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Welcome to Liberty Face Off, a new column on the ESFL Blog in which two student bloggers will present us their view on a scorching hot topic. Prepare to leave your safe space and encounter a triggering debate! Our blogging team members Bill Wirtz and Daniil Gorbatenko will kick off this first Liberty Face Off with a debate on the question: Is Islam Inherently a Threat to Liberty? Do you have an issue in mind that you would like to see debated among libertarians? Please e-mail [email protected] and your suggestion might be discussed in the next Liberty Face Off. 



Yerevan, Armenia. Source: Flickr

A Summer of Unrest

This summer, the Armenian capital of Yerevan was rocked by two weeks of continued civil disobedience which began on the 17th of July, as 30 armed veterans, calling themselves “Sasna Dzrer” (after the Armenian epic of the same name), crashed a dump-truck through the gates of a police depot in the Yerevan district of Erebuni. A brief gunfight lead to the death of 3 police officers, and the capture of 8 hostages (including the infamous deputy-chief of Police, Valery Osipyan) ending with the gunmen’s surrender on the 31st of the same month.

The gunmen, most of which are celebrated veterans of the 1990-1994 Karabakh War, have called for the liberation of Jirair Sefilian, a fellow Karabakh War commander-turned-activist, who heads a fringe political faction known as the Founding Parliament. The hostage-takers initially also called for the immediate resignation of President Serj Sargsyan and Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian as a precondition for further negotiations, before dropping this condition entirely.

In a press statement, the gunmen’s leader, the moustachioed Pavel Manookian, an iconic hero of the Karabakh War, expressed the motives behind the take-over: questioning President Serj Sargsyan’s legitimacy, and accusing him of having failed to improve the lives of the Armenian people.


The post-recession period in the US has shown that economic growth is not what it used to be. The annualized, real GDP growth over the period 2010-2015 was 2.1%, compared to the 3.4% growth during the sixty-year period that goes from 1947 to 2007. When expressed in GDP per capita terms (that is, when changes in population are factored in), the difference is still blatant: 1.3% in the post-crisis years versus a 2.1% annualized growth between 1947 and 2007.

sluggish recovery

Source: Flickr

When looking at labor productivity, the main ingredient of long-term economic growth, the picture is not much better. Over the period 2010-2015, labor productivity, measured as the percentage change in GDP per hour worked, grew at an average rate of 1%, far from the long-term rate of 2.4%.

The causes for this situation are varied as suggested by Greg Mankiw in a recent article in the NYT. Some have argued that the sluggish productivity growth and, as a result, the slow GDP expansion are part of a “new normal” scenario, which has been defined as a period of low economic growth resulting from several structural economic, demographic and technological trends. The proponents of this “new normal” paradigm point at different causes to explain this phenomenon.


Are you a young active leader keen on finance and innovation?

Would you like to deepen your knowledge and share your experience?

 Together with Warsaw Stock Exchange we invite you to take part in the international

 CEE Capital Market Leaders Forum!

Warsaw 9th-12th December 2016


Gain experience and develop your skills under the tutelage of outstanding business experts in Financial Technologies (FinTech).

Do you come from one of the Central-East European countries?

Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Poland.

Application deadline: 23rd October 2016. Participation in the project is free of charge. Accommodation, food and transportation are provided. Check the details on: www.ceeleaders.comJoin the event on Facebook.

Flashy BMW cars, a pristine villa in downtown Geneva, United Nations diplomatic credentials, and close to 2.2 million EUR in profit: welcome to the lucrative life of a UN cigarette smuggler.

UN flag

Source: Flickr

In August, two employees of the diplomatic mission of Iraq to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland were accused of abusing their diplomatic status to illegally funnel over 600,000 cigarettes into France over the course of 3 years in order to sell on the black market. The plan involved using a German firm to acquire heaps of duty-free cigarettes, only to have them stored in a warehouse near the Geneva airport and eventually trucked to the Rennes region of France to have them sold on the street.

The accused were able to purchase duty-free cigarette due to their diplomatic status at the Iraqi mission, according to the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, which first gave news of the incident to the Sonntags Zeitung newspaper. It was later confirmed by the Iraqi Embassy in Bern in press release.

The two staff members of the Iraqi mission were fined 155,000 EUR and 110,000 EUR for cigarette smuggling, a fraction of the 2.2 million EUR in tax savings they were able to acquire.


From 2017 on all cigarette packs in my host-country France have to be sold in the format of the so-called “neutral pack”. This implies that the pack will have the brand name in a neutral font, a colourless pack as well as even bigger warning labels and shocking pictures of tobacco-derived diseases. This government measure mostly intends to discourage young people from smoking, but it fails to do so. It actually does quite the opposite.


Source: Flickr

The lead example for the plain packaging proponents and those who generally favour tough restrictions on tobacco is Australia. The country has very high taxes on tobacco, heavily regulates smoking in public areas and in 2012 it became the first country worldwide to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory.

Studies prove plain packaging wrong

At the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, a 2014 study analysed the (possible) effects of plain packaging on the smoking prevalence of minors in Australia, and clearly showed that for young people between the age of 14 and 17 the neutral packaging had absolutely no effects on their consumption:

“Altogether, we have applied quite liberal inference techniques, that is, our analysis, if anything, is slightly biased in favor of finding a statistically significant (negative) effect of plain packaging on smoking prevalence of Australians aged 14 to 17 years. Nevertheless, no such evidence has been discovered. More conservative statistical inference methods would only reinforce this conclusion.”


This post was submitted by Campagne Liberali.

Starting today, the “Campagne Liberali” on-line platform will be active with the aim of increasing the information and diffusion of scientific methods in the public debate. “Campagne Liberali” sustains the freedom of choice: citizens should be free to choose what to eat without having to be misinformed by campaigns that lead to unscientific opinions, most of the time spread by populist movements and lobbies, or by NGO’s spurred by entirely different interests.

The first initiative will be in favour of palm oil, one of the most discussed ingredients in the last few months. Furthermore there will be space for scientific studies and analysis on the topic. “Liberals have always supported science and the scientific method. We want to defend the right of citizens to make their choices freely, and to base themselves on rational and scientific information” said Lorenzo Castellani, promoter of “Campagne Liberali”

“The platform Campagne Liberali – continues Castellani – intends to give voice to those who asks to be free to eat what they want, included foods that contain palm oil like Nutella. We want to give voice to who opposes anti-scientific populism and are convinced that the hate and fury of those who repudiate the principles of science and objectivity can be contrasted with facts and rationality”.

More in general the platform will host daily points by representatives of the liberal, scientific, and economic world that agree on the right to freely choose products and services in the food industry on the basis of scientific feedback.

For almost 20 years now Ukraine has been struggling to enforce the provision of the Constitution which proclaims that ‘Ukraine is a welfare state’, while the notion ‘under the rule of law’ has been continuously neglected. The authorities don’t care about bribery in courts, or about unclear laws that are not effectively applied, but they pretend to be very concerned about your welfare. This became even more grotesque in 2003, when one of the judges of the Constitutional Court said that ‘welfare’ is a compulsory trait of the state and cutting government spending on social welfare in case of financial crises was unfair and discredited the latter. Fairness is what the political class always appeals to in Ukraine. The problem with defining it in the light of government spending on education arose two months ago when the Minister of Finance initiated changes to the scholarship system, according to which the number of students who receive scholarships has to be decreased.


The University Library in Kyiv. Source: Flickr

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but in Ukraine there is such a thing as a university scholarship, a monthly amount of money provided by the government to 75% of those students who got a free place at university. More than 30% of government spending on higher education is used to cover scholarships – not to improve the quality of education. At the same time approximately 15% of the Ukrainian state budget is wasted on the educational sphere as a whole, since the majority of educational establishments are publicly funded. Regardless of the fact that there are more than 500 of them, each offers a wide variety of programs, a state-funded place and a scholarship, the amount of which is generally 20 euros a month. In comparison, the amount of a minimum wage is 50 euros. Sounds like a fairytale, right?


During its transition to a market economy, Serbia has, like many ex-socialist countries, experienced high unemployment. In 2006, the Serbian government introduced a new subsidy programme aimed mainly at attracting foreign investment and bringing down the double-digit unemployment rate. Throughout the last decade members of the government praised the programme saying it put tens of thousands of people to work and that the government got the invested money back very quickly through taxes and social insurance contributions. The opposition disputed these claims and criticized the lack of control and transparency tied to the process of awarding subsidies. What is interesting is that this divide continued even though there was a shift of political partes in power in the meantime, so former opposition started praising the programme, while the party formerly in charge began to criticize it. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly high reaching the peak of 23,9% in 2012.


Workers on an assembly line. Source: Flickr

In a nutshell, the programme works like this: A company starting an investment project (e. g. opening a new factory) in Serbia may receive up to €10 000 (which is about the double of the country’s per capita GDP) per new employee depending on conditions like the size and location of the project. The company is required to employ a certain minimum number of workers, which ranges from 15 in the least developed to 50 in the most developed areas, and secure at least 25% of the project financing. Subsidized firms also have to commit themselves not to lower the number of employees for three or five years, depending on the size of the firm, after reaching an agreed upon level of employment.


This year the Vilnius Regional conference, titled ‘The Baltic Way,’ took place on September 24th at the University of Applied Sciences. Organized by European Students For Liberty, in cooperation with Lithuanian Liberal Youth, this event managed to gather more than 100 students from all over the country and welcomed more than 20 well known speakers from different fields. 

VilniusRCThe Baltic countries have now been free for more than a quarter of a century. Therefore, this event was organized with the aim to commemorate the years of liberty the Baltic countries have already lived through, by showing how actively we, the youngest generation of free states, have been working to achieve open, modern and self-fulfilled societies. For this reason, we gathered not only people, but also ideas to show our commitment to not just accept the status quo of liberty, but to fight for more and more pro-liberty ideas in practice.

Students For Liberty is an international millennial grassroots organization based in over 100 countries with 140,000 students in our network and is present at over 1,700 universities worldwide. Nevertheless, the spread of the ideas of liberty can’t ever be finished. This year we will host more than 24 conferences across the continent and one of them was organized in Vilnius, as a symbol of the libertarian ideas’ spotlight in the Baltic region.