From the 14th to the 17th November 2014, Project Forum hosted the sixth annual Central European Forum in Bratislava. Looking back at 25 years of post-communism, it sought to understand the divisions that separate Europeans, both within and without countries.
The sixth annual edition of the Central European Forum commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
The headline theme of the Forum – and representative of an emphasis reflected in all of the debate panels – us and them, addressed the entrenched polarisation of our societies. This problem concerns not just Central and Eastern Europe, but also the nations of Southern and Western Europe. Twenty-five years after inhabitants of the former Eastern bloc were able to gain political and economic freedom, our societies remain divided, in some cases so much so that there is seemingly little left to hold them together. Our institutions, our public services, the very constitution of our public lives seems to have been paralysed by these divisions. The aim of 2014’s Central European Forum was therefore to dissect the nature and implications of this phenomenon, looking not just at long term developments within European societies, but also at more recent concerns on the European fringe, including the Ukrainian crisis and the re-emergence of a more aggressive Russia.
Speakers at 2014’s Forum included, amongst others: influential political scientist, Ivan Krastev; acclaimed German writer, Ingo Schulze; Hungarian historian and author, György Dalos; Czech philosopher, Václav Bělohradský; Polish writer, Jacek Dehnel; American political scientist, Mitchell Cohen; Serbian playwright, Biljana Srbljanović; the founder of the famous East-West Company theatre, Haris Pasović; acknowledged French sociologist, Gilles Lipovetsky; diplomat and strategic thinker, Sir Robert Francis Cooper; and Fatos Lubonja, a long-time prisoner of conscience and one of the most translated Albanian writers.
The Forum also included several satellite events and, on Sunday the 16th November, Belarus Free Theatre, prohibited by the Lukashenko regime, performed their acclaimed play, Discover Love, rated as the best performance at Off-Off Broadway by the Independent Association of Theatre Bloggers. Well-known English playwright, Mark Ravenhill, speaks highly of the Belarus Free Theatre company, stating that “They have a stunning vocal and physical command, performing with ease and urgency material that combines both verbatim and physical theatre”. Such praise and the many international awards, which the theatre has received, make the company’s presence in Bratislava an occasion not to be missed and ensure an artistic highlight to accompany the high quality debating fare on offer.
Other side events at the CEF 2014, included: a special discussion panel, GLOBSEC at CEF 2014 (in cooperation with the Slovak Atlantic Commission); an exhibition about, and (in co-operation with the Slovakian Institute for Public Affairs and The Goethe Institute) a discussion of, Slovakia’s first decade as an EU member; diverse high-school and university debates; and a meeting of 20 European debate houses at Bratislava’s Pisztory Palace.
Of course, 2014’s Central European Forum would not be able to take place without the kind support of its donors and partners and the organisers wish to extend their thanks to all of them – ourselves and the OSF included – in particular to their main partner, the ERSTE Foundation, whose support they have been able to count on since the very first Forum in 2009.
(click on any date to access the recordings from that day)
A divided Europe
What does the Ukrainian conflict mean for Central Europe? What can be considered to be ethical and meaningful stances vis-à-vis Russia? Which historical lessons are relevant to the present crisis? Should we look for guidance in the events of 1938 – aggression won’t stop of its own accord unless we take a stand – do we need to go further back to 1914 – if we allow war to flare up, will it stop of its own accord? – or do we need to find a new paradigm, relevant to our own era? Lastly, what damage have recent developments inflicted upon the idea of Visegrád and, more generally, that of Central Europe?
Aleksander Kaczorowski (Poland).
The shrinking public space
We seem to be living in an era, in which the concept of privacy is disappearing and our public spaces are rapidly shrinking. How has this been able to come about and what does it mean for us?
Michal Havran (Slovakia)
Unfortunately, there were some difficulties with the audio recording of Sunday’s events. Subsequently, we only have a Slovakian-language recording of Us and Them and an English-language version of the second half of GLOBSEC at CEF, with an accompanying link to a full-length Slovakian recording. Happily, Theatre and Freedom was unaffected by these issues and you can view a full-length English-language of this discussion recording below.
Us and Them (in Slovakian)
Society has become hopelessly divided into sealed-off sections, incapable of communicating with one another and each with the feeling of being victimised by the others. This phenomenon, a quasi poisoning of the collective mind, has affected and, to some degree paralysed, vast swathes of the world, with its impact apparent in Central and Eastern Europe, the US and many other parts of the world. What is its cause and what are its implications?
Thierry Chervel (Germany)
GLOBSEC at CEF 2014
The vision of a unified Europe, which is free and at peace remains unfulfilled. After several rounds of enlargement, signs of fatigue are apparent in both the European Union and NATO. Are there attractive Russia-centric alternatives to European and Euro-Atlantic integration? What must be done to buttress Ukrainian aspirations ,and those of other nations, in such matters as EU membership? Has Central Europe been active enough?
Co-organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission, a member of the Central European Strategy Council.
Josef Braml (Germany) – Vasyl Cherepanyn (Ukraine) – Andrej Soldatov (Russia).
Mário Nicolini (Slovakia)
Theatre and Freedom
A discussion with the directors of the Belarus Free Theatre.
Natalia Kaliada – Nikolaj Khalezin (Belarus).
Ján Šimko (Slovakia)
The sticking point
The greatest weapon used by Putin’s Russia in its ideological offensive is the preservation of the traditional family in its supposedly age-old format. Asserting this societal model as an inviolable moral value, the Russian government presents itself as the last bastion between its citizenry and their corruption through what it brands as European societal perversions. Which concept is more artificial – tradition or human rights?
Michal Hvorecký (Slovakia)
Parents and children of the revolution (Slovakian introduction, English debate)
People who were too young to take part in the revolutions of 1989 are now turning on their elders, saying: the only role your revolution has ultimately assigned to us is that of industrious multipliers of our own wealth. What if that is not enough for us?
Martin M. Šimečka (Slovakia)