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Hungary, Central Europe and the future of the Western Community| 2016.05.27.

HUNGARY, CENTRAL EUROPE AND THE FUTURE OF THE WESTERN COMMUNITY - A Conference Organized by Webster University, Geneva and Corvinus University, Budapest

Three main themes

This one day international academic conference was hosted by Corvinus University on 21 April 2016. The participants included ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic community, professors and other researchers and international relations experts, students and members of the general public.

The Conference Organizing Committee included Professors Otto Hieronymi, Péter Ákos Bod and Géza Jeszenszky. The logistics were coordinated by two Corvinus students Hajnalka Tóth and Valéria Mikó.


The main themes of the conference can be summed up in three points:

(1)   The achievements,  the role and the future of the Western Community

(2)   The relevance of the Western Community for Central Europe, for small countries in general and for Hungary in particular, and

(3)   What should Central Europe, small countries in general, and Hungary in particular, do to strengthen the Western Community.


This event was organized in the spirit and tradition of a series of Conferences and Seminars organized by Webster University, Geneva, over the last twenty years on topics related to the economic, political and security dimensions of the Western Community. This continuity is illustrated for example by the 10th Annual Fall Conference of Webster University, Geneva held in November 2009 under the title of “Renewing the Western Community: the Challenge for the U.S., Europe and Japan”, the list of speakers of which included five of the eight speakers of the 2016 event (including the three members of the Organizing Committee).


The concept and success of the Western Community


The emergence and the consolidation of the Western Community since the end of the Second World War, represent the most successful example of community building of free and independent countries in history. This was possible because of the solidarity and cooperation among the three principal pillars of the Western Community, the United States, Europe and Japan, which all contributed directly or indirectly to this unique development.


The principal achievements of the Western Community can be summed up under three headings: (1) freedom, democracy and self-determination for large and small countries alike; (2) economic integration and unprecedented prosperity and social progress; (3) effective collective security against outside threats and aggression and de facto perpetual peace among the member countries (i.e. war among the members of the Western Community has become unimaginable).


The end of the Cold War represented the superiority and the peaceful victory of the model of liberal democracy over the Communist regime, and in general over authoritarian and totalitarian systems and ideologies. For Hungary and for the other Central European countries this provided a unique and long-hoped for opportunity to join the Western Community of free nations.


From the start the Western Community has been a community of both values and interests. Also, from the start, small countries not only benefitted from the existence of the Western Community, but also contributed, beyond their size or economic weight, to the progress of the concept and its implementation throughout the last six or seven decades.


Today, despite the renewal of widespread anti-Western rhetoric and ideologies, and despite tensions within and between the member countries, the Western Community remains strong and resilient. However, as in the past, one of the main threats to the survival and the security of the Western Community is that too many political leaders, observers and ordinary citizens take its existence for granted and ignore or neglect the need of renewal and affirmation of the basic principles and objectives of this community.


There is no doubt that Hungary, as well as other Central European countries (especially Poland and Czechoslovakia), which had demonstrated time and again during the Cold War their profound aspiration to become free to join the Western Community, contributed in a major way to the collapse of Communist ideology and of Soviet domination and thus to the strengthening and peaceful expansion of the Western Community. Their role is important today and will remain also in the future.


Highlights from the Conference


Dr. Maria Dunavölgyi welcomed in the name of Corvinus University the speakers and the participants. In her statement she emphasized the importance attributed by Corvinus to international academic cooperation, of which this event is an excellent example. She expressed the hope that there will be joint academic initiatives between Corvinus and Webster also in the future.


Professor Otto Hieronymi of Webster University Geneva in his Introduction pointed out that the Western Community has been the most successful example of international community building in modern history: it has helped achieve unprecedented prosperity and social progress, democracy and freedom as well as perpetual peace among its members. He also recalled earlier examples of cooperation between Webster and Corvinus Professors, also related to the Western Community including publications dealing with international economic, political, and monetary and financial issues  Finally he paid homage to the memory of the great scholar Rudolf Andorka who had been rector of Corvinus from 1991 until his death in 1997.


Professor Péter Bod of the Department of Economic Policy at Corvinus, and former President of the Hungarian National Bank, addressed the important issue economic convergence between the former Socialist economies in Central Europe, on the one hand, and the Western European economies, on the other hand. An upward convergence in terms of living standards and social conditions was the principal objective of the economic regime change from the planned economy to the market economy and of European and world-wide economic integration. Such a convergence has taken place since the end of the Cold War, but as Bod pointed out, it has been less pronounced than many have expected (and the one that took place between the U.S.A. and Western Europe during the quarter century following World War II) and there have been fluctuations in its pace since the early 1990s.


Professor Géza Jeszenszky, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Antall and Boross Cabinets, and a specialist both of the Euro-Atlantic Community and of Hungary’s relations with its neighbouring countries, took a long-term perspective in his presentation. He argued convincingly that Hungary has been a member of the Western world for more than one thousand years. This was not the result of geography or of a historic accident, but of a deliberate choice. Also, it was a condition for survival over the centuries of the Hungarian nation and of Hungary as an important political community. The end of the Cold War and the 1990 regime allowed to reaffirm its Western identity. Those who question this identity in Hungary or abroad commit a serious historical error and misread the fundamental interests of the Hungarian nation and of the region as a whole.


Professor Jànos Martonyi, also a former Hungarian Minster of Foreign Affairs, pointed out the extraordinary achievements in terms of “international institutional innovation” involved in the process of European integration since the 1940s to the present day. Based on his direct experience in high office and on his analyses as a lawyer and a scholar, he argues – like many people in the rest of the European Union, or in Switzerland (a non-E.U.-member) – that the constant changing of the rules and the constant to create new institutions to make the E.U. resemble more and more a “super state” is likely to make to the Union more fragile rather than stronger and more coherent. As to the role and position of Hungary, Martonyi argued that “Hungary is not a bridge between East and West”, but as Jeszenszky also pointed out, Hungary is part of the West: as such it can and should be an important bridge-head of the West towards the East, in the interest of both sides.


Professor Andreas Oplatka, a former Editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of the world’s oldest and most respected international newspapers, also took as a starting point the fact that Hungary is part of the West. For decades, however it had been kept by force outside the Western community and its liberal value system. Human rights and humanitarian responsibilities are essential parts of the Western political order and no one should play games with these values. Should Hungary earn an “illiberal” reputation and should the Hungarian political system become once more “illiberal” this would have very serious negative consequences for Hungary in the long run.


According to Professor Alexander Vautravers, an expert on security issues associated with the University of Geneva and a former Head of the Webster Geneva International Relations Department, in principle the two pillars of the collective security of the Western Community are NATO and the European Union. The true responsibility for the effective implementation of collective security, however, has been increasingly assumed by NATO, and in fact by the United States. The unwillingness of European countries – governments and society at large – to provide the necessary financial, material and human resources for a more balanced burden sharing for the security of the Western Community, makes the European Union and the European countries less and less relevant in defining priorities, threats and security interests and in carrying out military strategies in an increasingly globalized world.


Professor François Rubio, also associated with Webster Geneva, was for many years Legal Director of the Paris-based major international NGO Médecins du Monde, and he is a recognized expert on NGOs and humanitarian action and refugee protection in particular. Professor Rubio pointed out that for some time now European governments have allowed the confusion between “migrants” and “refugees” to persist. They have also failed to develop common approaches at the European level to the issue of immigration and asylum. The E.U. has to pay today a high price for this neglect. According to the speaker the apparent lack of solutions to the problems raised by immigration, integration and of national identity represents an existential threat to the European Union: it is one of the gravest crises in the history of European integration.


Professor Michel Veuthey Associate Professor of International Law and of Intrnational Humanitarian Law (IHL) at Webster Geneva and Vic-President of the Institute of International Humanitarian Law, spoke of the universal character of human rights and of humanitarian values. Human rights and humanitarianism were originally Western concepts but today they serve to protect all individuals, families, and communities regardless of their national identity or citizenship, their religion, culture or ethnic identity. At the same time, humanitarians have to take into local values and local traditions that help to protect against abuses and to bring about reconciliation. It is important that these “non-Western” tools and values of protection should not be rejected but rather be integrated into the universal international humanitarian and human rights order.


Otto Hieronymi, Professor of International Relations and former Head of the Webster Geneva International Relations Program, spoke about the links between globalization and the future of the Western Community. The three fundamental sets of values and objectives of the Western Community – (1) democracy, freedom and solidarity, (2) market economy, economic integration and social progress, and (3) renouncing the use of force to settle disputes among the members of the community (de facto perpetual peace has prevailed since the late 1940s within the Community) – are the principles that ought to constitute the basis of a global international order as well. In fact, no other political system – past or present – can offer a valid alternative to a domestic and international order based on these three interdependent concepts. The current crisis of globalization and of the Western Community is as much due to internal tensions as to external threats. The main long-term threat to for the future of the Western Community is that governments and the general public take for granted its achievements and while at the same time they refuse to assume the responsibilities and solidarity necessary to overcome old or new divisions and growing centrifugal forces due to the revival of nationalism and of populist propaganda. Britain’s gambling with “Brexit” is a typical illustration of this phenomenon.


List of speakers

The Conference was opened by Dr. Mària Dunavölgyi, Director, Directorate of External Relations of Corvinus University


The following is the list of speakers in alphabetical order and the title of their presentations:


Bod, Péter Akos, Professor, Corvinus University, Former President, Hungarian Nation Bank: Economic Convergence and the Western Community


Hieronymi, Otto, Professor of International Relations, Webster University, Geneva: Globalization and the Future of the Western Community


Jeszenszky, Géza, Professor, historian, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary: Hungary and the Western Community


Martonyi, Jànos, Professor, international lawyer, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary: Hungary and the Future of the European Union


Oplatka, Andràs, Professor of History, Andràssy University, Budapest, former editor Neue Zürcher Zeitung: History – East-West misunderstandings


Rubio, François, Professor, former Legal Director, Médecins du Monde, Associate Judge at the National Court of Appeals for Asylum Seekers, Paris:  The Challenge of Migrants and Refugees and the Western Community


Vautravers, Alexandre, Professor, historian and expert on security issues, Research Associate, University of Geneva: Collective Security and the Western Community


Veuthey, Michel, Professor of International law, Geneva, Vice-President, Institute of International Humanitarian Law, San Remo: Humanitarian Values and Protection and the Western Community

Last modified: 2018.11.30.