“For hundreds of years Slovakians were told that God would take care of them. And then for dozens of years they were told that the State would take care of them,” Martin Chren told the Atlas Freedom Dinner audience in November 2009. Chren explained that since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Slovakia has succeeded in the first two transformations necessary for a prosperous society – the political and the economic. After 1989, the government transformed from authoritarian communism to democratic liberalism. Economically Slovakia has adopted a flat tax system, privatized social security, and shrunk government ownership of industry from 100% to less than 3%. However, according to Chren, the most crucial and heroic fight is the cultural transition – the change in thinking. “There have been no politicians smart or brave enough to say ‘now you have to take care of yourself,’ ” Chren says.
After serving as a consultant for the European Union, the World Bank, and European Parliament on issues including social security and pension reform, Chren now devotes his career to that heroic fight of changing the welfare mindset in Slovakia. He is waging this battle as director of the F.A. Hayek Foundation and in books such as The ABC’s of Liberalism. The Hayek Foundation, winner of Atlas’s 2009 Templeton Freedom Award for Initiative in Public Relations, is engaging the next generation of Slovakians to change the culture of dependency. Publicity garnered from the Templeton Freedom Award helped secure a regular appearance for a Hayek Foundation scholar every Thursday on Slovakian National Television’s Morning Show. This spot allows Chren and his colleagues to reach approximately 35%, or 95,000 Slovakians every Thursday morning.
The Hayek Foundation leveraged its public profile to launch an extremely popular High School Economics project holding summer schools that train high school teachers the principles of economics. 700 high schools have participated and over 1,500 teachers have been trained – reaching more than 40,000 students. Hayek provides the teachers with a manual to give instructors a free-market perspective and distributes the influential pamphlet I Pencil, the works of Frédéric Bastiat, along with projector slides and DVDs for teaching sound economics.
In 2009, the Hayek Foundation became one of four institutes to partner with Atlas as a Free Enterprise Training Center to discover between 20-25 entrepreneurial Eastern Europeans and help them develop the intellectual, managerial and organizational skills to advocate for a freer society. Two or three of the most talented and dedicated graduates from this program will be given grants to establish their own policy organizations. This is a successful recipe for the much needed cultural transition in the former Soviet countries.