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14 May 2015

The Bridge Connecting Science, Public Affairs and National Image



The name of E. Sylvester Vizi is a familiar one in science and public affairs in Hungary and abroad. A full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and team leading researcher at its Institute of Experimental Medicine, Professor Vizi is an internationally renowned authority on neuroscience and one of the most widely quoted Hungarian scientists in the world. He has been an honorary doctor of several foreign universities and academies, a member of various scientific societies, Professor Emeritus of Semmelweis Medical University, President of the Society for Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge, President of the Hungarian Atlantic Council, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation. His wide-ranging activities span scientific research, science education, the dissemination of scientific knowledge, as well as various tasks related to the improvement of Hungary’s involvement in the international arena and the furthering of the country’s reputation. Interestingly, this same overarching connective function is echoed in the titles of his two recent books, A tudás hídjai [Bridges of Knowledge (2005)] and Láthatatlan hidakon át [Across Invisible Bridges (2008)]. The distinguished researcher and public figure described his own evolution as a story of identifying the pillars supporting bridges, ways in which academia and the success of Hungary’s scientists can make a positive contribution to the national image, and the role of the Friends of Hungary Foundation.
 
ÉESZ: How is this role of a bridge underscored by your own personal life story and the lessons you have learned along the way?
 
ESV: I am a member of the generation that witnessed the Szálasi regime of October 1944, the deportation of the Jews, the siege of Budapest, and the so-called “liberation” of the country by the Russians in 1945, which went hand in hand with the rape of our mothers. I also saw our attics cleared and people lose everything they had – their lands and property – to Communist requisitioning in the 1950s. I am also one of those who took an active part in the Revolution of 1956, armed with a gun (I wrote a short story about this for Sándor Csoóri’s magazine Hitel), who believed Radio Free Europe’s promise of a Western intervention and in Hungary’s ultimate future as a free country.
I am of the generation of people who read François Mauriac’s amazing diary account of Hungary’s fight for freedom, in which he argued that “the indestructible Hungary shows the world that when the stronger in power is systematically inhumane, then the course of history can be set by the will of the weaker”. I am one of those who lived when more people were executed in Hungary in the wake of the Revolution of 1956 than in Germany after World War II. I had a religious upbringing, went to a faith school, and was taught, both at the Sacré Cœur and at the Benedictine Grammar School, to cross myself every time I passed by a church. Then my parents told me to refrain from doing so, and explained why. I am of the generation who lived with the fear of the “knock in the night” by the State Protection Authority (ÁVH) for long years; I am of those whose stomach would be cramped when their car was approaching the western border town of Hegyeshalom. I am one of those who felt double-speak on their skin and learned to watch films and enjoy novels by reading between the lines. I am one of those who watched János Kádár being promoted from a hated figure to the leader of the most cheerful barrack behind the Iron Curtain, the pet Eastern partner of Western politicians. I was among those who had first-hand experience of a duplicitous world. I was allowed to temporarily leave “Goulash Communism” behind to study in Mainz, West Germany, with world-renowned scientists in Italy, and with Sir William Paton in Oxford, but my family were kept back in Hungary as hostages. At the same time, however, during my stays abroad I had ample opportunities to enjoy the infinite support and affection of the Hungarian diaspora. I am of the generation that amassed profound experiences of history.
I still know by heart the lesson taught by Árkád Simon,my Latin teacher at the Benedictine Grammar School: “Sine praeteritis futura nulla”, or “Without the past there is no future”. What this really means is that we must respect values created in the past, and continuously strive to find ways to use those values over and over again. For the past, which is very much alive in our present, will influence how we live today and how we live tomorrow. It was this realisation that guided me as I travelled the world and made the acquaintance of people, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for my entire professional and scientific career. It is not the case that I was an exceptional talent. Rather, these people were the ones who realised in me the will and uncommon desire to learn and create, and thus enabled me to fulfil my potential. And perhaps herein lies the greatness of small nations. The great nations, the great powers, confer greatness upon their sons. With small nations, the reverse is true: they achieve greatness owing to the efforts of their sons. I have always regarded performance and creativity as my highest ambitions, and learned that there is nothing more important than creating value.
 
ÉESZ: Can this be called a sense of mission of sorts?
 
ESV: Yes, it is a mission.
 
ÉESZ: Have you ever analysed the roots of your personal and professional awareness of a mission?
 
ESV: Some of it has to do with endeavour, the desire to act, and some of it with my family background. I am convinced that roots are all-important in everyone’s life. It is not just in middle age, from a distance of a few decades, that we reach back to our roots, but we carry them with us all along the way. We are not born moral beings. We are not born to accept our boundaries, imposed by the smaller and larger communities we live in, to accept that we may go only as far as we will tolerate others to go. Family background is critical in internalising these values. In my case, my religious upbringing certainly played a role, as did my own innate personal ambitions. I participated in sports and competitions all the time – gymnastics, tennis, chess. When I was gearing up for a game or contest, my mother would tell me: “You are going to win, Son.” She would always say that as she let me go. It is vital to instil a sense of confidence into your children. It was in this spirit that I raised my two kids and every one of my six grandchildren. My wife is wonderful, and we have shared a very happy family life for four decades. I have an absolutely positive outlook on the world.
Perhaps I have all of this to thank for making it this far. I am a member of many academies and can pride myself on achievements in science which people look up to. My work has been quoted very extensively, which is always the first and foremost measure of a scientist’s success. István Széchenyi, the great 19th century statesman, once said that the greatest power of a nation consists of the number of cultivated heads among its citizens. About a hundred years later, in his 1946 Manifesto our national poet Gyula Illyés wrote that “[t]he people that does not obtain the arsenal of knowledge is lost”. I am confident about the truth of this dictum. I would tell my family we should spend everything we had on educating our kids, and I say the same thing today. We must give them an opportunity which they will use as best they can. It will be up to them, but the opportunity must be there. I also believe that knowledge harbours the only promise of a breakthrough for our tiny country. We will not achieve a breakthrough unless we provide our young with knowledge and opportunity. A headline article published in Nature in 2000 (“Genius Loci”) claimed that the 20th century was made in Budapest. The article goes on to enumerate all the amazing contributions to progress by Hungarian scientists early in the century. How did this come about? After the Treaty of Trianon of 1920 bringing about the loss of two thirds of our territory – which I, being a physician, like to call the “Trianon cardiac arrest” –, we had a Minister of Education named Kunó Klebelsberg who knew precisely well that the country needed schools, grade schools in the villages and for the scattered farmsteads, as well as red-brick grammar schools. He believed that Pécs should be made into Heidelberg and Szeged into Göttingen; that the university had to be brought back to the mother country from Upper Hungary which had been annexed to Slovakia; that we had to rescue for Hungary whatever had remained of its intellectual capital in Transylvania. He realised, you see, that we may have lost everything, except for one thing: knowledge. The politics of the 1920s and 1930s made it a conscious priority to support those who wanted to study, excel in sports, or rise in the arts. If we build a nation founded on knowledge as the very basis of its existence, then that nation will stand a good chance to win.
 
ÉESZ: This is intimately related to believing in oneself, which is hardly a strong suit of us Hungarians.
 
ESV: You are right, unfortunately.
 
ÉESZ: The forging of individual self-confidence ties in with the task of improving the self- confidence of a nation. Both should be equally important. Yet our nation has been suffering from a spiritual malaise ever since the Treaty of Trianon. What can be done to heal a nation’s wounds?
 
ESV: Regrettably, our nation finds it hard to cure itself of this malaise on its own. It is the responsibility of the government to aid the healing process. When I served as Vice President, then as President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, I considered teaching to be our highest priority, and I continue to hold the same conviction today as President of the Society for Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge. Learning is a selfish interest, at least in part, but teaching, understood as the passing on of knowledge, is a duty. Of course, personal advancement – the ambition, even vanity, to make a difference – has played a central role in my career, but all the while I was serving a collective interest as well. If I am able to link personal interest to what is to the benefit of the public, and if there are many of us pursuing this vision, then this can catapult a nation to greatness. The most severe tragedy of our age is the enfeeblement of morals. Indeed, the economic crisis we witness these days is none other than a crisis of morality. The main problem is that even friendships have come to be founded on shared interests rather than on a mutual, and at least commensurate, understanding and recognition of genuine human values.
 
ÉESZ: In fact, Hungarian society has been intensely divided and polarised along the lines of demarcation separating various communities of interest.
 
ESV: This is a huge problem, and clearly not the right way for our society to follow. I did my best to actively counteract this tendency for many years. As President of the Academy of Sciences, I launched the University of All Knowledge series of televised lectures; then from 2005 for almost ten years, I hosted a show entitled Regular Table for the Hungarian satellite TV channel Duna Television in an effort to enable points of contact within Hungarian society and to present common topics for Hungarian families to discuss all over the world. This show – which had enjoyed the editorial support of Júlia Balogh – was suspended by the new directorate of the Hungarian Television without any notification of the founders of the programme, including Bishop István Bogárdi Szabó, film director Ferenc Kósa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs János Martonyi, historian Ignác Romsics and myself.
Today, the apocalyptic gloom, pessimism, and the sense of “nothing is any good” are predominantly endemic to those who do not believe in the periodic rejuvenation of human creativity, who disdain the power of science to shape our future. There are those who fail to grasp that discovering the world and nature (i.e. research), and understanding the technical marvels of our age (i.e. the dissemination of knowledge) will engender confidence in people and strengthen their faith in the future, thereby scaling back the desire to live only for the day and undermining the primacy of sheer consumption.
 
ÉESZ: What do you think is the ultimate factor that shapes the image of Hungary as seen by the world and ourselves?
 
ESV: I am firm in my conviction that the image or reception of Hungary has never really depended on politics. The goddess Fortuna has not been very gracious or munificent to us, nor have we ever had an abundance of outstanding personalities in this specific regard. It is not through any contribution to global politics that a small nation can distinguish itself, but by what it can give the world. Now, we have given the world far more than could be expected from a country of such modest economic resources as Hungary. Take Hungarian music, Hungarian folk art, Hungarian sports, to name a few examples. It is unprecedented for such a small nation to rank in the top six in the world in terms of sports achievements. Or take our scientists! More than three thousand professors teaching and researching around the world today are of Hungarian extraction.
The Carpathian Basin has always been a sort of transit hub of genes. Peoples of all descriptions have passed through here – Mongolians, Slavs, Germans, Galician Jews, Romanians, or Russians. We took them all in and they turned into Hungarians. And the Hungarian people survived. What is it that has sustained us? What is it that has kept us united? It is our culture and mother tongue. The exiled novelist Sándor Márai once observed that “[a] country or a people alone will not make a homeland… The only homeland exists in the mother tongue”. This nation has been made great by its language and its culture. It was a process in which Hungarian literature played a key role. Ever since the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Hungarian literature and the Hungarian language have kept our nation afloat, and saved us from being assimilated to the German or Slav ethnicities or from simply disappearing without a trace.
 
ÉESZ: To what extent can we still regard language as the main criterion of Hungarian identity, given that most of the second, third and even further removed generations of the 2.6-million strong Hungarian diaspora around the world do not speak Hungarian anymore?
 
ESV: The first and foremost mark of Hungarian identity is Hungarian culture and the love for it all. The members of many generations living abroad may no longer speak the language, but they still search for their roots and are proud of them, of their Hungarian identity, and have strong ties to Hungarian culture, which has had the capability of constantly renewing itself.
 
ÉESZ: So you are saying it would be a grave error to give up on the diaspora whose members no longer command the language but continue to cherish their Hungarian identity.
 
ESV: We cannot afford to give up on them. This is the thing to keep in mind at all cost. It was members of the Hungarian diaspora who taught me that the love of one’s homeland is independent from one’s location in the wider world.
 
ÉESZ: But how can we integrate them? How can we keep them in the fold?
 
ESV: By approaching them ourselves first, by making it clear that we think of each of them as being one of us, a part of our nation. That we believe they belong to us. That we are proud of them and welcome their interest in the homeland. People in the diaspora always feel pleased if they are approached in this manner. The sense of belonging is just as important to them as it is to us. And culture makes all the difference here. The towering beacons of Hungarian literature – Bálint Balassi, György Bessenyei, Mór Jókai, Miklós Radnóti, László Németh, Gyula Illyés or Sándor Csoóri – all created works of greatness. That said, their tragedy lies in the fact that they remained locked in the prison house of the mother tongue. By contrast, science, the arts and sports are in herently international. I have authored or co-authored more than 450 publications, predominantly in English and German. In fact, when I take notes of scientific texts for my own use, I do that in English too.
 
ÉESZ: On the occasion of the World Meeting of Friends of Hungary in 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, speaking to an audience from the diaspora, cautioned against the chimera of provincialism. How would you describe the threat of provincialism?
 
ESV: The peril of provincialism lies in its tendency to make us lowly in the sense of being undemanding. Being undemanding is the greatest danger of all because it makes you complacent and encourages you to settle for suboptimal or inferior performance. We cannot afford to abide by anything but the highest international standards. The great accomplishments of our scientists have always borne any international comparison. We have belonged to Europe ever since the times of King Saint Stephen in the eleventh century; we have been an organic part of the community of European peoples. Both our expectations and performance should naturally match international standards.
 
ÉESZ: Seen in this light, how would you identify the duties and responsibilities of the intelligentsia?
 
ESV: Intellectuals face tasks and responsibilities that are enormous. If there is one thing politicians would be well advised to learn from us scientists, it is our habit of working in a community where everybody pitches in. Not only do we acknowledge and recognise the achievements of others, but we use them and integrate them in our own work. It is the ability to build value upon value that the greatness of intellectual effort comes from. This is the mark of science that makes it so different from politics. The genuine intellectual is not concerned with vituperation but with seeking the truth. Of course, we must realise we will never attain absolute truth, but we strive for it instead of scheming against it. We scientists also realise that whatever we assert today may become obsolete tomorrow. This lends us humility and authenticity to our endeavour. Intellectuals have their work cut out for them. Nowadays, we cannot settle for merely creating value, but we must reinstate the supreme idea of work in the life of the nation.
 
ÉESZ: If only because work is the cornerstone of self-respect. Work makes us feel indispensable, useful members of the given community.
 
ESV: Yes, because we generate value. It is just as important, however, that the powers that be should recognise intellectuals for their vital contribution, rather than regarding them as foes. Power must take advantage of intellectuals while acknowledging their different mindset and permanent role in the fabric of the nation that transcends party politics.
 
ÉESZ: What was the driving force that brought about the Friends of Hungary Foundation? To what extent is the Foundation erected on your personal network of relations in science – a network that must be very extensive, if only because of your former tenure as President of the Academy?
 
ESV: In my trips abroad over the past years, I was often put in an embarrassing situation when people kept asking me: “What’s happening with you guys back home? Is it Fascism?” I would try to answer as best I could, given my puzzlement. I was at a loss to understand what they were driving at. The phenomena they described were unknown to me in Hungary. Then it happened in Los Angeles that we got together over dinner with György Oláh and some other Hungarian friends on various occasions, and during our conversations the idea came up to forge a joint forum or platform of successful Hungarians around the globe for the task of convincing the world that the increasingly negative international view of Hungary is based on distorted, skewed perceptions. Yes, we have plenty of flaws, and yes, we do have an extreme right faction in Hungary, as many other countries do. But this cannot be equated with the Hungarian people, with Hungarian reality. So we decided to try and set up a society along these lines. The first volunteers joining the initiative included Nobel laureate György Oláh from Los Angeles, the Radda brothers from Austria and Singapore, investment banker Baron William de Gelsey from London, the Holocaust survivor and world-renowned professor of gynaecology, Hollywood-based Alfréd Paszternák, and several others. It was also helpful that I was able to talk with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Minister János Martonyi about our plans and they themselves emphasised that the cultivation of relations with the Hungarian diaspora worldwide should be an integral part of our national strategy. So we secured the intention on the part of the government, matching the openness of the Hungarian diaspora to attempt to convey authentic, credible and value-based information about the country. It is incumbent upon this forum to approach truth by presenting the good sides along with the bad ones. As a scientist, I have spent my whole life striving to get at the truth. As an intellectual in general, I also feel compelled to find what is true in this created world of ours.
Yet this world, and Hungary in it, has another decisive aspect: it is beautiful. To tell about this beauty is not the job of scientists but of poets, writers and artists. As the fox admonishes the Little Prince in Saint-Exupéry’s book: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Or to quote John Keats’s famous poem Ode to a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” These two values are incredibly important. These are the values we want to show the world about Hungary.
 
ÉESZ: The Friends of Hungary Foundation was registered at the Commercial Court in 2011.
 
ESV: Yes, and I am pleased to say that our numbers have been increasing steadily. At our second world meeting, or conference, to be held in Budapest on 8–9 May this year, we are expecting the honour of more than 150 participants. On the first day of the conference we will be received by President of the Republic János Áder.
Throughout the second day we will be holding symposia, and in the evening Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will deliver a speech and will also field questions and comments from us. Thus the healthy dialogue, a kind of shared thinking, emerging between Hungarians around the world and the representatives of the government will give us an opportunity to discuss the modes of rectifying the mistakes that have been made.
 
ÉESZ: How would you rate the success of expanding the Foundation’s community over the past few years?
 
ESV: We have been not just successful, but superbly successful. Our founding members and new recruits include a number of world-famous Hungarians. The Hungarian Scientific Society of New York is our sister organisation, and a recently formed society in Berlin has become a sister organisation as well. Several Hungarian societies established around the world, for instance in Canada, have been delighted to join us. More and more people seem to recognise that special characteristic that sets us apart from all other similar organisations, notably that we are exceptionally proud of the achievements of Hungarians around the world and at home.
Our aim is to promote and strengthen our faith in ourselves with a view to enabling the development of a healthy national self-confidence and assertiveness.
Another, equally vital mission is to disseminate and popularise the achievements of Hungarians living around the world. For instance, we encourage domestic media coverage whenever a prominent Hungarian scientist living, say, in Australia, is honoured by the Hungarian Government. We do this because the image of the country must be improved not only abroad but on our home turf as well.
 
ÉESZ: Is there any form of cooperation with organisations based in Hungary that serve the cause of Hungarians living just across the border and in the diaspora? In other words, are there strategic negotiations among the World Federation of Hungarians, the Hungary Initiatives Foundation, the Hungarian Diaspora Council, and the Friends of Hungary Foundation?
 
ESV: I have no such coordination to report. We do participate in the Hungarian Permanent Conference, though. The Friends of Hungary Foundation prides itself on not receiving a single penny in government subsidy. We certainly cannot be accused of being a part of any alleged propaganda machinery sponsored by the government. Our sponsors are corporate entities and Hungarian individuals living abroad, whose donations have helped us to finance ourselves.
On the other hand, we recognise a potent strategic partner in Hungarian Review, the standards of which have attained unprecedented heights under editor-in-chief Gyula Kodolányi. Here is a journal, finally, that we can fully relate to and regard as our own, because the message it conveys is the very same as ours. It is always a personal pleasure to read the articles contributed by John O’Sullivan, for instance. They provide true keys to understanding Hungary and the region.
 
ÉESZ: What do you think the 21st century has in store for us in terms of the reunion of Hungarians living in the homeland and elsewhere in the world?
 
ESV: I am convinced that, for the 21st century, nothing can be of more consequence than the fate of knowledge and science. Twisting a famous quote from John F. Kennedy, we should ask not what the 21st century can do for us, but what we Hungarians can do for the 21st century. This new century harbours amazing promise and opportunity. József Antall once said that in his soul he wanted to be the Prime Minister of 15 million Hungarians, for which he was severely censured from all sides – without any grounds, I hasten to add. All of those who hauled him over the coals for this statement ignored an important circumstance. I am referring to the fact that by then an entire era, that of the Cold War, had come to an end and we found ourselves at the gates of a new century. Not accidentally, Antall encouraged the Foundation of Duna Television, a satellite channel broadcast over the whole world. By the turn of the century, the headlong development of telecommunications had shrunk our world into a single community, often called the global village. The internet has enabled news, information, images and video footage to traverse the globe in a matter of seconds. We need to take advantage of the technology of the 21st century to tell the story of successful Hungarians everywhere, to show the world how proud we are of them, and that we all belong together. It is precisely the communication revolution happening before our very eyes that makes this belonging possible, that helps us Hungarians connect with one another in this shrunken world of ours. This is an extraordinary opportunity, and we at the Friends of Hungary Foundation set great store by building forward on the potential inherent in technology. We keep in touch with the members of our community and the world through our website at friendsofhungary.hu and our Facebook page. The community also receives our bimonthly print magazine Friends of Hungary. In addition, we inform internet readers about the political, economic and cultural developments in Hungary on our continually updated English language news website Hungary Today, where anyone interested is welcome to register for our weekly newsletter for free.
 
ÉESZ: Does the Friends of Hungary Foundation have any members of non-Hungarian origin?
 
ESV: Yes, it does. One of them is John O’Sullivan, the famous British journalist and associate editor of Hungarian Review. Others include Christopher and Patricia Long, the former Ambassador to Hungary of the United Kingdom and his wife, the former American Ambassador April H. Foley, and the list goes on. Membership is in fact open to anyone without any Hungarian roots whatsoever, who has grown fond of this nation and its culture. We also have members of Hungarian extraction who no longer speak the language, but have remained Hungarians in their names and their rootedness in Hungarian culture. Our canon rests on the need to demonstrate and uphold the values that make our nation respectable and likeable. To be sure, justified criticism must be addressed and the shortcomings remedied, but it is equally important to refute and dispel unfounded accusations. This is the cornerstone on which we build the country’s image abroad, and we need to embrace the same approach back here at home.
 
ÉESZ: How does one become a member of the Friends of Hungary Foundation? What are the possible means of expanding the community?
 
ESV: You can apply for membership or join us by invitation, although we normally admit new members by recommendation. Most of our members have joined us in this way, through informal channels. I am very proud of not having had a single person cancelling his or her membership over a discrepancy with the values we stand for.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Rákosi and the Kádár regimes spent four decades doing their best to prevent one Hungarian from being proud of another. Whoever left the country between 1948 and 1988 and did not return was instantly stigmatised as a dissident guilty of desertion – a felony that carried a fully and instantly enforceable three-year prison sentence in those days. Under the circumstances, leaving the country was tantamount to leaving it for good. This horrible state of affairs was extremely hard on the emigrants and those they left behind. In those decades, even normal correspondence with friends and relatives living abroad was thwarted in an effort to snip any community building, networking or grassroots organisation in the bud.
 
ÉESZ: Indeed, there is a significant difference between those who left the country before 1989 and those who have emigrated during the 25 years since. The demise of the Cold War in 1989 ended the criminalisation of emigration and ushered in a period of globalisation on an unprecedented scale. As a result, Hungarian emigration today follows the patterns of global migration. At the same time, commentators often point to the significance of this new wave of emigration as a form of protest whereby those choosing to leave the country express and enact a criticism of Hungarian conditions and the Hungarian government. As generations take turns one after the other, how do you think it will be possible to get recently departed Hungarians involved in the work and community of the Friends of Hungary Foundation? What potential do you perceive in the Hungarian diaspora in the longer term?
 
ESV: The emigrants of the past 25 years form an inseparable part of the global Hungarian community, which numbers 14 to 15 million souls today, and we count on each of them by all means. But, to be honest with you, I often feel baffled by how the press and the media tend to interpret news of emigration from Hungary. They claim that the three hundred thousand Hungarians who have left in the course of the past decade effectively voted about the quality of the country. I am at a loss to understand this reading. We are a member of the European Union where the free movement of citizens – including the free flow of labour – is regarded as a fundamental right. This principle enables everyone to take advantage of opportunities freely. This is what we all wanted during the Cold War, isnt it? These days, you can leave and return as you see fit… FREELY. Why on earth would choosing to work somewhere else for better pay constitute a protest vote? There are major economic differences among the various countries of the European Union. Migration is not limited to routes from emerging to developed areas, from South to North. There is also migration in the North-to-North relation. There was a time when British scientists would leave for the United States by the hundred thousands. And even today, it is not surprising if, say, a German engineer chooses to live in Canada in the hope of better professional prospects.
 
ÉESZ: We are talking about a global phenomenon quite unlike the routine during the Cold War, given that leaving your country once no longer has to mean leaving it forever. Anyone can return home any time. Moreover, the experiences and knowledge of those who left can enrich our nation whether they stay abroad or choose to return. Active contact with them would seem beneficial either way.
 
ESV: And let us not forget that the phenomenon of brain gain is just as real as that of brain drain. It is a false doctrine that says you must live on this soil all your life, without any interruptions. Everyone is free to move around, work, and return.
 
ÉESZ: The issue of migration, however, is perfectly suited to being politicised.
 
ESV: Why, we wanted to be members of the European Union ourselves, didn’t we? It was us who wanted to be part of a free world! I myself have pursued research and taught abroad for extended periods, and I always returned. In fact, I received very lucrative job offers in the United States and Germany, but I would always come back home, obeying the call of the trees in Üllői Street, the mood of Kosztolányi’s poems. I was recalled by Hungarian culture in general. And see what happened? Lo and behold, I became Vice President then President of the Academy of Sciences, earned acclaim and esteem everywhere, and received all kinds of distinctions and decorations. You can become successful here in Hungary too if you have the ambition and faith in yourself. And while abroad you may be one of the many excellent professors, if you come home you may rise to the top and become a seminal figure. I have made it a point to invite a number of Hungarian scientists to return, for instance to work with us at the Academy’s Institute of Experimental Medicine.
Part of the Foundation’s mission is to harness the knowledge, experience and relations of the Hungarian diaspora for the benefit of the nation. All our members are veritable role models whom we have no qualms about presenting as examples for future generations to follow.
 
ÉESZ: This, then, is the point of intersection between your personal calling and the mission of the Friends of Hungary Foundation.
 
ESV: Yes, I believe I have been answering a call all along. I have always been conscious of this intense drive, this unstoppable urge in me to act and create. To this day I work actively, writing articles, coordinating branching activities for the Foundation, and also in my capacity as president of the Hungarian Atlantic Council. I can have a very good time anywhere in the world, but I am very much a Hungarian to the bone, who is tremendously proud of his identity and his Hungarian brethren.
 
ÉESZ: What are your expectations for the Foundation’s second conference to be held this May?
 
ESV: Taking a cue from the experiences and observations of Hungarians living in the world, we will be focusing on topics in areas where we feel we can make a specific and meaningful contribution. Sir George Radda, one of our founding members, is going to chair a symposium on the role of science in our world, and we will host a roundtable discussion on Hungarian art and culture. We will summarise the proceedings on these topics in writing to brief the government, pointing out and explaining key developments in each field. Finally, we will formulate and submit critical opinions and recommendations as an integral part of our undertaking.
By way of a conclusion, let stand here a citation of the principles and corevalues enshrined in the charter of the Friends of Hungary Foundation, whose members avow to:
 
1. Support efforts to bolster a European Hungary, and strive in their daily lives to defend the country from false accusations;
2. Encourage the Hungarian Government that be in its endeavours to bring about the cultural unification of the nation;
3. Place the utmost importance on protecting the rights of nationalities and safeguarding the peaceful coexistence of nations;
4. Fight for the rights of minority communities and oppose any form of negative discrimination against individuals or groups based on their religious belief or ethnic origin;
5. Commend and pay tribute to the prominent figures of Hungarian history for their courage and staunch resolve in fighting for the cause of Hungarian independence;
6. Use their best efforts to prevent present and future generations from forgetting the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the 20th century, particularly those for which Hungarian individuals and the Hungarian state can be held accountable;
7. Affirm their gratification that Hungary has reasserted her status as an independent and democratic state, and that, as of May 2nd 1990, the first freely elected National Assembly has restored the country’s sovereignty that had been restricted since March 19th 1944, first by German and later by Russian occupation;
8. Have faith in the power of national solidarity across borders to create and sustain value.

The Founders of the Friends of Hungary Foundation:*

Ábel Lajtha, Professor of Neuroscience (USA)
Alexandre Lámfalussy, Central banker (Belgium)
Alfred Pasternak, Professor of Gynaecology (USA)
Andreas Oplatka, Journalist (Switzerland)
Balázs Gulyás, Professor of Neurobiology (Sweden, Singapore)
E. Sylvester Vizi, Former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungary)
Éva Marton, Opera singer (Hungary)
George A. Oláh, Nobel laureate in Chemistry (USA)
György Granasztói, Historian (Hungary)
István Módy, Professor of Neurology (USA)
János B. Nagy, Professor of Chemistry, investor (Belgium)
Sir George Radda, Professor of Biochemistry (United Kingdom, Singapore)
William de Gelsey, Investment banker (United Kingdom)
 

Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel
 
 



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