Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour and pleasure to announce on behalf of the New Culture - New Europe Award’s Chapter that this year's winner of this prestigious award is Professor Csaba Kiss. It is no coincidence that none other than Csaba Kiss is the first Hungarian winner of the Stanisław Vincenz Prize.
Stanisław Vincenz - the patron of this prestigious Award - in his sketch “Dar przyjaźni” (“The Gift of Friendship”), written almost 80 years ago, regretfully recalled the Visegrad community, unfulfilled centuries ago. At the same time, while thinking about the nations of Central Europe and their future, he emphasized: “To disregard or merely to overlook neighbours and, in particular, the cultural nation of friends, while at the same time reaching for the distant, mainly because it is recognised on the world stage, and not because it is great, is consequently disrespectful of oneself.” It is difficult to find someone who would put Vincenzo's message into practice better than Professor Csaba G. Kiss – a seasoned researcher of nationalism, mythology and national symbolism of Central Europe. It is a happy coincidence that Professor Kiss is also a researcher and promoter of the achievements of Stanisław Vincenz, who survived World War II in the hospitable Hungarian land, where (let me remind you) he escaped to from the Soviets across the Carpathians leaving his Hutsul, multi-ethnic small homeland behind!
Today's winner is an outstanding expert on Central European issues, a historian of literature and culture, rooted not only in his own Hungarian culture. Like few others, Professor Kiss is well versed in the cultures of his neighbours, especially the Slavs: Polish, Slovak, Croatian and Czech. Csaba Kiss is a tireless missionary of the Visegrad idea of Middle Europe. A Hungarian who has devoted so much effort not only to the study of the identity of his own nation, but above all to the understanding of the soul of his Slavic neighbours.
For Professor Kiss, Middle Europe is our common destiny, and not a territory with strictly defined borders (as György Konrád wrote), it is a question of our world view, but also shared experiences – ours and those of our neighbours. The experience of the 1956 Hungarian October – so important for his entire generation - and the reaction of Poles to these events reassured Csaba Kiss in his conviction that the dialogue between both our nations provides a key and context for understanding the history of Hungarians and Poles, as well as their place in European culture and civilisation. His comparative studies were complemented by a long hitchhiking trip throughout Poland in 1964. Since then, he has been a frequent guest in our country, as a writer, researcher and academic lecturer, resulting in many analyses of Polish-Hungarian parallels.
When the myth of Middle Europe was experiencing its particular triumph in the 1970s and 1980s, it meant a clear distinction between Soviet reality and European values. It is no accident that Csaba Kiss quickly became one of the busiest activists of the Hungarian anti-communist opposition. In September 1987 he was one of the seven founders of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, its spokesperson and later one of its vice-presidents. A few months after the spectacular victory of the Hungarian Democratic Forum in the first free parliamentary elections in Hungary in May 1990, Csaba Kiss left active politics! To the surprise of his political friends - he devoted himself to the science, or maybe above all to the mission of the Ambassador of Middle Europe and the search for that which unites us and not divides us! The Germans would have said he'd turned Mehrheit into Wahrheit.
In early 1990s the choice of Central European or Visegrad direction for
Hungary, was not at all obvious. Many believed that Poland was outside the traditional Central Europe, understood in a more Habsburg way. People from the then ruling Christian Democrat elite, such as Csaba Kiss and Prime Minister Jozsef Antal, were decisive when it came to Budapest embarking upon the Visegrad initiative in practice, as a real political project.
The magic of Middle Europe, its phenomenon and its heritage is a problem, to which Csaba Kiss pays special attention in his numerous works. Middle Europe is his conscious choice. This is the key to understanding our identity, to explaining the uniqueness of our Visegrad path. Because Middle Europe is also a surviving world of values. Middle Europe is a difficult dialogue with a neighbour and an attempt to answer the question of why your friend is my enemy.
From 1992 to 1995, Csaba Kiss was director of the Central European Institute in Budapest. Since 1995 a professor at the Department of Cultural History at the Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest. He also taught at the Andrássy University Budapest, an all-German language institution, because this Slavic philosopher is a German by education! But let his guest professorships stand testament to the openness and versatility (also when it comes to language) of polyglot Csaba Kiss:
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (1999)
Université Marne-La-Vallée (1999)
University of Zagreb (1999-2004)
Univerzit Konstantin Philosopher (Nitra)
Karlova Univerzita (Prague) 2008-2010
He is currently a visiting professor at the University of Warsaw. He is accompanied by his wife Andrea in these peregrinations, whose fascination with her husband's mission is admirable.
Professor Kiss is also attributed with the notion of “places of common memory” - developed in a specific dialogue with Pierre Nora and his “places of memory” lieux de mémoire, one of the most important concepts in contemporary humanities. However, “Central Europe as a community of memory” in Csaba G. Kiss's view is a more comprehensive proposal and much better suited to the specificity of our Visegrad part of the continent. It is also a challenge and a task for all those who today care about the multinational heritage of Middle Europe.
In 1987, preparing Stanisław Vincenz’s the 100th birthday anniversary celebrations in Budapest, Csaba Kiss thus described his hero and patron of our today's Award:
“The relevance of Vincenzo's literary output lies mainly in the negation of the exclusivity of national truths and, at the same time, in the approval of cultural diversity. In his works, he continued this heritage of Eastern Galicia, his small homeland, for which tolerance and openness of nations and cultures to one other were a fundamental factor.”
Professor Csaba Kiss has already more than fulfilled Vincenzo's last will and testament, and today Csaba successfully builds bridges, develops, multiplies and propagates Vincenzo's ideas. Because Csaba Kiss’s Central Europe lesson is a lesson of dialogue with another and a mirror in which we look at ourselves, in which we look at our Middle Central.
Distinguished Laureate, Dear Friend, Beloved Csaba, today we thank you for this lesson in your language, so difficult for Slavs: köszönöm szépen.