If, after a long flight, you stepped wearily off the plane and squinted into the sun; if, bone-tired, you slogged through the empty airport concourse; if you then wondered whether you were in the right place at all, whether the pilot had made some horrible mistake, or whether you had in coming, your doubt and that fatigue should have dissipated as soon as you emerged from passport control.

That’s where you saw the ad for “the leading investment bank in Georgia.” Galt & Taggart.

For those who traveled to Tbilisi for the 12th edition of LibertyCon Europe, that sign was the unofficial start of the event. But it was not the heart of it.

LibertyCon Europe took place at four different venues over three days, from April 19-21, 2024, 

First, there was the hotel rooftop for the opening reception. It was not the heart of the event, either, but it was awfully cool.

Beneath a wooden roof supported by wooden beams that called to mind (though were much sturdier than) those in the old town, SFL’s Director of European Programs Stefan Acimovic and Director of Development Kenneth Wagner welcomed a crowd still pawing through their gift bags full of stickers, t-shirts, the Speak Freely magazine, and schedule of events. 

Even when a strong wind threatened to blow over the backdrops behind the stage, two SFL volunteers were quick to stabilize them from behind and were still there an hour later.

If you looked past the stage and out into the Tbilisi night, you could see the Academy of Sciences, whose architect incorporated aspects of Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, and Georgian Orthodox design to enrage the patron who didn’t want him to. 

But most didn’t gaze out; they were too busy mingling, in their suits and ties and dresses, and talking about where their layovers had been, where they were heading next, and what they thought about the EU, the US, and AI.

They were not too busy, however, to enjoy the Georgian wine and a spread of fresh salads, cheeses, dips, and sandwiches.

Next was Saturday’s full day of lectures and panels at the former Coca-Cola factory. Yes, they really used to make Coke there and yes, it was very cool. But no, it wasn’t the heart of LibertyCon either.

To get to there, you had to walk past the soccer stadium and through a district with blocks and blocks and blocks of auto-repair shops. And so, therefore, most attendees didn’t walk; they took Bolt, the Uber of Europe.

An unassuming slab of concrete from the outside, the Coca-Cola factory popped on the inside. The main stage had only just cleared of blue smoke and the last notes of electronic music when David Friedman began speaking. There were maybe nine empty seats, in a hall of probably 1000.

From there, for the next three hours’ worth of sessions, you could choose to stay in the main room, or visit a breakout room, but by the time Federico Fernandez spoke about Javier Milei, and then Matt and Terry Kibbe previewed their forthcoming documentary on Georgia’s wine-making tradition and what Stalin did to it, most of the crowd had returned to the main room.

Now surely, you’re thinking, the VIP dinner that night must have been the heart of LibertyCon. That’s where the speakers, Students For Liberty staff, and its top coordinators gathered in cocktail attire for a Georgian “supra,” with wine and savory appetizers and hearty entrees in rich cream sauces, then artful plates of dried fruit for dessert. But although it was on a grand terrace high above the city with a sliding, retractable roof, and although the food was to die for … the VIP dinner was not the heart of LibertyCon.

Nor was the heart of LibertyCon Sunday’s gathering at Lovebar, a circular, outdoor, tree-lined space with multiple stages, sponsor booths, and a restaurant. On one stage were talks about universal basic income, transhumanism, and a screening of the documentary Forgotten Victims: Before Bucha was Abkhazia: hard to watch, impossible to look away from. On another was Reasonfest, which featured talks on Objectivism, identity politics, and a comedy film screening, and whose space was standing-room-only throughout the day.

But again, though the weather was perfect and the comedy screening was hilarious, Lovebar was also not the heart of LibertyCon.

No, the heart of LibertyCon, if you’re ready to hear about it, was the backyard garden terrace of the Fabrika Hostel and Suites, where Students For Liberty’s local coordinators were staying. The terrace — open to the public and well-known as a hip hangout even when SFL’s local coordinators aren’t staying there — for five nights became the modern-day, better-lit, and fresh-aired version of the smoky, dark cafes of Paris and Vienna. Cafes where pens toppled walls, cigarettes and beer made you immortal, and our intellectual heroes debated until dawn.

On this terrace, over these days, the next Hayek, the next Hazlitt, the next Hugo sat and argued and thought and just had fun, fearless and fully accepting of the burden they carry to free the world.  

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.