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EFA20 | Opening Speech by President Franz Fischler

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very warm welcome to all of you, ladies and gentlemen, whether you are sitting here in Alpbach in our completely transformed Herz Kremenak Studio or are following us online. 

After 75 years, we were forced to reinvent the Forum to be a very different but I hope also very interesting and innovative format. 

It is our great honour and privilege that our Federal President accepted our invitation and came to Alpbach to open this year’s Forum. Welcome Mr. President Van der Bellen and your wife, Mrs. Doris Schmidauer. 

I salute the mayor of Alpbach, Markus Bischofer. 

welcome all the distinguished representatives from various institutions, all speakers, members of the Forum’s associations and guests. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Europe is facing great challenges that we can only address effectively if we stand together.  

How often havwe heard this statement? And while the European Forum Alpbach is based on the strong belief that this statement is true, the words in it alone rarely have an impact on what is actually happening in Europe and the world.  

In this extraordinarily challenging and strange year it is easy to romanticize the time before the pandemic and pretend that our problems were smaller back then, while many things that were going wrong long before the pandemic were the cause that this crisis now hits us so hard.  

Let us remember a very brave Chinese doctor in this context, Dr Li Wenliang. Dr. Li was an eye doctor at a Wuhan hospital. He sent messages to doctors in other hospitals warning them of what he saw on his job everyday: that this virus is dangerous in a way we have not seen in a long time. Mr. Li already warned his colleagues in December 2019 at a point in time where much of the events that followed could still have been prevented. His messages were shared online and soon Mr. Li became the subject of a police investigation for allegedly “spreading rumours” and he was told to “stop making false comments”. Tragically, Mr Li died of Corona himself and people reacted with a rare display of real anger.  

It is important for us all to remember the sad fate of Dr. Li to understand that this crisis and many other crises could have been stopped. His story is a very drastic example of how badly things can go wrong if politicians delegitimize experts and independent journalists for their own benefit.  

One of the core missions of the European Forum Alpbach is to promote a fact-based dialogue to find the best solutions for our common future on this planet.  

This year in particular, it was fundamentally important to us to assemble the best of the best among experts, decision-makers and innovators, businessmen and civil society because there is a pressing need to anticipate the time ahead of us as concretely as possible to prevent further catastrophic developments and to mitigate the ones that have already begun.  

As you have seen in the programme, this year’s general theme is “Fundamentals”. This has been decided long before the Corona crisis started. Throughout the preparations of this Forum the term “Fundamentals” has been charged with a great variety of meanings. We discussed it in the context of fundamental rights, of globalization and AI, of humanity’s fundamental needs, such as the need for sustainability and a healthy environment. The limitations in our personal lives throughout a lockdown have taught us what the essentials of our lives are as opposed to what we believed they were.  

The longer this state of the world continues to exist the more we learn about ourselves. Each society has certain fundamentals it can build on when it is time to confront a big challenge. Material goods and financial means play a role here but also democratic development, social cohesion, the level of education in a country, or the trust of the people in institutions, science and the media.  

To become as resilient as possible against any kind of harmful development it is necessary for us to strengthen these fundamentals and to also strengthen trustUnfortunately, trust usually takes decades to develop and only seconds to be lost. But it is crucial to responding to a crisis.  

It is vital for us to restore trust within the international community, remember the value of international cooperation and learn to use it as a tool to benefit all people rather than seeing it just as an ideal.  

It is therefore a great honour for us that the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. António Guterres has agreed to be part of the Forum to share his ideas on multilateralism.  

The United Nations just like the Forum Alpbach celebrates in 2020 its 75 years anniversary. While our two organisations are very unequal in size and meaning for the world, we share many common goals. One of them is to contribute to a world of peace. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen – millions and millions of people must live without peace. And we as an international community are by far not doing everything we can to stop war and terrorism 

The Black Lives Matter movement has shown that a lack of peace can exist for people due to systemic racism and that what we – the more privileged in this world – take for granted is out of reach for so many people due to discrimination, racial violence but also economic disadvantage and inequality 

One of our excellent speakers this year, Dr. Faith Osier, a malaria immunologist from Kenia working at the University Hospital in Heidelberg has pointed out that if Black Lives really mattered that much, the search for a cure for Malaria would get as much attention as the search for a COVID vaccination.  

To make a real difference in this world and achieve real peace it is not enough to stop arms production and to stop firing rockets on people. To create peace, we must fight inequalities and question our own stereotypes. 

It is with great pride that I can say that this year we have greatly democratized our programme and have more than 50 sessions curated by young people from all over the world, dealing with a variety of interesting topics as you will see. Sustainability, social equality and human rights are at the forefront of what is on the minds of our alumni. And this gives me hope for a much better future.  

And while some of the things we are doing here at the European Forum Alpbach might seem courageous to us in a sense, our courage is in no way comparable to the courage of the people in Belarus and many countries these days who stand up against autocratic regimes and fight for liberty, democracy and justice. Some – and I say this with great sadness – even lose their lives in these protests. This should remind all of us of the real value of the fundamentals that we sometimes take for granted. The European Forum Alpbach community will always stand by those who raise their voices in order to make the world a better and a more just place for everyone.  

Thank you. 


(c) EFA20 | Andrei Pungovschi