Photos: Bendukidze Free Market Center
While the world at large is freer than it ever was, Ukraine remains entrenched in political and economic hardship. The revolution fades, but the mafia state lives on. The recent Economic Freedom Forum, hosted by Atlas Network partners Bendukidze Free Market Center and Fraser Institute in Kyiv, brought together think tanks and scholars across Europe and North America, as well as many local Ukrainian businessmen, students, and other curious citizens concerned with the state of economic freedom in the country. The meeting’s surrounding theme was “From Third World to First Through Economic Freedom,” examining how Ukraine’s current perils can be transcended.
The speakers addressed the crowd in Russian, Ukrainian, and English, with panels featuring speakers from scholarly and academic circles included such giants as Andrei Illarionov from the Cato Institute, Michael Walker and Fred McMahon from the Fraser Institute, Southern Methodist University O’Neil Center Director Robert Lawson, and Bendukidze Free Market Center CEO Volodymyr Fedoryn.
Watch the keynote speech, delivered by Fraser Institute’s Executive Director Michael Walker.
Dmytro Boyarchuk, Yevhen Shulha, and Vladimir Dubrovskiy, of CASE Ukraine, and Fedoryn presented their work on the Ukrainian Economic Freedom Audit, an Atlas Network-sponsored project that consists of a comprehensive inspection of given country’s economy by measuring such factors as business regulation, red tape, and taxes. In addition to the Economic Freedom Index, the audit is also one of Fraser Institute’s signature works. Each audit undergoes careful scrutiny. CASE Ukraine expects to complete the project this fall.
There were also discussions concerning issues at the local level, and were quite a bit more animated than those that had an academic focus. One panel featured giants of Ukrainian business, including mammoth Dragon Capital CEO Tomas Fiala, as well as Evgeni Utkin and Volodymyr Lavrenchuk. Other panels featured local activists who shed light on issues such as education, car licensing, gun rights, and the LGBT community.
These many discussions shed light on Ukraine’s social and economic stagnation. Ukraine continues to lag behind other post-Soviet nations. Among many indicators of economic and human freedom, it is consistently at the bottom of this group and doing considerably worse when compared to EU member states. Such is the product of over two decades of unshakeable, rampant corruption, despite independence from the collapsed Soviet Union. As Fedoryn said on one panel, “Ukrainian Security Service is the direct successor of the KGB.”
Bendukidze Free Market Center is named for the late Kakha Bendukidze, the brilliant Georgian economist and businessman who engineered post-Soviet Georgia’s successful liberal economic transition. He tried to accomplish the same in Ukraine before his untimely death, only months after the 2014 Revolution and the restoration of Ukraine’s constitution. A true libertarian giant, he left behind an ailing country with much work to be done.
It would seem a difficult task to promote and popularize liberal ideas in a country where nationalist, populist, and even socialistic sentiments dominate the political scene. Yet if the attendance at the conference of intellectuals and concerned citizens alike is any indicator, classical liberalism is alive and well Ukraine, and perhaps it is this peculiar period of uncertainty that can catalyze the spread and embrace of a freer country.