April 26, 2004

Forum explores varied aspects of Europe         

By Eric Rangus

The April 21 Burke Nicholson Interdisciplinary Forum, “A New Balance in Europe?” brought together 13 panelists for a day’s worth of discussion and exploration of European identity and culture, a reflection of its past, and a look ahead to many possible futures.

Sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the forum was broken into two parts. The morning session focused on “Perspectives on European-U.S. Relations,” and following lunch, the afternoon was devoted to “Culture and Identity: Developments in Europe.” Each session consisted of two panels of at least three speakers each. After individual presentations, a moderator opened the floor for discussion.

Speakers included professors from several of Emory’s language departments, as well as history, sociology and political science. The roster also included many distinguished international speakers.

Hartmut Lehman, director of the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen, Germany, and founding director of the Washington-based German Historical Institute, spoke during the first panel, “The New Balance in Europe: Europe and the U.S. in Historical Perspective.” Lehman currently is visiting distinguished professor in the history department.

Another visiting faculty member, Sam Cherribi, visiting senior lecturer in sociology, was a member of the Dutch Parliament from 1994–2002.

In his talk, “Europe’s New Imbalance: Challenges for the Future,” he pointed out several positives stemming from the creation of the European Union (EU) in 1992, including the dramatic rise in living standards in countries such as Spain and Portugal. The economic clout of the EU, Cherribi said, gave it some advantages.

“In nine days, there will be 453 million people in the union versus 278 million in the United States,” Cherribi said, referring to the union’s May 1 expansion to 25 countries, which will include several countries in Eastern Europe. “But there is still no political identity.”

Another noted international speaker was Gyula Koldolányi, visiting distinguished professor from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He was a founding member of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) while the country was still ruled by the Communists and he later helped form the country’s first democratic government since 1948. He served as senior foreign policy advisor to two prime ministers in the early 1990s.

“They know that membership in the EU will be an uphill battle, at least for the first three years,” said Koldolányi. Hungary is one of the 10 nations joining the EU in May. “But they know that expansion brings health and stability, at least in a political sense, to the entire continent.”

He noted that much of Eastern Europe has sided with the United States on issues such as the Iraq war. That solidarity is due in part to the region’s experiences under Soviet domination. “Islamic fundamentalism echoes with distinctive memories,” Koldolányi said. “They saw fascism and Bolshevism.”

He also said that Eastern Europeans saw their continental neighbors fail to stop ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and progress was not made until U.S.-led NATO forces stepped in. In his interpretation, Koldolányi referenced earlier comments by history Professor James Melton about American moralism versus European experience.

“The fact is, without American moralism, nothing would have happened in the Balkans,” he said. “European experience wasn’t good enough.”

Koldolányi, a poet and professor of English and American literature, contributed to the forum in another way. Following the panel discussions, he gave a poetry reading in the Woodruff Library’s Jones Room.

Wednesday’s forum, organized by the Office of International Affairs and the fifth in the annual series, was made possible through a gift by Burke Nicholson, and it seeks to promote dialogue across disciplines through special workshops and conferences involving a cross-section of Emory participants.