My fellow Young Democrat, Ms Solange Chee, and I recently attended a seminar in Belgrade, Serbia, where activists gathered to learn about the values of Liberalism and how they influenced societies around the world.
It was also an opportunity to learn from each other in our struggles to bring about democratic change to our countries. The seminar also discussed global youth unemployment and related subjects like the Arab Spring Revolution.
Organised by the Swedish International Liberal Centre (SILC), The Liberal Democratic Party in Serbia (LDP) and Resource Center-Stari Grad, the seminar included 41 participants from Ukraine, Russia, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Belarus, Lithuania, Singapore, Cuba, Zimbabwe and Sweden.
We also took a tour of the Serbian Parliament House and learnt about the policy-making process in the country. Serbia is located in central Europe and was once part of the erstwhile Yugoslavia together with some Slavic states. It gained independence in the mid-2000s with a population of 7 million. Belgrade is its largest city and capital.
Also present were representatives from Liberal International (LI) which was in Singapore last year to award Dr Chee Soon Juan the Prize for Freedom for his continuing efforts to bring democracy to Singapore.
LI has identified Singapore as one of the four countries that it will focus on in their work on human rights in the coming months. The other countries are Belarus, Cote D’Ivoire and Nicaragua.
Solange and I (I’m the one furthest right in the photo on the right, Solange is next to me) shared with the other participants the struggle we face as an opposition party in Singapore and our continuing effort in advocating human rights, focusing on free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.
The visit opened our eyes to the support available for Liberals around the world. It has made me more aware of what constitutes a liberal policy, what liberal values are and how we can be stronger with the support we can garner across borders and nations.
Liberalism is often mistakenly thought of as decadent individualism. Far from it. It embraces freedom of individuals to make their own decisions but also the responsibility of being good citizens that comes along with freedom.
It calls on us to be compassionate to our fellow people and challenges us to accomplish the best for ourselves and our society.
I came away with a heightened awareness that we can create Liberalism by coming together and promoting its values and that such change in Singapore is possible. Although it is a long, hard fight, it is not a fight we take alone.
The winter cold of Serbia could not cover the warmth and the resilience of the wonderful people of Belgrade. Despite all that the country has been through, the Serbian people have emerged stronger and wiser in taking their country into the realm of democracy.
We can only look forward to the same happening in Singapore.
Frederique Soh and Solange Chee are members of the Young Democrats.