Dr. Erhard Busek has passed away

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It is with deep sadness that we received the news of the death of a great friend of the ICC, Dr. Erhard Busek, politician and lawyer, author of numerous publications on European integration, political science, as well as books on Central and South-Eastern Europe.

In 2019, the International Cultural Centre published his book, “A New Look at Central Europe. Does the future of Europe depend on it?” [“Nowe spojrzenie na Europę Środkową. Czy od niej zależy przyszłość Europy?”], written in collaboration with Dr. Emil Brix.

Dr. Erhard Busek performed many political functions in his life – he was the Minister of Science and Research, Minister of Education, and in 1991–1995 Vice-Chancellor of Austria. He was the coordinator of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) and the president of the Institut für den Donauraum und Mitteleuropa in Vienna. He was a true veteran and a champion of discourse about Central Europe. In 1986, together with Dr. Emil Brix, he wrote the manifesto “Project Mitteleuropa”, which was an isolated act of solidarity of Western politicians with the nations of Central Europe cut off by the Iron Curtain and striving to integrate with Western Europe while distancing themselves from the Soviet Union. Dr. Erhard Busek was deeply involved in the process of European integration after 1989. In the 1990s, as Vice-Chancellor of Austria, he was one of the main promoters of Austria's joining the European Union.

In 2011, he wrote about himself: “When I was a child, we used to go for family walks on Sundays. I can still hear my father's story that when he was my age, he and his parents took the tram to Pressburg, they would go there for coffee or a cup of hot chocolate, and then they would return to Vienna. It was hard for me to understand because Pressburg didn't tell me anything – the only place that would fit the story, which with some difficulty I found in my school atlas, was called Bratislava. The confusion was not alleviated by my grandfather's information that the place was also called Pozsony. All I knew was that you needed a visa to go there and that you had to queue for hours to get it. In addition, my mother noticed somewhat harshly that it is well known that you cannot go for coffee in Bratislava. Today everything has changed, fortunately: coffee is plentiful, no visas are needed, and the Iron Curtain is a thing of the past.

Such stories show the importance of history in the mutual understanding among different nations. If we do not know the stories of others – both the good parts as well as the sad or difficult ones – we will not be able to understand them. Stories like this seem to suggest that we should put more effort into telling stories, anecdotes, and recounting scraps of stories, otherwise it is impossible to form an appropriate image of others. The most important thing is to observe how we perceive each other and shape our mutual perception so as not to treat others as "strangers". Such difficulties characterise the current state of European integration. They can be overcome through mutual rapprochement, which must also be based on an analysis of the historical aspects of the relationship. Much has already been achieved in this regard. It is enough to mention the already settled German-French tensions or the resolved problems in South Tyrol. Our part of the world, where history plays a particularly important role, provides fertile ground for tensions to arise. So far, however, history is used by politicians mainly to sustain bilateral conflicts.

My personal life inspired me with a thought that made a great impression on me. My father and all my male ancestors were Protestants. My family comes from Cieszyn, Poland, where religious tolerance was apparently prevailing. Jerzy Buzek, the former prime minister of Poland and currently the president of the European Parliament, also comes from Cieszyn, which led us to the conclusion that we must be distant relatives. We learn from examples like this that religiously mixed communities have historically developed a tolerance that allowed different groups to live in peace with each other in the past. It was all the more painful for us to observe when in Bosnia-Herzegovina the fact that the Serbs profess Orthodoxy, Croats Catholicism, and Bosnians Islam, was used to justify an armed conflict. Religions and their histories were identified as the sources of inevitable war, foundations of potential conflict. Politicians, with no opposition from religious authorities, used this potential for their own purposes. We must ensure that Samuel Huntington's warnings, expressed in The Clash of Civilizations, that religions may become the main source of conflict, do not materialise. There will be no chance for peace if we do not know where we come from, where we want to go, and how to make sense of our history.”

(Dr. Erhard Busek, “Dzieje, historie, strzępy opowieści. Historia jako główny składnik kultury europejskiej” in: “50/20. Szkice i eseje na dwudziestolecie Międzynarodowego Centrum Kultury”, Kraków 2011).

 

In the third issue of “Herito”, a quarterly published by the ICC, you can read an interview with Erhard Busek: “Mitteleuropa is still needed” [“Mitteleuropa ciągle potrzebna”]

 

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