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President Constantinescu’s Speech at Columbia
Romania on the Threshold of a New Millennium
H.E. Mr. Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel a double happiness to be today with you. First, because my intellectual biography is closely related to the academic universe of which the Columbia University is one of its most prestigious expressions. Second, since today I am going to reopen the Nicolae Iorga Chair, in my capacity as President of Romania.

As you probably know, it is the University environment, which shaped me intellectually as a student and subsequently as a Professor at the Geology Faculty of Bucharest University. I know the dynamics of the academic space not only from the purely scientific perspective of the Chair, but equally as a Rector managing this space, as a whole. During the four years when I had the honor to function as a Rector of the Bucharest University, I could examine the problems and stakes of higher education, both in detail and in a comprehensive vision.

Viewed from such a perspective, the academic universe and the political one are not completely separate or devoid of connections and interactions. I believe that I can prove the existence of this intimate and yet extremely strong link between the academic and the political worlds. As you know I am a geologist by profession. The vote of the Romanian citizens entrusted me with one of the political positions employing great responsibilities. It is true that, at first sight, there are almost no contact points between these two fields of activity. However, I think that as a politician I owe much to my profession.

Indeed, as a geologist, I have learned to recognize the value of time, I have come to know the significance of the past. As a politician, I have the duty to respect and value the human person, that is the center and subject of any responsible policy. When I was a geologist, I used to work at length, with almost immutable objects, while in my capacity as politician I endeavor to focus on dynamic and changing subjects, that are the people. As a geologist I have to recuperate the past; as a politician I have assumed the responsibility to plan the future.

History, which we celebrate today by inaugurating this Chair, uses time lapses shorter than the ones familiar to me as a geologist and longer than those I face as a politician.

Accordingly, I think that the lesson of history as a study and research object is the lesson of balance and synthesis. I hope that the American students who will study here Romanian history and civilization will understand that this history and this civilization represent in themselves a synthesis product. A synthesis and a bridge between Central Europe, Eastern Europe and South-East Europe.

That is how Nicolae Iorga, whose name is given to this Chair, envisaged the ultimate sense of the history of Romanian space: space as a crossing point, a place of confluence and beneficial merge of ideas and experiences, in the effervescence of a creativity cutting across time and marking out historical space. If we meditate together with Nicolae Iorga on the experiences of the past we understand better the significance of the Romanian civilization in Europe and worldwide: a vanguard of the Latin civilization at the frontiers of Roman Empire, Athleta Christi, a fighter, a citadel of Christian Europe against the Ottoman expansion. Likewise, a space of fertile syntheses among which three are of particular importance since they could be identified, in modern terms, in my country's destiny at the crossroads between two millennia.

The first one inscribes the Romanian civilization space into Central Europe. Its historical links with Hungary and Poland, the existence of strong enclaves of Hungarian and German civilizations in the South of Transylvania -- which is the area inhabited by the Romanian population closest to Central Europe -- have lastingly molded the basic elements of Romanian civilization. These links represent today the premise for a natural and harmonious insertion of the Romanian space into the emerging Mitteleuropa. The relations of privileged cooperation which Romania has at present with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, ranging from the military cooperation to the economic and commercial ones, provide my country with both a model and essential opening towards the European space, which all countries of our region have endeavored to integrate, after the Berlin wall was torn down. Romania has thus manifested its firm willingness to accede, step by step, to the European and Euro-Atlantic structures, viewed both as a construction of economic, political and military cooperation and carriers of perennial values, which Romania shares and promotes.

The second fundamental synthesis is the one constantly achieved by the Romanian civilization between Central and South Europe. Nicolae Iorga created a deeply modem historical concept -- that of South-East Europe: situated in the proximity of the Balkans and yet different from them as it also includes, North of the Danube River, the territories linking Romania to the central area of the continent, and further on to the West, through Croatia and Slovenia. Romania has a genuine South-East European vocation, which has become ever more obvious today through its role as a factor of stability and space of communication and dialogue between Europe and the still conflict-torn Balkans world.

The excellent relations, which the Romanians have managed to develop with all the countries of the region, underlie the numerous initiatives of regional cooperation. Let me recall one example only: that of cooperation in the fight against organized crime, through trilateral agreements among Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria and soon among Romania, Greece and Bulgaria, as well as through the creation, in Bucharest, of a regional Center with the same goal, under the auspices of the South-East European Cooperation Initiative set up by the United States. In such a way, Romania will be strengthening the capacity for cooperation, which South-East Europe needs so much.

The third space of synthesis I am going to deal with is the Black Sea area. Romania is one of the seven countries situated along the coast of this Sea which played a special role in the history of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires: that of communication through the Mediterranean Sea, with the Levant as a whole, as well as with the Most Serene Republic of Venice and Genoa. Thus, the Black Sea was a melting pot merging, in a unique cultural universe, imperial Byzantine and Greek traditions, Tartar customs, proud Caucasian civilizations, stormy Turkish expansion, the Romanian tradition represented by Wallachians and Moldavians. Nowadays, the Black Sea has resumed, in a modem context, its vocation as a space of confluence. It may turn, in the forthcoming decades, from a peripheral sea into an essential maritime artery, for the transportation of energy producing oil and gas is the very backbone of any modern economy. In this context, Romania -- which is connected through the Constantza Port to the Pontic-Mediterranean space, and, likewise, linked through the Danube River to Europe at large, up to Rotterdam -- becomes a pivot of the main axes of the future.

That is how the very object of history becomes a guideline of sustainable development and recollection of the future. Romania today has firmly voiced its willingness to overcome the past and become a modern and democratic country, by sharing the values and practices of this status. But neither should we forget that for enabling these democratic values and practices to bear fruit, they should be seeded in a proper soil, so that they may get deeply rooted.

Therefore, this is, in my opinion, the major role which education and its promoters are called upon to play. Solely education can ensure the necessary background for the harmonious development of society. Solely an educated and trained people can fully assimilate these values and impose an irreversible evolution of society, in keeping with the democratic principles, thus substantiating their implementation.

Certainly, the particular situation of Romania -- defined as a transition from a system of compulsion and poverty to another one in which freedom and welfare begin to gain ground -- implies economic and social difficulties. Thus, it is constantly a question of priorities. According to the very logic I have already invoked, we should never forget that, with a view to ensuring a sustainable democratic construction, special attention has to be attached to education and instruction. This is the most valuable long-term investment which a country like Romania can make, both from the perspective of its domestic development and, simultaneously, from that of winning the place it deserves in the space of modem civilization. For this reason, I consider that the first element we should bear in mind for the Romania of the third millennium is that of a coherent educational system, likely to blend the tradition of great scientific schools and Romanian culture with the future horizon of intellectual training.

In a world whose coordinates are continuously redefined, under the impact of new scientific and technological discoveries, we can not get fully integrated and neither can we keep up with its impetuous evolution unless we focus our efforts on supporting, unreservedly, the development of science and research.

All the more so since, with the help of science, we all can use a common language. The scientific community, in its internal dynamics, transcends boundaries and natural frontiers. By its cohesion and effervescence, the scientific community is the most relevant example of a positive globalization, without dropouts or marginalization.

It is not a matter of any nostalgia for the numerous academics currently in power in Romania, starting with the President of the country, concerning the academic world in which they got molded. It is a question of a major political decision Romania now faces, precisely at the time of radical economic and institutional reforms. This decision could be worded as a question: how will Romania look in the next millennium? What will it be -- a country always repeating the same experience, as in the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise, and which will never succeed to bridge the gaps it was condemned to during the last century, or will it be a society which shoots ahead and tries, by developing spheres of excellence, to build itself within the parameters of a modernity typical of the 21st century?

In the stagnation to which the Romanian economy and society of the last decades have been submitted, there is something resembling a blessing in disguise: the possibility to start anew, like a war-torn country, from the state-of-the art level of technology and performance. The will to embark on this road is, certainly, the necessary condition for real modernization.

But Romania also has the sufficient condition for such a change, since as many of you already know, in spite of numberless obstacles, the theoretical sciences in Romania have remained an extremely high-performance domain. The apparent paradox of a society increasingly more affected by economic stagnation, but in which great spirits ever more found refuge in science and culture, accounts for the fact that still today there is an extremely poignant contrast between economic and daily hardships and the very high standard of research and intellectual production.

Precisely for this reason, I think that Romania, which has the intellectual resources needed to develop peak domains, from computers to lasers and from mechanics to aircraft, will be able to find, by its own means or with the assistance of the large capital from other countries, the material resources needed to cover the shortest road towards the modem society of the third millennium. The fact that the Romanian school of theoretical and applied mathematics just like those of chemistry or physics is acknowledged by the international scientific community is essential in such a perspective. Equally important, however, is the fact that successive generations have grown in the spirit of respect and knowledge of the arts and culture, that the Romanian history school, which the personality of Nicolae Iorga rendered famous, continues its great tradition; the fact that ever more diverse forms of creativity are manifest with an encouraging dynamics is, also, a guarantee of this possible future development.

Because I have the conviction that the modernity of the future century will integrate scientific knowledge and sensitivity, creativeness and high technology and that -- in a way which we only remotely sense today -- it will be a world in which understanding, lucidity, imagination and rigor will be to an equal extent the assets of progress. The globalization of the next century cannot mean just simple economic exchanges, the approval of certain goods or of the most competitive products through the dynamics of the free market. Beyond all this, globalization means the recognition of universal values, of symbolic assets. It means knowledge and therefore rapprochement and understanding. The extraordinary movement to which we are all committed must not make us forget that behind any object there is a human being.

Traditionally, politics, the art of the possible, is viewed in a univocal relation with the circumstantial present. In a certain way, the academic community is less linked to the present, the subject matter of its work being especially the past and the future. The past and the future taken together and somehow inseparable. Still, I think I can assert that there is a possible and necessary conjunction between politics as a goal and this relationship of science with a time that is never the present. Because, obviously, politics must face the present but it is also bound to understand and reinterpret the past for being able to imagine the future. The study of the past is pure archeology, unless it reveals a human project, unless it represents, in the last resort, a memory about the future.

It is this future that I invite you all to design together. The universities are called upon to prepare this future. A future which will not be that of accumulating goods, but rather knowledge and creation. A future which, we are now confident, depends not on what we have, but on what we are and especially on what we can become.

Thank you.