The International Day of Conscience

Message from President Emil Constantinescu to the International Conference organized by UNESCO and the Federation of World Peace

April 5-6, 2021


            "I think that when you invited me to attend the International Day of Conscience and take part in a debate dedicated to the creation of a peaceful world, one enlightened by human conscience, you had in mind the fact that I am one of the ever-fewer survivors of the Second World War that can provide a living, breathing testimony of war as a transgression of our right to life, and of totalitarian regimes as a total transgression of our right to freedom, two fundamental values of the universal human conscience.

            I was born in 1939 on the banks of the Dniester River, at the time the outer border of my country which was being invaded by the Red Army, following the pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. I have twice been a refugee, in 1940 and in 1944. My earliest childhood memories are the bodies of the dead, the convoys of wounded soldiers and the suffering of those around meAt the end of our sojourn, we found my grandparents' house a smouldering ruin: a victim of continuous aerial bombardment. Romania, which at the time was home to 16 million souls, lost one million to the war alone. Drought and famine soon followed thereafter; then, military occupation and the installation of a communist dictatorship, which arrested or deported hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were tortured and killed in concentration camps. In the second, "softer" phase of communist dictatorship, after the societal installation of fear, many gave up and gave in, becoming collaborators of the political police – after the fall of the regime, many would later be blackmailed with their collaboration or intelligence dossiers.

            The communist regime collapsed four decades after its institution following a series of peaceful manifestations which were violently repressed by military forces, which killed thousands of protesters with yet other thousands arrested or tortured.

            I became the first democratic head of state of Romania after 60 years of successive royal, military, fascist and communist dictatorships, with the support of former political detainees, of the December 1989 revolutionaries and of the pro-democracy protesters in 1990. I was  elected, following free and fair elections which no-one ever contested, primarily due to the fact I was the Rector of the University of Bucharest, the President of the National Council of University Rectors in Romania as well as a civic advocate,

            I am proud that my mandate was not marred by any form of persecution, not even that of former torturers themselves – because their victims did not wish to exact revenge, thus demonstrating that a true national reconciliation can only be predicated upon a pedagogy of suffering and of forgiveness, but never on one of forgetfulness or omission.

            As President of Romania, I advocated for democracy and a free market economy throughout a painful transition during which the Romanian population paid a heavy social cost for the necessary economic reforms and for our European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

            I am not altogether pleased at the state of contemporary society, and I feel closer today to those that still suffer throughout the world under the yoke of totalitarian regimes, wars and poverty, than to many of the citizens living in advanced democracies or to my compatriots, who wilfully accept compromises in order to advance their careers or for monetary gains.

            I only mention these aspects in the hope that I can help us, in speaking of conscience, first consider how to best organise our own lives in the spirit of the moral values to which we aspire. It is not easy to live in accordance with moral principles – but I can confirm, especially to today's youth, how well one can feel in one's old age if we can manage to preserve a clean conscience.

            We now live in a world torn between the exceptional progress of science and technology on the one hand, and a visible spiritual and moral degradation on the other. Two millennia ago, the Greeks adorned the frontispiece of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi with the words: "Gnothi seauton" – "Know thyself", I believe that the lack of effective solutions to the ongoing global health, economic and moral crisis is forcing us, at present, to have to choose between "to have" and "to be".

            Our Institute of Advanced Studies promoted the Levant Initiative for Global Peace at the UN and UNESCO, proposing cultural diplomacy, predicated on a deep understanding of the Other, as a potential solution for regions embroiled in open or frozen conflicts between communities delineated along national, ethnic and religious identities crystallized over the course of lengthy histories. However, I believe an even loftier goal would be the creation of a "culture of peace through education", one that can reconcile the past with the present and space with time. For the world of the 21st century, an education predicated on moral values can create a new arbitration between power and knowledge that might well configure a framework wherein each individual can not only be, but can also become.

            In the end, the decision falls to each of us, in turn, whether to contribute to the universal conscience of mankind."


Emil Constantinescu,
President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
President of Romania, 1996 - 2000

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