Western Europe misunderstands our region

2013. május 24. 12:15

Tibor Navracsics
They see us as a troublesome region with only a few positive and considerably more negative attributes.
Your Excellencies, Dear Colleagues and Guests, 

Welcome to Budapest, welcome to Hungary. We are delighted that you have taken the time to attend this international workshop and increase its professional importance and prestige by your presence. The Ministry of Public Administration and Justice and the Institute for Public Policy Research are honoured to host you. We are grateful to the Central European Initiative for its help in making this workshop happen. Coming together from so many countries today is an evidence of our commitment to share new ideas on Central and East European co-operation and demonstrates our joint efforts to make this region secure, socially attractive and economically flourishing.

Ladies and Gentlemen, looking at the list of workshop participants and the topics of their presentations, one can expect to get an insight view of well-qualified experts and researchers on vital policy issues. Therefore, if you allow me, I wouldnot concentrate on specific policy issues. Instead, Iintend to outline why Central and Eastern Europe matters so much to Hungary, and me personally, and why my government believes in reinvigorating co-operation among our countries. 

It is my conviction that Western Europe misunderstands the current situation and underestimates the potential of our region. Contemporary Western European thinking of Central and Eastern Europe is still dominated by clichés originating in the early 20th century. They see us as a troublesome region with only a few positive and considerably more negative attributes. Have you noticed, for example, that “populism”, “nationalism” and “anti-Semitism” are terms almost exclusively evoked in Central and East European politics? Has it come to your attention that the incontestable presence of the radical right is only worrying when it is discussed in relation to our region? Why do you think that in nearly every case, the negative aspects of Europe’s 20th century history should only be called to one’s mind when Central and Eastern Europe is mentioned?
Surely I am not saying we are faultless but in many cases, our countries have been more active–and in some respect more successful–than West European ones, be it in terms of structural reforms and crisis management, historic reconciliation or rebuilding strategic partnerships. 

Dear Guests, 
The two-day workshop will host a remarkably wide range of decision makers, researchers, policy analysts and advisors from across East-Central and South-East Europe. Our guests have different backgrounds and they may, or may not, agree with each other on several issues. Yet their presence and commitment to joint thinking prove that our region is much more than a geographic term, that our region has a story to tell. A story for those who are ready to make efforts to understand our countries beyond catchy newspaper headlines worded in distant capitals and photo-reports edited so that the frame of a “troublesome” region can be reinforced. We are hosting this event because my government and the people of Hungary are among those ready to contribute to a deeper understanding ofCentral and East European politics and societies. 

Central and South-Eastern Europe makes the European continent economically, culturally, and even politically richer and stronger. We were unfortunate enough to experience what an isolatedand weakened Central and South-Eastern Europe means: it becomes prey to totalitarian ideologies, ethnic hatred and violence. The European Union must understand how serious a threat this is to our democracies. Brussels must see how vital it is for the entire European community to tackle the challenges of our region.EU leaders shouldrecognize their own role and responsibilities in helping Central and South-Eastern Europe get over the adverse historical legacies to accomplish successfully the historically unprecedented transformation of our economies, politics and societies.

Your Excellencies, Dear Guests, 
The Hungarian Presidency of the Central European Initiative is fully aware of the importance of a renewed dialogue in this part of Europe. This is why we have organized this workshop so thatitincludes representatives from East Central European countries as well as the Balkans. We decided to inviteCentral European Initiative members and non-members alike,because the more decision makers and researchers we bring together, the stronger our voice will be in shaping West European thoughtofand visions on our region. 

My government truly believes in the revival of the Central and South-East European region; we fully understand and accept the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration, yet we are also aware of our joint regional interests and responsibilities in healinglong and hitherto unresolved grievances.

We have known each other for long, we have lived through hard times, we understand each other and we share fundamental ideas and values. I am sure that we can contribute to a more competitive Europe together. In fact, I am convinced that this two-day workshop will outline the remarkable list ofreforms accomplished, some of which may be worth of a greater attention of the West European governments.  

I wish you all a fruitful, invigorating discussions and thought-provoking debates. 
Thank you for your attention. 

Tibor Navracsics's keynote speech at workshop on Crisis Management and the Politics of Reform in Central and Eastern Europe

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