Democracy in the world is under threat. In recent years, we have seen increasing numbers of countries restricting the freedom of speech, limiting academic freedom, and curtailing the rights of citizens to move freely and to choose their own lives.
Repressive, authoritarian regimes have a tendency towards false advertising. The rhetoric promises security and stability; in practice, they deliver surveillance and persecution. An authoritarian system, moreover, can offer leaders the scope to realise their dreams of grandeur with no regard to the consequences for the general population. We see the results in Ukraine at the time of writing.
Our Uppsala University must stand as a polar opposite to all those who seek to limit and confine. Here, knowledge will always be paramount. The many contributions our scholars and scientists make every day to the spread of knowledge and public debate fill me with gratitude and pride. On the subject of Ukraine, a list of experts has been created to facilitate contact between journalists and researchers at the University, who offer impressive collective expertise. In this connection, I would like to emphasise that sanctions must of course target those responsible – not individuals who happen to have the same nationality as the guilty parties. We must support and defend our friends – students, researchers, colleagues. They need us and we need them.
Research on democracy rests on a stable foundation at our University, but we can do more. In the coming years, we will put more than SEK 100 million into the research programme Democracy and Higher Education to make it even better. I am also looking forward to the opening of the Alva Myrdal Centre, whose mission is to promote disarmament – a more urgent mission than ever. Democracy issues are fundamental for our society and more of us need to be involved, across disciplinary boundaries. The truth is that a strong society that can stand up against oppression has to function on all levels. Education and knowledge are a type of vaccination, but no vaccine is perfect. In order to function, society needs so much more: viable technologies, infrastructure, health services and all the other things we take for granted in our part of the world.
The spreading of knowledge, debate and discussion also takes the form of lectures and public seminars. A number of our researchers have organised a panel discussion on the war in Ukraine, to take place in a few days’ time, on 15 March. This event is being arranged in collaboration with Uppsala Forum for Democracy and will draw on a range of expertise to increase knowledge about the invasion and its implications.
In September a conference will be held in Uppsala, when PEN International and participating writers and other members from around the world will meet here in our city. PEN International is the oldest association dedicated to freedom of expression in the world. The University is proud to be a partner in this conference and to provide the venue. One of those attending will be Nobel Peace Laureate Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Novaja Gazeta, one of Russia’s few remaining major independent newspapers, since 1995. The conference and cooperation around it are an important event manifesting a principle: we can, and will, show solidarity. As a university in a privileged country, it is our duty to offer an arena for those who are otherwise silenced.
It is in discussion that we formulate our insights; by listening to one another we broaden our perspectives. Sometimes we agree, sometimes not. Whether we agree or not, we respect one another. Democracy needs us all.