Timothy Snyder: Freedom as a Value and a Task - a Talk in Kyiv

September 11, 2023
Why is freedom the highest value? Are we really born free? Or is freedom instead a great task and mission for both society and the individual to achieve?

Why is the negative idea of freedom (freedom from) not sufficient today, and why should we strive for positive freedom, the freedom to? What can the experiences of Ukraine and Eastern Europe tell us about other parts of the world with regard to this value of freedom?

This episode is a recording of Timothy Snyder's conversation with the Ukrainian cultural and intellectual community, organized by PEN Ukraine and UkraineWorld on September 6th, 2023.

  • The conversation was moderated by Volodymyr Yermolenko, a Ukrainian philosopher, president of PEN Ukraine, and the chief editor of UkraineWorld.

Timothy Snyder regularly travels to Ukraine. We had this conversation during his visit to Ukraine in early September 2023. He traveled to the southern regions affected by the war, and also stayed in Kyiv to finalize his new book about freedom.

We dedicate this conversation to the memory of Ihor Kozlovskyi, a prominent Ukrainian intellectual, religious scholar and activist, who passed away on September 6th.

A full video of the talk is also available on our YouTube.

Here are some key-points of this conversation by Timothy Snyder:

  • When people use the word freedom in English, they don't really mean anything by it. In the English language, freedom is an essentially empty word. It's used with a good deal of emotional and political significance but is essentially undefined.
  • The things which allow us to become who we are are the absence of torture and oppression, and so on. And it's necessary but not sufficient.
  • I like the Ukrainian word which doesn't exist in other languages -- deoccupied. When Yahidne village was deoccupied, those people were allowed out of the cellar, but they weren't free. If you say the word liberated, I understand it. But when I visited there, and I looked at the [damaged] school, and I thought about the fact that those kids can't go to that school again... If your kids can't go to school, in some sense they're not free.
  • If you look at attitudes towards Putin in the United States where it's the people who are like 'anything goes, nothing really matters, it's all about power', they like Putin. It's not that there's an idea there, it's the absence of an idea.
  • There's a lot to say about what Russians are thinking when they're fighting this war. But my sense is that their mode is a competitive hopelessness.

We also gathered Timothy Snyder's thoughts into the summary for our subscribers at patreon.com/ukraineworld

Thinking in Dark Times is a podcast series by UkraineWorld. This series seeks to make Ukraine and the current war a focal point of our common reflection about the world's present, past, and future. We try to see the light through and despite the current darkness.

UkraineWorld is brought to you by Internews Ukraine, one of the largest Ukrainian media NGOs.

You can support our volunteer trips to the frontline areas at PayPal: ukraine.resisting@gmail.com

Photo credit: IWM