|Conference delegates, Friends,
I extend warm friendly greetings to the foreign and Hungarian participants in this conference on questions of community development and building civil society. You have come together for a discussion of important problems which can contribute to achieving co-operation among members of society at different levels, a healthier and more fruitful co-operation which can advance the real common interest and common good.
Man is the most perfect creation of life on earth, capable of miracles through his own efforts. But the community is the basic form of man’s existence, we naturally belong to others. The past linking us to others, shared faith, dreams, interests and goals bind us together, impose obligations, encourage and guide us; and at the same time we join together in different communities organised for work or pleasure, into churches, movements and alliances of mankind, the nation, the region and place where we live, or the family.
We now take it for granted that there exist global principles guiding development as an organising force. But we are also filled with anxiety when we examine the consequences affecting our daily lives of the process known as globalisation. There can be no doubt that globalisation has been extremely efficient in promoting the international connections and global operating conditions of technology, the economy, finance and trade. But in this context culture, morality, social sensitivity and respect of the basic principles of solidarity, the elaboration of a system of national, regional and local community interests, rights, obligations and responsibilities are less important.
Not enough attention is paid to the individual either, to his individual and collective living conditions, way of life, to common traditions and values. This otherwise so desirable development can easily stifle his culture, customs, autonomy and his aspirations based on self-organisation.
In our modern age we are increasingly at the mercy of the powers raised over us. The slogan “fulfil yourself!” separating people and opposing them against each other in the sometimes harsh competition often seems to prevail over Christian morality proclaiming the ideal of “love your neighbour as yourself” and encouraging solidarity, as well as its principles traditionally underlying the law in the course of our European history. But, in fact, the purposeful self-organisation and responsible co-operation of individuals are indispensable in all areas of life. How aptly Aristotle puts it when he says of the Greek polis regarded as the model in European-type culture, that it is not only institutionalised power itself, but “the community which comprises all the others”.
Yes, a good guide to the quality of a society is whether it is capable of operating “all the others”: the civil sphere, under viable conditions, efficiently and with healthy self-confidence. A network of communities based on voluntary association, independent of others, organised democratically, whose members are well informed and ready to act and whose leaders are under the responsible control of the participants. In the absence of such bonds, individuals are isolated and have even less defence, hierarchical relationships continue to exist, and the desirable mutual dependence, the free unfolding of connected interests remains an unfulfilled dream.
Conference delegates, Friends,
We look to the future of Europe in the process of reorganisation with the same confidence as those who dreamed of the European Union and traced the path of moral, cultural and legal co-operation that existed earlier on our continent. This opens a space for freedom of the individual and communities, giving fuller scope for sober interest and understanding solidarity. The intention to achieve this is not sufficient in itself: beyond declarations the institutional and legal system being built for the community also demands practical actions. It is a basic principle of the EU’s Constitution that the ideas taking shape should be based as fully as possible on the opinion, demands and expectations of the citizens of Europe, and that the forums elaborating the decisions to be made should be as close as possible to the citizens.
You, my friends, are making an important contribution with your work to transforming individuals in the region of Eastern Europe who, for many years were accustomed and forced by despotism to adopt the “mentality of subordinates”, you are endowing them with the sense of responsibility worthy of free citizens, a knowledge of their obligations and rights, with the inner urge to organise into communities and so acquire a greater chance of asserting their local interests.
Dictatorship regarded as a community the mass of subordinates deprived of their individuality, that could be mobilised in the service of power. The community of democracy is different: it is an alliance of whole people, true individuals with their own opinions and representing real interests. I trust that your meeting will serve to strengthen such communities and will serve the better co-operation of individuals joining forces for this purpose.
I highly esteem and express my gratitude for the efforts you have made so far, and I wish further success for your conference.
Budapest, March 24th, 2004.