Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends & colleagues, honorable speakers, guests of honor, participants and observers,
It is a great pleasure for me to greet you here today, in Bucharest, at the joint conference of the European Liberal Forum, Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Europe-Georgia Institute.
It is a great pleasure to see that the conference we started last year continues, expands, and gains strength. The goal of the conference this year is ambitious – we want to amplify voices from Easter Europe and finally make them heard. Following gigantic, tectonic changes in world politics caused by unprovoked and unjustified Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, the world – as we knew it – has changed.
And I want to start this conference with a moment of silence to those who died and are dying this very moment to defend their and our freedom – ladies and gentlemen – Slava Ukraini.
Thank you. The whole Black Sea region today is in turmoil. Last year, at the opening of the very first Black Sea conference in Tbilisi, I said that the people in Georgia and Ukraine face existential threats in our struggle for Liberty and Independence of our nations. I never wished I was wrong more than while saying these words – in less than a few months Russian tanks advanced on Kyiv, and I remember waking up in fear for the fate of Ukraine’s capital, Ukraine and all of us.
Today the determination and heroism of Ukrainian people has not only given their nation a chance to survive – but has also awakened Europe, and the West. Russia’s retreat from Kherson is not an accident, but a demonstration of the will of Ukrainian people, the will that is unbreakable. Just like Kherson is liberated these very moments, so will Donetsk and Luhansk. So will Tiraspol. So will Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. All nations and regions suffering from Russia’s aggression and oppression shall be free – I am sure of that.
Because oppression and aggression never prevail. Soviet tanks were crushing democratic uprisings, but the resistance from ordinary people continued. Yesterday, on the 9th of November was the anniversary of a very important date – November 9, 1989, the symbol of Soviet oppression in Europe – the Berlin Wall – finally fell. And just like it fell in Berlin, these walls and wires will fall in Eastern Europe. The will of the people shall prevail.
And as Liberals, we need to acknowledge this. Liberalism in Eastern Europe, here in Romania, in Georgia, in other nations – was emancipational in its core. Liberals never accepted imperial way, the Derzhava, the Ruski Mir, offered and pushed on us by Russia, and have always fought against the Empire. This is part of our identity, part that needs to be acknowledged – and embraced. The age of empires, of conquest, of punishment of small nations, has to find its rightful disgusting place at the junkyard of history.
The era of naivete, of short sight, of blinded politicians, who were putting short-term gains ahead of values seems to be over. At least regarding Russia and at last – and for good. And Ukraine’s victory will make sure of this.
This invasion, with all the tragedy and destruction caused by it, has also created a window of opportunity. A window for the Black Sea, but also for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – to fulfill the will of our people, to finally leave the Russian sphere of malign influence and rejoin the European family that we were torn away for decades by Soviet Union, and by Russia’s efforts, but also for other Black Sea countries – and Romania first and foremost.
And I believe that nobody understands the importance of this moment of history better than the people of Romania. I had a chance yesterday to walk in the city and see myself the places where so many citizens of Bucharest demonstrated both the moral and physical courage, the people who put everything on the line, everything including their lives, to make sure that Romania is a free and democratic society. And this is the way that lies ahead of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
I would like to express my gratitude to the European Liberal Forum and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for your outstanding support of both the conference, and the Europe-Georgia Institute in general.
In the end, not to spend any more of our precious time, I hope that everyone here with us and watching us live on Facebook and YouTube, as well as our guests and panelists, will enjoy today’s sessions. We believe that liberty, democracy, human dignity – are the values and forces much more powerful than tanks, fear, corruption, and oppression.
These are the values that remain in people’s hearts and hopes, no matter of violence and intimidation. And that’s why we are here today.
Thank you and enjoy the conference.