The Hon. Erhard Busek (Former Vice Chancellor of Austria; Former Minister of Science and Research of Austria; Former Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs of Austria)

04.02.10 - Interview conducted by JP Prigge

You stated that the Southeast European cooperative initiative has been very successful in combating national crime.  In Southeast Europe specifically, since economic development and crime are connected, what should further developing countries expect to gain from economic development? Should they expect their crime rate to go down?

If you have strong political changes in the system and if you have strong changes in security forces, police, and security, for example such as in Romania, then there is also a reduction of crime. I think it is now a step by step battle; we have built up a percent of the crime fighting in Bucharest, but crime is also connected with the social and economic changes in different sectors. I expect crime to go down if we are able to fight global crime, since crimes like drugs and human trafficking are major international problems that are connected with the effectiveness of these international institutions.  I would like, for example, EUROPOL, the European Institution, to progress, but their problem is that different national institutions do not disclose all of their information, so they are forced to deal only with the information that is available. This system also needs to be connected with the development of a system of prosecutors and courts.

In your work with the European Council of Tolerance and Reconciliation, have you noticed any correlations between economic conditions on one side, and levels of tolerance and acceptance between different religious and ethnic groups present in a given society on the other? Are there any significant economic benefits resulting from cohesiveness and tolerance in a society?  And as a society gets richer, does it become more tolerant?

Yes, I think that the problems between the different countries are mainly based in politics; I think that the common people are much less interested in only becoming richer.  There are no difficulties between the Serbs and the people of Kosovo; there are no difficulties between Slovenians and Croatians. So far I think there is a responsibility, especially for the media.  It seems the media is sometimes encouraging disagreements by saying these Slovenes, these Serbs, these Croatians, etc., and are thus generalizing the problem, which is the real danger.

What about your work with the stability pact for Eastern Europe; does that still relate to that field or do you think it is more about the success story of Slovenia?

Bringing it back to the huge problem, they are not responsible for education; they are not responsible for history books and culture.  While this persists, we cannot do anything concerning reconciliation. I was always confronted, especially by the European Parliament, saying, ‘What are you doing regarding reconciliation?’ and I would say, ‘I’m doing a lot, but officially I’m not allowed to do anything,’ because it is connected to education.  And you have to change the responsibilities; you have to say it is up to Europe to do something regarding the reconciliation. Personally, I’m convinced that if this becomes a European project, it is going to be a success.

How do you think cultural diplomacy affects or impacts cultural understanding between nations and nation states?

Personally, I’m very optimistic about this. I think that the importance of mutual understanding has to be outlined. There is a tradition that we are traveling elsewhere; we are not traveling to see what is similar in other countries, but to look at what is different.  To get this experience we are admiring the architecture, the museums, the landscape, and I think that is a very positive thing, as this is what makes Europe interesting.  But, what has to be done is we have to outline the ways in which we are similar. Variety is an interesting quality, but it is through similarity that we have to gain unity.  If I’m looking at operas or other cultural houses throughout Europe, I see this as a very common European problem that we are having.  You can look at the different art and literature, but it has to be outlined that we are actually European.