Berlin, November 7th – 10th, 2019
Between November 7th-10th 2019, the President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization (IASLCC), Professor Emil Constantinescu, took part in a conference titled “Berlin Wall 30 – From the Divided City to the City of Freedom. The 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall”, organised by the Berlin Academy of Cultural Diplomacy and the Berlin Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. The IASLCC delegation to the event also included Ms. Luiza Niță, General Director, Dr Cătălin-Ștefan Popa, PhD, director of the Direction for the History of Culture and Civilization, and Dr Simona Deleanu, PhD, Advisor.
The event brought together former heads of state, important personalities of the current political milieu, representatives from European and global institutions and a number of individuals involved in post-Communist transition – among them, Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia; Valdis Zatlers, former President of Latvia (2007-2011); Andrej Kiska, former President of Slovakia (2014-2019); Marek Belka, former Prime Minister of Poland; Ferenc Gyurcsány, former Prime Minister of Hungary; and Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Liberal Democrat Alliance in the European Parliament.
In his speech on Friday, November 8th, President Constantinescu stressed the importance of not only having, but also thoroughly understanding the culture of democracy. His argument posited that recourse to the ideals of the European Union’s founding fathers – temperance, virtue and moderation as essential moral values of decision-making processes at the highest levels – may well have a positive impact in the reconstruction of the European space. At President Constantinescu’s side was Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia, who underlined the need for convergence and cohesion for our European future, and the involvement of each member state in turn, each with its distinct identity and cultural potential, for a visionary and united Europe.
President of Romania, 1996-2000
President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
“For each of the countries of the former Communist bloc, understanding this lesson of authentic freedom represents the great stakes of getting to configure their own identity within the new society of the European Union”
“The Berlin Wall collapsed in tangible heaps of brick, mortar and iron; yet it lingers in the collective European imagination, in our minds and on our souls, and it will continue to affect the conscience of the people in the West and in the East, either on the surface or deep down inside, for a long time to come.
What I did not know then and I would only glean over the years to come, was that the more we progressed down the road of post-Communist transition, the different rates of progress among the various European countries sprung from ever older realities of the individual histories of each people. These echoes of the past accompany each of our leaps forward; and this is what allows us to travel not only through space, but also seemingly through time whenever we go from West to East.[,,,]
The fall of Communism was, first and foremost, an ideological collapse that paved the way for the political collapse of dictatorships in most countries of the former Soviet Bloc. In this context, culture played a fundamental role. In parallel to official discourse, an „underground” discourse was created, designed to denounce deception and falsity and to reject those who had „ceased to think”. For the Soviet Empire, armed to the teeth for either a „cold” or a „hot” war, the danger did not come from its Western antagonists, which it was otherwise successfully countering. The danger did not come from „American missiles”. It came from those intellectuals still active in their own countries, which were deeply despised by Communist apparatchiks. The danger came through the word of democratic intellectuals and through their writing, illegally disseminated to citizens through often precarious means.
For those who have experienced Communism and were forced to live through the post-Communist transition period, nothing is truer or more instructive than a reading of Exodus. We understand best why it took 40 years for the people of Israel to reach the Holy Land, what the meaning of worshipping a golden calf is, the temptation of collective debauchery, of violence and treason, the need for a Table of Laws and the punishment for failing to comply with the Ten Commandments.
The collapse of Communist dictatorships in the USSR and South-Eastern Europe in 1989 and their replacement with democratic regimes put an end to an enormous loss in human lives. For the younger generations, liberated from Communist shackles, their parents’ struggles might seem more like issues of the past, rather than of a present marked by a different strain of political, economic, and social crises than those tributary to suffering, privation and loss of liberty experienced by the previous generation. Nevertheless, those that still keep alive the memory of that age are the primary artisans of tackling the issue of human rights from a contemporary perspective. The horrors of that bygone era have left their indelible mark on the collective mentality of the entire former Communist space. For some contemporaries, the millions of dead prisoners in Communist camps might appear as mere statistical data points; yet historical memory remains the one element that best explains the reason why citizens from former Communist countries staunchly refuse to support totalitarian approaches, regardless of the guise they might be peddled in. The pedagogy of freedom requires a memory of suffering because, as in the case of health, we only perceive the value of freedom when we no longer have it. Yet what will happen when the last survivors of the gulags will disappear?[…]
I had the opportunity to directly participate, alongside intellectuals from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Baltic States, in the democracy expansion project for Central and South-Eastern Europe. At the time, democracy offered a fresh perspective for those still traumatized by Communist tyranny. A democracy based on moral principles remains, to this day, a possible solution in those places where totalitarian regimes still exist, where sufferings must be overcome and where reconciliation must be achieved; and I am now engaged in this project with all my strength.
Nowadays, human rights are understood by view of mutual understanding and acceptance. Intransigence against all discrimination, freedom of expression, the exclusion of any attempts at antidemocratic governance, ranging from the condemnation of ultranationalist political discourse to the actual fight against terrorism, are merely the result of this new way of understanding reality. In short, the human being has reclaimed its rights, once again occupying the central focus from whence it had been downcast by Communist ideology. Yet beyond this optimistic image of post-Communist society, we must not lose sight of the fact that our perception of the ideal of freedom and liberty, achieved through lengthy and heavy suffering, can still be distorted: its excessive idealization can transfer the foundations of freedom, penned in the Declaration of Human Rights, into the sphere of utopia; and to ignore this ideal and, in particular, the pedagogy of suffering, can cause an irreparable rift between the values of the past and the desire of the present to affirm itself; its formalization can shift the poles of communal interest and action to falsity, imposture and pseudo-value. For each of the countries of the former Communist bloc, understanding this lesson on genuine freedom represents the foundation on which they can each build their own identity in the new society of a United Europe. Without dismissing the past, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is more of a guide rather than a goal we need to strive towards. To freeze in inaction cannot be viable in a fast-changing world, as neither can an attitude entirely dissociated from the great teachings of history.”