I am greatly honored to be invited to address this illustrious audience. The European Commission just published a reflection paper on the future of the European Monetary Union, which will open a debate I greatly welcome. I should like to join the previous speaker in dedicating my remarks to the memory of my close friend Tommaso Padoa Schioppa. Thinking of Tommaso brings back bitter-sweet memories. We became close collaborators during his retirement. We worked together trying to save the European Union at a time when few people realized it was moving towards an existential crisis. I firmly believe that he worked himself to death. I’m glad to have this occasion to remember him.
Before I come to the subject of my speech, I should like to tell you who I am and what stand for. I am an 86-year-old Hungarian Jew who became a US citizen after the end of World War II. I learned at an early age how important it is what kind of political regime prevails. The formative experience of my life was the occupation of Hungary by Nazi Germany in 1944. I probably would have perished if my father had not understood the gravity of the situation. He arranged false identity papers for his family and many other Jews; with his help, most of us survived.
In 1947, I escaped from Hungary, which was by then under Communist rule, to England. As a student at the London School of Economics, I came under the influence of the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, and I developed my own conceptual framework, built on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity.
I distinguished between two kinds of political regimes: one in which people elect their leaders, who are supposed to serve the interests of the people rather than their own, and the other, where the rulers manipulate the people so that they serve the interests of their rulers. Under Popper’s influence, I called the first kind of society open, the second, closed. In George Orwell’s time the closed society could be best described as a totalitarian state; today it is best characterized as a mafia state, one which maintains a façade of democracy but the rulers use their control of the media, the judiciary and the other levers of influence, to enrich and maintain themselves in power.
This classification is too simplistic. Even so, I find the distinction between the two types of regimes illuminating. I became an active promoter of open societies and an opponent of totalitarian and mafia states.
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