(16.09.2021 – 17.09.2021)
Building Sustainable Democracies
György Konrád Prize, Budapest Forum, September 17, 2021
Dear Sir or Madam, dear colleagues,
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for inviting me to this important conference. It expresses that a strong and free civil society in the cities is the basis for democratic development in Europe and worldwide.
Two years ago, on September 13, 2019, György Konrád died here in Budapest at the age of 86. Konrád, son of a Jewish family, survived the Holocaust as a child and many of his relatives were murdered. Konrád had the personal “luck”, as a boy, to escape the murders of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross members and the SS and finally the deportation to Auschwitz. He described the events of these years very vividly in his novel “Glück”.
With his literary work Konrad went into opposition to the communist regime in Hungary, between 1978 and 1988 he was not allowed to publish. Along with Adam Michnik and Václav Havel, he was one of the most famous dissidents and civil rights activists before the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Konrád received numerous awards and honors, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the International Charlemagne Prize. From 1990 to 1993 he was President of the international PEN and from 1997 to 2003 President of the Berlin Academy of the Arts.
During this time I invited him to Ulm for the first time. On July 3, 1998, he opened the first International Danube Festival and performed his “Danube Hearing” – an artistic role prose – on Münsterplatz with his wonderful voice. The great European river speaks to us human beings on its banks. “Look at me, says the Danube, I am tall, beautiful and wise. There is no one in Europe who can hold a candle to me. I want to stretch out lengthways over your cities, sit down on both sides of my bank, I want to be your main street. (…) You can learn the lessons of eternal life from me, the Danube ”.
After his speech on Münsterplatz, we walked through the city center of Ulm together, visited the Ulm Minster and Konrád spoke cleverly and enlighteningly about the problems of political and social changes in Hungary after the fall of the Wall.
In the following years we met again and again and I also got to know his wife Judit Lakner. I am still fascinated by this wise gentleman and great European with his warm, sonorous voice and his fine sense of humor.
Konrád was closely connected to Ulm for many years and has been our guest again and again, good and wise friend, co-founder of the European Danube Academy and member of its academy council.
As a posthumous honor for Konrád, the European Danube Academy in Ulm and the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe n Vienna have awarded a prize in 2020. The György Konrad Prize is intended to honor personalities and civil society organizations who have rendered services to democratic and civil rights development, the defense against nationalism and populism and the strengthening of freedom of expression in the European Danube region.
The jury consists of Judit Lakner – György Konráds widow -, Prof. Jeanine Meerapfel, President of the Berlin Academy of the Arts, Dr. Erhard Busek, former Austrian Vice Chancellor, Michael Roth, Minister of State in the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the author Karl-Markus Gauss and the long-time Mayor of Ulm, Ivo Gönner.
It has chosen the independent Hungarian press platform “TELEX” as the the first award winner.
TELEX does a great job as a free medium and bravely fights for freedom of press in Hungary. It is used by many, especially young people.
This morning the award was presented at the German Embassy.
Thank you for your attention!