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Opening Speech by President Franz Fischler

Signore e Signori,
Meine Damen und Herren,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the opening of the European Forum Alpbach 2019 under the motto “Liberty and Security”. From this year on, we will start off each Forum with a ceremonial opening and provide a thematic overview of all the events that are on offer for you over the next fortnight.

We’ve accorded ourselves the liberty to grow the European Forum Alpbach from a discussion platform to an incubator, building concrete proposals—prototypes, if you like—with which we can successfully tackle the social, political, ecological and economic problems of our times. Over the next two weeks, we invite young people to take part in ‘learning missions’ accompanied by eminent scholars in order to work out detailed recommendations on how to improve sustainability.

We will bring together managers of various businesses with pioneers of the circular economy, and they will exchange possible solutions with academic forward-thinkers in the areas of sustainability in all its three dimensions and climate policy. We will showcase practical approaches for how a politically engaged citizenship can defend democracy and the rule of law. And through all of these topics runs, like a golden thread, the purpose of Europe and how we can become better equipped to govern at a global level as the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker once said.

In line with our convictions, we at the European Forum Alpbach place great value on art and culture in our work, and on the involvement of our 700 scholarship holders in the Festival of Ideas and Dialogue.

We were able to convince Christoph Dienz to compose a piece entitled ‘Framework’, which was premiered just before by the R.E.T. Brass Band. Many thanks to composer and band!

In Lois Anvidalferei, we gained an artist whose sculptures aptly support us in contemplating the topic of ‘Liberty and Security’. The giant installation, called ‘Conditio Humana’, in front of the congress building addresses the ambivalent nature of this year’s topic as well as the tensions between liberty and security.For me, it is still an open question whether the people locked in those cramped steel cages feel that they have get out to gain their freedom, or whether they accept their uncomfortable surroundings so as to protect themselves from the threats of the outside world.

Dear Lois, a great many thanks to you, too, for making this exhibition possible.

This exhibition also underpins the thesis that Carlo Strenger, who will open the political discussions, put forward in his most recent book Abenteuer Freiheit, The Adventure of Freedom. Namely: ‘Freedom is a life-long adventure, risky, but at the same time far more interesting than today’s mass culture would have us believe.’ That is just one of many reasons why we chose the topic of ‘Liberty and Security’ this year.

Our vice president, Sonja Puntscher Riekmann, posed a whole list of questions in her reflections on ‘Liberty and Security’, which you find in our Magazine: “Alpbach Panorama saying: “The two terms ‘Liberty’ and ‘Security’ form an odd couple, the expansion of one is apparently to the detriment of the other.”

And she continues: “Balancing the two has been a key challenge since the rise of modern liberalism. But how did it come about that, in the twenty-first century, we see doors closing everywhere? How is it possible that in Europe, which we see as the cradle and battlefield of liberal thinking, we are confronted with backsliding on seemingly unshakeable liberties such as the 4 Basic freedoms as well as seeing nationalist or even racist phenomena closing in on us? Have we Westerners been much too complacent in our belief that we live in the most liberal and secure of all worlds?”

These and many other burning questions can help with a hard diagnosis of current developments, root causes and driving forces. But even a deep-reaching analysis is not enough. Our ambition moves further, towards delivering new perspectives and orientations.

This year’s Forum pays also tribute to Sir Karl Popper, the twentieth anniversary of whose death we commemorate this year. His constant plea for the open society reminds us that, in his words, “we must plan for liberty and not for security.”

To make a worthy start on the topic of liberty and security and to give justice to its complexity, we had managed to secure renowned expert Prof. Agnes Heller as opening speaker. Unfortunately, I have to share with you the tragic news that Prof. Heller died on 19 July, in Lake Balaton. It is a near-miracle that, two days before that tragedy occured, she sent the text of her speech to her friend of many years, the philosopher Josef Mitterer. And Prof. Mitterer has kindly agreed to give her speech today in her memory.

Ludger Hagedorn wrote the following in DIE ZEIT, on her death: “Agnes Heller died as she lived – steadfast and courageous.” She turned 90 a few weeks ago. She was born in Budapest and, as the child of Jewish parents, she and her mother only narrowly avoided deportation by the Nazis; her father was murdered in a concentration camp. She studied philosophy with the Hungarian philosopher Gyorgy Lukacs, and subsequently became his assistant. After the war, she joined the Hungarian Communist Party. However, due to her critique of Stalinism and her resistance to the communist system, she lost her post at the University of Budapest and was expelled from the Party. Following long years of repression, she finally emigrated, first to Melbourne, until she was appointed to the Hannah Arendt Chair in New York in 1986.

In her many books, Agnes Heller set pluralism in opposition to the widespread compulsion for consensus – and intellectual freedom in opposition to ideology, as Stefan Gmünder writes in his obituary in the Standard. After retirement, she commuted between New York and Budapest, and soon became part of the opposition to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán.

In her final book, Paradox Europa, she presented a reckoning with the Orbán system and established herself as a key voice of modern liberalism. She died on 19 July at the holiday resort of Balatonalmádi. Please now stand with me in remembrance of this wonderful woman, scholar and philosopher!

I would now like to ask you, Prof. Mitterer, to give us the honour and present the opening speech written by Prof. Agnes Heller and before that say a few words about her and her legacy.