students had to pack their bags and pack their stuff and they just left after that. A couple of minutes after that a gang of bikers, motor bikers, showed up at the event. I don’t know what would happen if our organizer there was not so cautious, but I am kind of afraid to think about that.

This is an event organized by a local group in Belgrade. This happened in June 2013, two months ago. So this was all organized by students of our student groups called Studenti za slobodu, which means Students for Liberty translated into Serbian, and the Libertarian Club Libek, which is the other organization I work with. The banner you can see there is called defend your wallet. So that was the first taxpayer’s march organized in the Balkans. We attracted more than 400 students. We were on all major media in the country, which pretty much no one thought this would be possible.

First of all you can see—it is not important who the person is but he’s is—one of the leaders of our senior groups in Belgrade, who only two or three weeks before that was beaten by the Marxists. He was the guy who decided to freely talk about these ideas, start a group, bring speakers and of course he had problems with that. A couple of weeks before that we organized a promotion of the Serbian translation of Frank Karsten’s book, “Beyond Democracy” at the same university. We had 10 or 7 Marxists coming in and basically shouting things like “Fascists”, “We’re going to send you to Gulags”. Basically those are the kind of guys who have pictures of North Korean statesmen at their profile pictures on Facebook, so not a very pleasant crowd.

We were kicked out of the university, however, we managed to organize and just finish the promotion of the book in front of the building. Police came, nothing dangerous happened. However these are just some of the examples on what kind of situations our friends from Africa, our friends from Venezuela, our friends from India, and generally Asia face.

What I want to come back to is: this is the most important libertarian generation that has ever existed. We now have a regional Executive Board in North America, in Brazil, and the whole Latin America. We’re in the process of forming our Executive Board in Africa, and we’re also going to have our first India Students for Liberty Conference coming up in January. We have more than 500 Leaders for Liberty who are Executive Board members, local Coordinators, or Charter Key members across the world.

We organized conferences that were attended by 10,000 people, 10,000 students almost in the last year including regional conferences and annual conference. We have more than 1,000 groups across the world and this is the reason I feel that this is the most important libertarian generation that has ever existed.

Reasons for hope, there are so many of them, but the reason I am talking about all this is those people, those students, and my friends from all these countries who face not only problems with travel and getting a visa, but their lives are in danger. Sometimes we had to face a situation where our students couldn’t get back to their country or they wouldn’t let them exit the country. We had situations where they were seriously afraid for their lives and this still happens and it is not as uncommon as it may seem.

When I think about these students, when I hear a very inspiring talk, like Shin’s this morning, when I think about our students who are unable to go home for a couple of months to see their parents because they think they might not be able to leave their country ever again. When I hear about our friends working in Pakistan or Israel where we have had problems before; when I hear about our activists being beaten and being threatened, I cannot go home, look at myself in the mirror and say, yes, I am too tired to write this email; I am too tired to attend this conference; and I’m too tired to fly.

This is why I ask from you, if all of us when we are tired would just say “Well yes, this is problematic. I haven’t sleep for three nights, this happens a lot, but when I think about all these people I cannot just give up.” I really do believe those Students for Liberty and all the friends I work with and all that has happened because of the great things organizations like ISIL and many others have done in the past decades, I just have to believe that these are the kids that are going to change the world.

It is just a question, “Are you with us?”

Thank you very much.

[button url=”” style=”blue” size=”small”]See more videos from the Lausanne Conference[/button] [highlight type=”grey”]This is a transcription of the Alexander Kokotovic’s talk at the ISIL 2013 World Conference.[/highlight] [highlight type=”grey”]Transcription edited by Kenli S.[/highlight]