by Gjertrud Fosdal
“Today we cannot be silent. You cannot be silent, just like we were not silent on November 9, 1989. Apathy is the worst way.”
These are the words of Iveta Radičová, a sociologist, former Prime Minister of Slovakia and keynote speaker at the tenth annual DASI Conference, held on 31 January. The day-long conference focused on developments in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, including the implications for the current state of democracy in Eastern European countries. Naturally, the situation in Ukraine received attention and Radičova appealed to the younger members of the audience to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for democracy and a transparent society. She emphasized that today, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy cannot be taken for granted in Europe.
This year’s DASI conference gathered an audience of about 120 students, representatives from embassies, professors, and others who listened to speakers of diverse backgrounds exchanging opinions on the conference theme. Morning sessions included keynote speakers such as Ewald König, an Austrian journalist who was present during the fall of the Berlin Wall, Melanie Sully, President of the Vienna-based Go-Governance Institute, and Aleksander Smolar, political scientist and former advisor to two Polish Prime Ministers. König argued that because the fall of the Berlin Wall is of high symbolic value, the importance of the Polish insurrection of 1988 has largely been neglected. Smolar reiterated this argument and pointed to the filtering role of mass media.
In the afternoon, three simultaneous panel discussions took place, which concentrated on politics, economics and identity and how these relate to democracy. The panel on economics offered valuable insights into the economic situation in the former Eastern Bloc. Petr Skočdopole, Czech journalist and former editor-in-chief of the weekly Instinkt, added humor to the discussion through the story of a toilet paper shortage and corresponding evolution of a black market in the former Czechoslovakia. The current political crisis in Ukraine was also debated in this forum.
“The EU perceives Ukraine as a possible market, whereas Russia sees it as a territory”, said Vladimir Gligorov, staff economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. He also pointed to the economic growth in Poland and described it as “a tremendous success.”
The other panels also saw spirited and wide-ranging debate, touching on issues from resurging nationalism in Central Europe, and its meaning for the political future of the region, to the problem of corruption. However, Sergejus Muravjovas, Executive Director of Transparency International in Lithuania, highlighted that significant improvements had taken place over the last decades. “Whereas twenty years ago, politicians would boast about being on private jets with businessmen, today, they are highly aware of the repercussions of such behavior.”
Months of hard work by DA students, as well as the generous support from several sponsors were essential elements to make the conference successful. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the non-profit organization Teachers for Africa, which dedicates itself to improving education in the townships of South Africa. As Jan Willem Scholten, one of the heads of the organizing committee put it: “A great DASI tradition and a fulfilling project to be involved with – bring on next year!”