Arpad Goncz, the first democratically elected president of the Republic of Hungary after the fall of communism, was a prominent member of the group of European intellectuals and other key figures who conceptualized and founded Central European University in 1991. Goncz, Vaclav Havel, who was then president of Czechoslovakia, and Bronislaw Geremek, co-founder of Solidarity, were among those who supported financier and philanthropist George Soros’s vision of a university that would train post-communist leaders in the principles and practice of open society, democracy, and human rights. In May 1990, Goncz, Havel and Geremek agreed to become patrons of the planned institution.
“Arpad Goncz was a key figure in the promotion of democracy and open society in Central and Eastern Europe, and a strong supporter of CEU and its mission,” said CEU President and Rector John Shattuck of Goncz, who passed away October 6 at the age of 93. “With his passing, our university, and the world, have lost a great champion of human rights and freedoms.”
CEU honored Goncz, jointly with anti-apartheid activist and Managing Director of the World Bank Mamphela Ramphele, with the 2000 Central European University Open Society Prize, an award given to outstanding individuals whose achievements have contributed substantially to the creation of open society and who have supported CEU. Other recipients have included Havel, former U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
“It is not enough to contemplate and speak about freedom, human rights and an open society: one must act, otherwise democracy cannot be defended,” Goncz said in his acceptance speech. “Democracy is not just the rule of law, but should also be the rule of moral principles.”
CEU hosted a conference in honor of the outgoing Hungarian president in June 2000, together with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Eotvos Lorand University. The theme of the conference, “Human Dignity,” was an appropriate and symbolically fitting topic for reflection, marking the capstone of a courageous political career.