Students travel to Oslo for annual Freedom Forum

Three Tufts students — junior Jack Margolin and sophomores Orlando Economos and Caitlin Thompson — will travel to Norway from Oct. 20 to 22 for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF), a gathering of human rights activists, policymakers, leaders in education and journalistsThe trip is sponsored by the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL).

The topic of this year’s OFF is “Defeating Dictators,” according to Margolin.

“All of the speakers have some connection to a country that is experiencing oppression, a totalitarian regime — many of which are Russian like Pussy Riot, [MikhailKhodorkovsky, political dissidents from China like Michael Anti who has been very outspoken against suppression of freedom of speech,” he said. “Overall the theme of this forum is about human rights and central human freedoms.”

Margolin, Economos and Thompson are also all participants in the IGL’s Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) program — which this year is focusing on Russia in the 21st century. The students will also be traveling with IGL Founding Director Sherman Teichman, according to Economos.

“We are approaching [this forum] from a Russian academic lens, but we all have our own interests that complement this lens,” he said.

Margolin said he believes that it is beneficial to have a meeting ground where dissidents from different backgrounds can come together in one room.

“It is an opportunity for people to bounce ideas off each other, cooperate and build linkages that you wouldn’t anticipate,” he said. “A Ghanaian dissident speaking with a dissident from Belarus is not normally an interaction that you might have, and the idea that a lot of good can come from interactions like this is a central idea of the forum.”

The forum will include both speeches from various attendees and discussions, according to Margolin.

“This is a very unique opportunity to speak with dissidents from a part of the world that I am very interested by and be directly engaged in the specific subject matter of human rights in the former Soviet Union,” he explained. “I hope to learn about the actual situation on the ground in that part of the world, what techniques are effective, what methods are not effective and the nature of oppression itself in the region.”

IGL will pay for the students’ conference fee and subsidize a portion of the airfare and hotel rooms, Margolin added.

“The conference is very expensive,” he said. “Essentially those funds are going to help speakers that would otherwise be unable to come. We have a lot of dissidents that have had their assets seized by their governments or never had any assets, because they were primarily a grassroots effort.”

Economos explained that he plans to work on a documentary featuring the OFF and will use the conference proceedings to gain valuable information for his project. 

“I want to bring home something that gives us a look at Russian culture and the political situation there that in America we wouldn’t get,” he said. “Being in another country, there is a different backdrop than if Russians were to talk to us in America. It is a neutral ground to explore different views.”

Another purpose of attending the OFF is to identify speakers that might be interested in attending EPIIC’s spring symposium, according to Margolin.

“We have the chance to engage these people face-to-face and explain to them the value of EPIIC,” he said.

Margolin and Economos agreed that they hope to use the OFF as a jumping-off point for research on Russia and human rights upon returning to the United States.

“The research that a lot of EPIIC students do over winter or summer break — we wanted to make sure that it was going to be tied into the experience of Oslo,” Margolin said. “There a lot of doors open for you there. There are a lot of people involved in the field of human rights there.”