December 1, 2004 - Columbia University
Dedication of the
Presentation of the Distinguished Service Medal
of Columbia University to
DR. LÁSZLÓ BITÓ
Key Note Speaker:
CHARLES GATI: UNFINISHED TRANSACTIONS
(Eastern Europe Today)
Photos: Gabriella Gyorffy Text:
Andrew P. Fodor
Prof. István Deák, Seth Low Professor
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
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
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
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".
Prof. Charles Gati, John Hopkins University
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
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
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".
policies in these countries followed the following general
1. Privatization of
2. Privatization of industry.
3. Privatization of health care and education.
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.
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
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
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
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
- People travel extensively
This is a shortened and edited version of Prof.Gati’s speech:
After the key note speech, a question and answer period followed:
Dr. László Bitó
Ivan Bodis-Wollner, M.D., D.Sc.
Prof. István Deák
Recent information: as of February 15, 2005
András Bozóki became
Minister of Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Hungary
Dr. László Bitó, accompanied by his wife
Jenifer, dedicating his book