Bela Greskovits Receives Danubius Award

This year the Danubius Award was awarded to Bela Greskovits, university professor in the Departments of International Relations and Political Science at CEU. The award was established in 2011 by the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Resesearch and the Institute for Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM). The prize was awarded at the Danube Rectors' Conference in Bratislava on November 8. 

You can read Greskovits's acceptance speech below.

"Dear Frau Magister Barbara Weitgruber, Dear Herr Erhard Busek, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, 

When I think about the Danube and its region, it is the bridges of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade and many other cities that first come to my mind. Bridges can have various functions. In good times they connect cities, countries and regions, in hard times they are turned into guarded fortresses dividing them. Bridges have their own history. They are blown up by fighting armies, then rebuilt, and often renamed according to changing political tastes. Further, we often talk about bridges in symbolic sense: as connections between different cultures, and past, present, and the future.

In my understanding, the Danubius Award was founded in 2011 to honor builders of bridges in this symbolic sense, namely persons who have contributed to the cultural, political, and economic integration of the Danube Region. The great honor that I was declared the laureate for 2018, made me think of certain episodes in my life, which might be seen as contributions. Let me tell you the story of two such episodes: one policy-related and political, the other educational. The first is a story that started as a failure but turned into an unexpected success; the second is a true success story, which, however, has encountered unexpected obstacles recently.

In 1987, Hungarian Communist leaders joined Austrian politicians in their commitment to co-organize a World Fair in Budapest and Vienna. Reflecting the Zeitgeist of peaceful co-existence, „Bridges to the Future” became the slogan of the planned Expo 1994. Incidentally, my involvement in the preparations built bridges to my own future too. In 1988 I was head of a research unit at an institute for economic and market research, which was pledged to conduct a feasibility study of Expo 1994. Alas, our study raised doubts regarding the feasibility of the Budapest-Vienna Expo. We predicted that foreign investors were unlikely to finance most of planned logistical, tourism and transport facilities, and so the bulk of costs would burden the state budget, and swell Hungary’s already critical debt. Our skeptical findings intensified the Expo debate and altered my own career path. Personally, I remember 1989 as a year of existential insecurity. At the weekly meetings of my institute’s council, our study was heavily criticized, and I was threatened with removal from my office, for undermining my institute’s professional credibility and revenues. Ultimately, it was due to Hungary’s democratic transformation that me and my colleagues could keep our jobs. In the campaign leading to the free elections in 1990, liberal parties presented the Expo-project as a major proof for Communists’ irresponsible and wasteful economic visions. Even so, the Expo-idea survived the collapse of communism and even thrived when a referendum forced Austria to back off. It was not earlier than in the Fall of 1994 that the then ruling left-liberal coalition terminated the project for the lack of available finance – much in line with the assessment of our original feasibility study. Even more important, since the transformation removed the Iron Curtain and built new bridges to the region’s future, the Expo-idea lost significance.

My gain from involvement in this conflict was a firsthand knowledge about the features of a transforming political economy. This experience paved the way to my lifelong fascination with the diversity of nascent capitalist democracies emerging in the Danube Region. In 1993, I started to teach and conduct research on this subject at the newly founded Central European University in Budapest, where I work to this date. I have seen my institution growing from a small-scale, little-known experiment to an internationally respected center of teaching and scholarship. Yet, CEU’s activity is not merely academic. Our mission entails building bridges between diverse views, disciplines, cultures, polities, and economies in service of open society in the Danube Region and beyond. My involvement in these activities has been a most rewarding experience. Over the years I have taught more than thousand MA and PhD students, and supervised more than hundred MA and a dozen PhD dissertations. I had the privilege of helping young researchers to become future experts in the politics of finance, labor markets and trade unions, transport and energy policy, comparative welfare state, EU subsidies and regional development, economic migration, and the informal economy. Today, my former students are builders of new bridges to the region’s future – as young professors, policy makers, civil society activists or leaders in Hungary, Slovakia, Montenegro, Bosnia&Herzegovina, Poland, Bulgaria, or Romania.

Currently, open society faces new challenges and new adversaries. So does Central European University. Since the passing of what is known as „lex CEU” in Spring 2017, our functioning in our hometown Budapest as a free academic institution with a dual American and Hungarian identity is no longer guaranteed. Amidst a lengthy, politically overheated, and so far unsuccessful process of seeking accommodation with the Hungarian government, CEU’s leadership accepted the generous offer of the city of Vienna also supported by the federal government, to open a campus in the Austrian capital. With this, new bridges are being built between Vienna and Budapest, to Austrian society and higher education, and to CEU’s future.

All I can say as a conclusion is that CEU will stay faithful to its mission of contributing to open societies in its old and new locations alike. And since #IstandwithCEU, and #CEUstandswithDanubeRegion”, when I receive the Danubius Award, I also receive it on behalf of Cental European University.

Thank you very much for valuing our contribution."