Lothar HÖBELT:

Thank you very much, dear colleagues.

Even more so than most of the podium. I will assure you, I do appreciate the honour of being invited to sit here together with princes of the church and personalities who have actually been taking a hand in shaping the destinies of their nation.

As a historian, I am, you might say, a pathologist of politics. We analyse it when they're all dead so we supposedly know all but they cannot defend themselves any longer, which is very a comfortable position. Of course, it's not one where you can change a lot.

I want to start with sort of an apology. An apology for the country where I come from, Austria. His Excellency, the Archbishop, was kind enough to refer to Vienna as one of the centres of Central Europe. Why does not Vienna try and play that part? Because, unfortunately, if you look at Austrian politics right now, even with all sorts of benevolence, you can't say they're really doing a lot for Central Europe.

Once upon a time - you know that phrase, this is how all the fairy tales start - well, once upon a time, and not even that far back, four or five years ago, things look different. We did have a government where one half was completely in favour of Visegrad and the other half at least promised to be a mediator between Brussels and Visegrad. So things seem to be moving in the right direction. But unfortunately the two parties that made up that government, to put it briefly, simply messed it up. Now, without going into any conspiracy theories, obviously, their enemies prepared traps for them. Obviously, their enemies didn't play fair. But then,, what else did you expect?

It's no real excuse for a politician to say that his enemies don't like him. Well, obviously, that is so. Once it comes to that, it's a matter of crisis management. A 100 years ago, in 1922, the small rump Republic of Austria got a new government, too, and it was headed by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Seipel, who because he was such a far-sighted politician with all sorts of tricks up his sleeve, was sometimes called the "Autrichelieu", in a Frenchified pun: the Richelieu of Austria. And one of the things he said shortly before he took power was: "The worst mistake is to get nervous."

And that is exactly what happened in 2019. Everybody got nervous. The government disintegrated and it all went to pieces. And if you look at polls right now, the two movements, that one way or another could be claimed to stand for a traditional view of Europe and European values, would no longer command a majority right now, even if they were any longer willing to cooperate. You know, as Keynes said: In the long term, we're all dead. In the long term, things might get better. But right now, I suppose things have to get worse before they can get better. So the outlook from Vienna is not all that promising, I must assure you.

About our main topic, Professor Palko has almost said it all, so I can really only agree with him and add a few footnotes. And I also completely agree with my colleague from Poland about the Ukrainian issue and about the importance of NATO. There are two challenges that Central Europe is conservative Central Europeans are facing right now. And it's important, I think, to realize that those two challenges are of a very different nature.

On one hand, we have Russian imperialism. That is a very clear cut thing. Putin preaches Russian imperialism and he practices Russian imperialism and he sends in the tanks. And we've got to find means to knock out the tanks. That is a clear cut issue the way we've had it for centuries. Nothing new in the world. On the other hand, we do have the European Union. Now, the European Union,

as we all know, is a good thing. Maybe you remember the funny little book about British history "1066 and all that", where everything is divided into good things and bad things. Well, the European Union, on the face of it, is a good thing, and it has brought many benefits to all of us. True enough. But, of course, the "but" is important. Like many good ideas, the EU is very much in danger of being badly implemented and that's a big danger indeed.

There is also a sort of structural background to this problem. The EU has now been enlarged and I think the last count is 27 members. But the structure of the EU, the sort of real mechanisms, how decisions are being taken is still more or less restricted to the old ancient European Economic Community of 1957. It's still the founding members that count, the six founding members, with Italy sometimes excepted. perhaps only five founding members. And if you discount the three small ones, it's basically a Franco-German axis that commands the EU. French dirigisme and German thoroughness. It's a deadly combination, you know.

And then you have all those people who are collaborators and to go along with that. Now, this is a very different challenge because Mrs. Von der Leyen is not going to send in the tanks. Actually she did try her hand at tanks before in her former job as a German Minister of Defence and she was so successful that there are hardly any tanks left in Germany. So that's not really the danger, but it's the insidious danger the way that one of the predecessors of Mrs. von der Leyen once put it. You know, we have certain rules and we will always go a little bit further. And if there's no resistance, we know we can go still further. And that is the danger about the European supposed constitution - ever closer union. Nothing's permanent. Everything changes the way people in power see it in their best interest to act. And that is why people are uncertain about the quality and the development of that European Union, which obviously was a good thing in the beginning.

And as Professor Palko has already outlined, together with that danger, we experience a sort of creeping coup d'état by the courts that usurp and take over functions that in any sort of liberal constitutional state belong to the legislative branch of government. That is a certain derivative, you might say, from the experience of the United States, where the powers of the Supreme Court come from a completely different tradition. But increasingly we find the same thing in Europe. In my own country, in Austria, many decades ago, we had a situation like that. And in those days, the Social Democrats still called it a "juristen putsch", a coup d'état by the lawyers. Now, the Social Democrats have switched sides.

The interesting thing, of course, is that in this case we are confronted with people preaching one thing and practicing quite another thing. The European Union and the powers that be and the European Court of Justice, of course, they are all in favour of free speech. They denounce all sorts of regimes for not allowing free speech, sometimes rightly so, sometimes not. But what does the European Parliament really want? It passes a resolution with a majority of something like 5 to 1 calling for censorship against opinions they don't like.

You have the worldwide a movement of "wokeism" that supposedly calls for equal opportunity. But what does "equal opportunity" mean in practice? Equal opportunity in practice means that certain groups are being favoured e.g. in the academic world. It's a completely weird situation. We have all these studies that rightly criticize the system adopted in the interwar years, when quotas were established in some universities in our countries to make it impossible for Jews to exploit their potential to the full. The same very same rules are now being enacted all over America and other universities saying, no, we must not have too many white old men. There must be a sufficient number of blacks and other minorities, whether they are qualified or not, doesn't really matter. You know, and the same people who are denouncing such a system on one hand are calling for the same rule on the other hand.

As Mr. Palko rightly said, we can't even give that phenomenom a clear cut name, but it is a creeping danger and we have to be aware of it. And it's a long term one. It's not one that with one big sweep, we will be able to correct. No, it's a long term threat and it's a threat that cannot only be fought by political means. Even if we do have majorities in parliament, we are often unable to stop some of these developments.

Now, what could or should be done to stand up to these negative trends. Obviously, Central European cooperation is important. Years ago, there was a debate in Japan, a member of the Western alliance, even though in the Far East, and they talked about a Japan that can say no. That is exactly what we need. We need a counterweight to the Franco-German axis. We need a counterweight in Central Europe. We need a Central Europe that can say no. And Hungary and Poland have been good examples of how you can do that.

You know, I'm not a Czech citizen, but my wife and my son are, and two years ago, I was very proud when the Czech president, Mr. Zeman, on the 4th of July, went to the American embassy and said: "Well, we all know that Black Lives Matter is a racist slogan, don't we?" Many people have been thinking that but no leading politicians dared say so. Zeman did. So you see, it is possible to say no.

And added to that, two last footnotes. We are all often angry about the way things are going. But we shouldn't underrate the power of humour because many of those things are not even that dangerous but simply crazy, like men entering sports competitions as women because they want to win. Or people changing their gender from one day to the next or inventing a third, fourth and fifth gender. You know, it's not like class warfare of old. It's not just dangerous. It's simply ridiculous. And you have to emphasize that point over and over again. You have to make fun of these people.

For a historian, it's almost a privilege to live in times like these. You sometimes read or even write about times when they persecuted witches or indulged in other sorts of crazy ideas. Now we're living in a time when all these crazy ideas are alive and you can actually watch them at first hand. Simply make fun of them. They are simply so ridiculous. This is also why I think that in the end we'll win. You know, this is not something that can survive. There's no real basis of facts behind it. So make fun of these people and expose their contradictions.

And the other footnote, that may be sounds a little bit more optimistic than the picture we get from just looking at the way big business works. I remember the day, it must have been a Wednesday, in November two years ago, when for a certain period in time it looked as if Trump was going to be re-elected. Jansa believed that, and I hoped so. It didn't come to pass. But the interesting thing was that during those few hours when it seemed as if Trump would win, the American Stocks Exchange went up, even though the managers of most of the big corporations had all supported the Democrats, or at least they pretended to do so because they didn't want it to be said that they did not, exercising the sort of bravery that is a result of peer group pressure in managerial circles. To go back to a classic of 1941, James Burnham's "The Managerial Revolution". Big business no longer stands for the the owners. It's not the capitalists, it's the managers. The managers may have supported the Democrats, but the owners, the people who actually owned the shares, were glad that Trump had done much better than expected. So what we need is an empowerment of the owners - an empowerment of the owners of big businesses and an empowerment of the owners of the democracies, the majority of people that do not want to be bossed around by the managers.

Thank you very much.