December 1, 2004 - Columbia University

Dedication of the

Presentation of the Distinguished Service Medal
of Columbia University to

Key Note Speaker:
(Eastern Europe Today)

Photos: Gabriella Gyorffy Text: Andrew P. Fodor

Prof. István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus

The Official Dedication of a Permanent University Chair for Eastern and Central European Studies at Columbia University, named after Professor Deák

Prof. Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus specializes in central and east central European history. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1964. His publications include Weimar Germany's Left-Wing Intellectuals: A Political History of the "Weltbuhne" and Its Circle; The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849; Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848-1918; and Essays on Hitler's Europe. Co-editor: Eastern Europe in the 1970s; Everyman in Europe: Essays in Social History, and The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Europe on Trial: Collaboration, Resistance and Retribution in Europe. He is also written many articles, published in books, journals and magazines in the US, Britain, Hungary and Austria. 

He is a frequent contributor to “The New York Review of Books” and “The New Republic”.

His current research project is on collaboration, resistance and retribution in World War II Europe. During his professional life, he has received numerous awards and honors for his works.

Source: Columbia University and A.P.Fodor

Dr. Volker Berghahn, Set Low Professor of History, Director of the Institute for the Study of Europe opened the meeting

Alan Brinkley, Provost of Columbia University presented the "Distinguished Service Medal" of Columbia University to Dr. László Bitó, Medical Researcher, Inventor, University Professor, Writer, for his lifelong fight against blindness, for his inventions of revolutionary medications and his generous contributions to the Hungarian Program at the East Central European Center of Columbia University.

László Bitó thanked Columbia University for this honor. He expressed his desire to be honored not just for his accomplishment in medical science, but also for his literary works.

Dr. Bitó worked as a forced laborer in the Komló Coal Mines in Hungary, between 1954-56, where he started writing. In 1956 he escaped to the USA, but because of his lack of English language, he stopped writing and eventually became a medical research scientist.

In the seventies, he invented and developed the new revolutionary drug "XALATAN" for the treatment of glaucoma. The drug works by increasing the eye's natural outflow of fluid, thereby reducing pressure within the eye.

He returned to Hungary in 1998, where he returned to his past ambition, writing. Since than, he has published many books in Hungary. The latest among them: “Nekünk kell megváltanunk magunkat" (We Have to Redeem Our Selves), and the soon published “Eutanazia – Eutelia" (Euthanasia –Eutelia). At the present, his interests are euthanasia, old age, and questions on life and death. He has received numerous awards and decorations during his lifetime. Dr. Bitó gave a 500,000 dollars contribution for the establishment of the "Deák Chair" and he will triple any further thousand dollar contributions.

Dr. Lisa Anderson, Dean, School of International and Public Affair, congratulated Prof. Bitó for his lifelong quest, to conquer physical and spiritual blindness and his generosity to advance the study of East and Central Europe at Columbia University. "His life should inspire us." - She said. Then, she praised Prof. Istvan Deák for his tremendous contribution of understanding of Central and East-Central Europe, in the USA. She announced, that they raised a million dollars, and by next year, they will raise another millions dollars for the establishment of a permanent chair, named after Prof. Deák, for Eastern European Studies. The money will be used, to establish professorships for visiting scholars from East-Central Europe. Presently, András Bozóki from Hungary holds the visiting professorship.

Than, Prof. John Micgiel, Director of the East Central European Center, introduced the key-note speaker, Prof. Charles Gati. Prof. Micgiel spoke, how happy he was, to inaugurate the "Deák Chair". He praised the keynote speaker Prof. Charles Gati, as a teacher, as a professor and as an analyst and consultant for the State Department and also, the author of many books, including his most famous book: "Hungary and the Soviet Block".

Keynote speaker: Prof. Charles Gati, John Hopkins University

Prof. Gati expressed his gratitude for the introduction and he said, he felt like "home-coming", returning to Columbia University, to give this key note speech.
He praised both Prof. Deák and Dr. Bitó.

In his lecture, "Unfinished Transactions", (Eastern Europe Today), he spoke about 10 countries. The "Visegrád States", Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; and the other 3 states, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria.

He compared these countries from the point of view of economics, politics and the development of civic societies in this region. In general, in most of these countries, the living standard 30% to 50% higher, than it was in 1990. -- 5% to 10% of population lives extremely well, there is a growing middle class. However, the old people, the pensioners and the poor have a hard time to adjust to this new society.
Most of these countries followed a reasonably good economic policy. They had to choose between a "gradual change" economy or to follow a "shock therapy" economy. However, these countries economically a long way off, before they will reach or even approach the living standards of the western societies.

There is prevailing "nostalgia" in certain parts of society, for the "good old days" and in certain parts of the society there is a feeling of a "backlash" against Capitalism. But, in general, this "transition period" from one society to another, in most of these countries, is over. As Prof.Gati said: “What you see, is what you get".

Privatization policies in these countries followed the following general pattern:

1. Privatization of services.
2. Privatization of industry.
3. Privatization of health care and education.

Privatization of health care and education were very controversial. In the past, these services were practically free, especially health care and education. Also, in certain segments of the population, they disliked the newly developed inequalities and they passionately did not care for the so called "new rich" class.

Idealism was history. -- Idealism which existed in 1989 is totally gone. Idealism is replaced by cynicism. But, people appreciate freedom of religion, freedom of speech and especially the freedom of travel. Desire for consensus is replaced by organization.

Some of the more important issues, for example, which discussed presently, in today’s Hungary, are the following:
1. Include or exclude the "ex-communists" from power.
2. Was there a true revolution in 1989, in Hungary?
3. The meaning of the "nation" itself (this includes the approx. 4 million Hungarians, who are living in Slovakia, Serbia, Romania and in the Ukraine, and the 10 million who live in Hungary itself).

4. Identity, -- accepting or not, a European, modern, secular society. The opinions about this are fluctuating as widely, as the difference between the cities and the rural areas.
5. Free market excesses. The opposition to this is coming from both from the left and from the right.
6. The degree of integration with Western Europe.
The phenomenon of "nostalgia" is pervasive. Certain segments of the population are craving for the past, when there was free education, almost free mass transit, less political dissent and more order. In a recent statistics, 60% of Romanians are nostalgic for the old order. In conversations with the average citizen, the perception is that corruption is widely spread and it is present everywhere. This perception is not
totally true.

The fifteen years of "transition" for the people of this region, was not really a comprehensive "transition" period. In most of these countries, people expected much more. One of the main reasons, the East Europeans think differently from us, that their expectations after the fall of Communism were extremely high. There was a widespread illusion in 1989 and before, that after, they get rid of the Communists, and the good life automatically will follow. Western media, western broadcastings were partly responsible for this point of view.
Promises of 1989, replaced by the realities of 2004." Who is right, the East Europeans, who are more or less pessimistic, or we are, who more or less optimistic?" – “There is no easy answer", Prof. Gati said.

Good life is not totally followed the one party rule. The "Communist Mafia", in some countries, was replaced by a "Corrupt Mafia".

Looking at the "good side" of this transition period, basically, there is political stability in most these countries. More importantly, there was always a peaceful transfer of power, in all of these countries, when the government had to change, based on the election results.
The more important aspects, on the positive side, applying to these countries are:

- There is a growing middle class
- There are economic achievements
- Transportation improved, there are much better roads
- Telecommunications, telephone systems, cell phones advanced
- The infrastructure has changed
- NATO enlargement and joining the European Union occurred in many countries
- People travel extensively

This is a shortened and edited version of Prof.Gati’s speech: A.P.Fodor

After the key note speech, a question and answer period followed:

Dr. László Bitó

Ivan Bodis-Wollner, M.D., D.Sc.

Prof. István Deák

András Bozóki

Recent information: as of February 15, 2005 András Bozóki became
Minister of Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Hungary

Nóra Muhai

Dr. László Bitó, accompanied by his wife Jenifer, dedicating his book

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