Young Democrat attends seminar in Sarajevo

December 17, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Priveen Suraj

I attended a seminar for activists conducted by the Swedish International Liberal Centre’s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the capital Sarajevo – a city that was engulfed in war and turmoil only a few years ago, including murders.

The seminar enhanced my understanding of the European system as well as its social and political culture.

Europe’s legal system was also of vital interest to me especially since I’ve embarked on my law studies. The United Kingdom’s inclusion in the European Union in 1972 meant that the English legal system, on which our own legal system is based, had to attune itself to European Union law.

The seminar gave me an opportunity to learn from youth leaders from all around Europe and other regions about their strategies and campaigns in engaging youths in the political arena. We also discussed issues faced by liberals and democrats in our respective countries.

The seminar also exposed us to the various political ideologies of Socialism, Liberalism and Nationalism. One of the topics during the seminar was “What should be the political answer of liberal democrats to nationalism?”

University professors, politicians and political analysts were on hand to give insightful and comprehensive lectures on liberalism, which which many people misunderstand to be a decadent practice that promotes sex, drugs and rock n roll.

Far from it. Liberalism advocates social progress by reform and by changing laws rather than by revolution. It emphasizes individual liberty
and equality to be the most important political goals.

Liberal values were at the heart of the development of the European system. The French revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; and the age of Enlightenment in the mid-nineteenth century are important aspects of European history and the development of liberal values.

I learnt that liberal values played a major role in the development of the humanities and humanitarian practices as we know them today. The discussions were also crucial to my understanding of systems that underpin partisan politics and governmental administration. The only regret was that such discussions are not more available for youths in Singapore.

Apart from the seminar proper, I was able to socialise with people from different backgrounds. I was imbued with a determination to continue the struggle for democracy in Singapore. It was very enriching when participants from Somaliland, Cuba and Belarus highlighted the problems we faced from authoritarian rulers. I felt that our constant emphasis that the western liberal democratic values undermine our “Asian values” is absolutely wrong and makes us the poorer for it.

In addition, the country is blessed with a beautiful natural landscape of mountains all around. Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of the federation of Yugoslavia, a communist state under Josip Tito. When Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s following sectarian wars, Bosnia and Herzegovina became an independent democratic republic.  

The one most important things that I took away with me is that no human being is above the law. Being governed by the rule of law is of prime importance. We need to continue to work towards democracy and for that, it is absolutely necessary that we foster greater ties with fellow liberals and democrats from all around the world.

Priveen Suraj is President of the Young Democrats.