No Time-outs for the Global Aspen Community

In the not-so-distant past summers were for time-outs. This was rather a common perception that in fact never really corresponded to reality, but today with news-cycle driven by Twitter feeds and shaped by instant blogging, not even that impression could be excused. There are no summer time-outs in the world of international affairs, which more than ever have become integrated with domestic affairs in one whole. In Syria we are witnessing another deeply moving and disturbing installment of the Arab Spring. The economies of Greece, Portugal, Spain and other EU member states are testing the institutional viability of that great experiment, the Eurozone. A shaky post-crisis world economy still has a potential to surprise us badly. All of these events impact us directly.

Occasionally the United States foreign policy under the stewardship of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stands accused of not paying enough attention to old friends in Europe and transatlantic ties. Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia is sometimes explained as a shift away from America’s bond with Europe. Though unfair, such notion is potentially dangerous. Even unfair appearances can come to pass. The global Aspen Institute community takes them seriously and intends to tackle them heads on, as our European family of the Aspen partner organizations, already strong with Aspen Institutes in Italy, Germany, Romania, Spain and France, has just expanded to the very heart of the continent, the Czech Republic.

Prague is no stranger to history. One may quip that sometimes there was too much history to absorb. The new Aspen Institute Prague is headquartered in a city where a couple of years ago President Obama gave new impetus to decades-long attempts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. His non-proliferation agenda was restarted there with the new START Treaty signed by him and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev. In 2002 Prague hosted a historic NATO summit during which the Alliance expanded also to the territory of seven Central and Eastern European countries.

These events stand in contrast to the momentous history of the 20th century Central Europe. Only twenty-three years ago Prague was behind the Iron Curtain where it was held against its will for four decades. The American-Russian chess game was quite different then. In that historic year of 1989 I happened to be visiting with the dissident Václav Havel, fresh out of the communist jail, just when the doorbell rang. It was Alexander Dubček, the 1968 Prague Spring leader, who was coming to say hello, and accidentally I witnessed their emotional reunion. It was like the passing of a baton that Havel was getting from the ex-reform Communist Party Secretary. The cultural and political reintegration of his country, and also the wider region of Central Europe, into the West was Havel’s dream and at that he succeeded brilliantly. He can no longer be with us but it is also thanks to him that the Aspen Institute can come to Czech Republic and that the Aspen Strategy Group’s Aspen Ministers Forum under the leadership of Madeleine Albright is being held in Prague in July in conjunction with the celebrations of the Aspen Prague’s opening.

The Aspen Prague gave birth to the Aspen Review, a quarterly journal, whose first issue you are holding in your hands. Its ambition is to explain, interpret and critique global affairs from the Central European perspective. It is my privilege to help with its launch. We will do it the Aspen way: No time-outs.

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