Danube Institute Launch
2014. március 6. 17:52
The world needs a better understanding of Central Europe — and for that to happen Central Europe needs a better understanding of itself.
24th February 2014
Mr. Chairman, Ministers, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests,
May I begin by saying what a pleasure it is to welcome you to this launch meeting of the Danube Institute. There have been times in the last few days when I wondered if it would actually take place, at least as advertised, or if I would have to send you all a sad note of cancellation. But owing to the generosity of our principal guest, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, and owing also to his apparently indefatigable energy, we are present this evening with the lively expectation of hearing how the Ukraine crisis developed, how he and his fellow foreign ministers struggled with success to avoid a further bloodbath in Kiev, and how he hopes events in both halves of Ukraine can be brought to a peaceful conclusion.
These are not light topics. An unknown number of people—perhaps as many as 100—have already been killed in and outside Kiev. If the peace that was brokered by the French and German foreign ministers and our guest breaks down completely, more are likely to follow them. Ukraine, Europe, and Russia are dealing with the unfinished business of ending totalitarianism. The revolutions of 1989 and 1991 are coming up to their twenty-fifth and twenty-third anniversaries respectively. But on our television screens and laptops this weekend we saw the extraordinary sight of statues of Lenin being pulled down in one Ukrainian city after another.
When communism collapsed, it was not everywhere and at once replaced by democracy, markets, and civil liberty. It continued to live a kind of half-life in what my former colleagues at Radio Free Europe called transitional societies—societies, that is, in transition between communism and freedom, between the two metaphorical destinations of “the East” and “Europe,” between the past and the future. Most of us believe, I imagine, that journey is predestined to end in freedom, Europe, and the future. And one of the most significant aspects of the events of the last three months is that it was ordinary Ukrainian citizens who stood up and resisted the attempt to drag them back into a permanent past. But if all our journeys are not to end in a premature graveyard, we need statesmen who will ensure that change—however desirable, however inevitable—is accomplished by peaceful methods, by agreement rather than force, and by the necessary compromises that may qualify victory but that also soften defeat and so make it tolerable to the defeated.
Minister, in the last week, you showed that you were one of those statesmen. We at the Danube Institute are privileged that you have taken time from a horrendously busy schedule to declare us open for business.
Before handing over the lectern to you, however, I have two more brief duties to perform. The first is that I’ve been asked by my colleague, George Granasztoi, to say a few words about the Danube Institute and to answer the unsettling question: does the world really need another think tank? It’s a good question. Indeed, it’s a question that George put to me when we first discussed whether the Batthyanyi Institute—which has a distinguished record of intellectual endeavor of its own—whether the Batthyanyi Institute should sponsor the enterprise we launch tonight.
Yes, it’s a good question, but it has a short answer. The world needs a better understanding of Central Europe—and for that to happen Central Europe needs a better understanding of itself. That understanding should not be—and cannot usefully be—a narrowly partisan one. Now, let there be no doubt: we at the Danube Institute have a clear and acknowledged point of view. We are free marketeers in economics, conservatives in social and cultural policy, and Atlanticists in foreign policy. We are devoted to advancing and developing these ideas in this country and throughout Central Europe.
But we are no less devoted to encouraging debate between conservatives and classical liberals on the one hand and their democratic opponents on the other. We will hope to arrange and take part in such debates. It is perhaps somewhat presumptuous of me to say this, but having lived in Prague and Budapest for five of the last six years, I sometimes feel that Central Europe has too little debate and too much partisanship. The Danube Institute hopes to change that balance by encouraging more debate. At the very least both sides may understand why they differ and perhaps even see something in the other point of view.
We hope, finally, to provide a three-way transmission belt for these ideas—and for a great deal of other information—between Central Europe, Western Europe, and the English-speaking world. It is absurd that a region so rich in history, culture, and the arts of civilization should attract the attention of Western Europe and North America only when a revolution threatens to disturb their peace. Five years ago 22 distinguished political leaders and intellectuals from Central and Eastern Europe—they included Lech Walesca, Vaclav Havel, and Minister Janos Martonyi who I am glad to say is here tonight—sent an open letter to the new Obama administration. It penultimate paragraph ran as follows:
“We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the 1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting Central and Eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to locking in peace and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today the goal must be to keep Central and Eastern Europe right as a stable, activist, and Atlanticist part of our broader community.”
The Danube Institute exists to ensure, among other things, that the message of that letter is conveyed to our friends abroad not on special occasions, but monthly, weekly, daily. And the Ukrainian crisis illustrates just how necessary that is.
It also brings me back to my primary duty tonight—which is to introduce our guest speaker, the Foreign Minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski. This is a great personal pleasure for me since we have been friends and occasional colleagues for the last twenty-eight years. We were introduced at a lunch in the Reform Club in London by Gerald Frost, then the director of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, today my colleague at the Danube Institute. Radek, as we then knew him, was just about to embark on his first journey to cover the Afghan War. That first venture in journalism produced, among other things, an award for the best international photograph from a region of war or conflict. Three years later he joined the magazine I edited, National Review in New York, as our Roving Correspondent, who covered a later stage of the Afghan war, the civil war in Angola, the velvet revolutions of 1989, and the early years of post-communism when Central and Eastern Europe were struggling to adjust to the reality that the end of communism did not mean immediate Western prosperity. He was a legend in our New York office where it was said that if he parachuted into a civil war, half an hour later you would get a word-perfect analysis of what was going on which our most provincial readers would understand but which .
We continued as colleagues after he left National Review because he took over the New Atlantic Initiative which I had founded. He made it an important and influential force in encouraging Atlantic unity—but by dealing honestly with disagreement across the Pond. In the years since then he has had a remarkable political career as Defence Minister and Foreign Minister in Poland, as a powerful voice in the European Union on issues connected to the Eastern Partnership, and most recently as one of the peacemakers in Ukraine.
Minister, I won’t curse your prospects by speculating on what job you might do next, but whatever it is, your record so far suggests that you will do it with distinction.
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