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Burning issues in the region

László Rajk
The focus of the third Day of the 2012 Visegrad Summer School was devoted to burning issues in the region of Central Europe. The opening lecture of the day presented by László Rajk was focused on the interesting topic of Memory. From the beginning of the lecture Mr Rajk outlined the complexities that exist behind memory in one’s country but particularly in his native Hungary. He outlined his thoughts in a clear and well articulated fashion, arguing that Hungary had always struggled with forming accurate memories even as far back as the 19th Century. Navigating quickly, but skilfully, through the numerous wars that had affected Hungary, Mr Rajk quickly created a path that the lecture would follow. He identified Hungarians silence during the 20th Century as a clear evidence of the lack of accurate memories and highlighted the failure of the nation’s people to accurately investigate its past.
Switching to current day events, Rajk outlined the contradictions that still exist within Hungary and particularly in relation to the politics of the country. Explaining that without a clear memory of the past many Hungarians will grow up not experiencing cultures that the present day government wishes to control and destroy. Arguing that censorship existed pre-Christ, Mr. Rajk warned of the dangers of suffocating societies of their rights to freedom and hoped that certain groups wish to reinterpret things will not come to fruition. Concluding by his lecture by arguing that more power should be given to local governments as opposed to central run systems, he stressed that he hoped over the next century the people will once again focus on memory as it is one of the fundamental aspects to one’s life.
László SzemélyiThe second lecture of the day was entitled Europe is like alcohol? Presented by a past participant of the Visegrad Summer School László Személyi this lecture was carefully managed and very informative of the history surrounding the E.U. and whether the Visegrad countries have truly benefitted form becoming members of the Union. Beginning by questioning European Unity, Mr. Személyi outlined for areas where questions have arise; Banking Union, Fiscal Union, Integrated policies and Political Legitimacy. Citing the current crisis as an example of Europe attempting to be united but lacking the required legitimacy, he questioned whether Europe is losing some of its lustre? Proceeding to discuss a 2 speed Europe, it was questioned whether countries such as Bulgaria and Romania had truly benefitted from their membership of the EU, with both struggling to meet Schengen standards this point is truly debateable. The lecture continued apace encompassing many aspects including; Maastricht and ECB rates, criteria for Euro admission and economic interdependency. Once these issues had been confronted, Mr Személyi changed the nature of the lecture allowing the participants the chance to interact and discuss the previous points.
Moving on to focus on the successes and failures of the V4 group’s decision to join the E.U. and in Slovakia’s case the Euro, he offered some interesting words. Claiming that Slovakia had not evolved in a manner in which they had anticipated, the impact joining the Euro had on their economy was questioned, particularly with reference to them being forced to aid existing member states such as Greece and Portugal. This topic found discussion among the crowd and evoked widespread discussion and many conflicting perspective. Drawing the lecture to a close Mr. Személyi questioned what Europe is. Is it Populist? Angry? Or even Euro sceptic? Certainly intriguing this lecture afforded those present a clear insight into the nature of the Europe one’s now finds them in and it certainly found meaning with all who attended this engaging and eye-opening lecture. A link to this lecture can be found at: http://visegradsummerschool.org/sites/default/files/europe_is_like_alcohol_lszemelyi.pdf
Martin EhlMartin Ehl was in charge of the next lecture focusing on corruption and suitably titled ‘’Gorilla at the corrupt tour’’. Once again the standard of the presentation was excellent and this lecture proved to be immeasurably popular among the participants who were actively involved throughout. Mr. Ehl begun the lecture by asking the participants to give their own interpretations of what corruption means to them, and unsurprisingly there was a large contrast in views on this topic. Continuing with the inclusive element of the lecture, Mr. Ehl continued to involve the participants in every aspect of the lecture, while also managing to outline his central points in relation to each issue raised. Mr. Ehl cited two cases one from the Czech Republic and one from Slovakia as clear examples of corruption being evident in these regions.  His explanation of both cases evoked many differing facial expressions form the audience and both cases were equally disturbing at the level of corruption involved. He informed the crowd that two former leaders of previous communist nations had been put on trial for corruption; to the astonishment of the participants the countries involved were Croatia and Romania. One of Mr. Ehl’s main goals was to question if corruption had stemmed from communist rule or was it just systematic of society today, once again the responses to this question differed considerably albeit all participants who spoke, clearly held strong beliefs and weren’t about to be dissuaded from these convictions.
Another major part of the lecture was the discussion element that Mr. Ehl helped foster. As this topic would already be well known by the participants, the innovative approach to the lecture ensured that it was well received and fiercely debated. As participants Ambrož from Slovenia and Péterfrom Hungary noted, they were familiar with the subject of corruption, but not with all the cases cited by Mr. Ehl. They really enjoyed learning about the complexities of corruption that exist in society today and both felt the style of the lecture which involved lots of interaction worked well for this subject. Crucially corruption is something that will not disappear overnight, and through careful examples Mr. Ehl outlined the challenges that currently face society today in tackling this chronic problem. Concluding by remphasisng the indiscriminative nature of corruption, Mr. Ehl had undoubtedly delivered one of the most intriguing lectures yet on a topic that is familiar to everyone throughout society.
Michal VašečkaThe final lecture on Wednesday was hosted by Michal Vašečka and focused on the pertinent topic of Liberal Democracy. Opening the lecture by questioning is Liberal Democracy still a viable form of existence in society today; Mr. Vašečka set the scene for what would be an informative and very interesting lecture on this issue. From the beginning of the lecture, one of Mr. Vašečka’s main aims was to utilize the participant’s opinions to make the lecture more engaging. Questioning various elements of society from the offset, he managed to evoke many contrasting opinions on the merits of Liberal Democracy and as a result the lecture quickly managed to hold the participants attention for each issue that was raised. In addition, to focusing on Liberal Democracy, another question raised was if this type of system was not working then what alternatives were out there? Once again this question provoked many contrasting perspectives from advocating Autocratic rule to completely starting over again. The topic while engaging was also designed to encourage active debate among the participants and through careful planning Mr. Vašečka achieved his intended aim effortlessly.
Continuing swiftly, Mr. Vašečka showed the audience a video highlighting the many faults that exist in society today. Drawing bouts of laughter from the crowd along with faces of disbelief this video highlighted the growing divide that exists within society today. Questioning the merits of social classes, and citing Eastern Europe where people surveyed won’t truly admit to which class they belong, a theme of a lack of direction was created and this left all present truly gripped to Mr. Vašečka’s every word. Drawing his lecture to a conclusion, Mr. Vašečka wondered if the youth of today had become too skeptical of change and if that was the case how could this be altered. Recalling how Francis Fukuyama’s declaration of Liberal Democracy in the early 1990’s brought with widespread excitement, he argued that if such an innovative idea came to light today then there was a real possibility that it wouldn’t even be considered such is the skeptical nature of large parts of society today. Concluding by opening the floor to questions, this lecture truly captured the imagination of all present and drew a positive reaction by all present at the end.
A link to this lecture can be found at this site: http://visegradsummerschool.org/sites/default/files/crisis_of_a_liberal_democratic_regime_mvasecka.pdf

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