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Region-wide CEP Student Conference held in Vienna
 

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From the Civic Education Project Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer 1995

At the end of April, 126 CEP and Central European University (CEU) students from 16 countries converged on Vienna for the third annual CEP Regional Student Conference. The theme of this year's conference, "New Democracies in Europe: Translating the West," stimulated discussion and debate over the relevance of the West as a model for the East. As in the past, this year's conference once again proved to be an excellent opportunity for students from throughout the region to talk with their peers about common problems facing their countries.

Under the guidance of CEP lecturers, students spent many hours writing and revising the conference papers which they would eventually present to an audience of their peers from across the region. In order to have the opportunity to travel to Vienna for the five days of the conference, students had to have their paper proposals chosen from among several hundred submitted by hopeful applicants. Preliminary selections were made within each country by CEP lecturers and a multi-disciplinary selection committee then chose the best 126 proposals and offered their authors a chance to participate in the conference.

The conference week was highlighted by the keynote address given by philanthropist George Soros in the framework of the Forum Schwartzenbergplatz. After his twenty minute address, Mr. Soros and a panel of distinguished discussants fielded questions from the students and debated among themselves questions of the West's role in the current geopolitics of the region.

Other high points of the conference week were the opening session of the conference held in the Austrian Parliament featuring an address by the Parliamentary President Dr. Heinz Fischer and subsequent discussion with Dr. Ewald Novotny , an expert in economic affairs for the Social Democratic Party; a luncheon for CEP students and lecturers hosted by the Austrian National Bank after which there was a discussion of the Austrian monetary system as a model for Eastern Europe; a concluding round-table discussion featuring Dr. Istvan Rev of the CEU and Austrian Vice-Chancellor Dr. Erhard Busek who explored the conference theme from their own perspectives; and a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Musikvereinssaal, Vienna's most famous concert hall. Students were also given the chance to tour the city.

By all accounts the conference was a tremendous success. Through the excitement generated by this event, CEP was able to raise nearly $90,000 to cover conference expenditures. The generous support of the Open Society Institute (Budapest) and a number of other institutions including Austrian Airlines, the Austrian National Bank, Okista Travel, the Austrian Ministry of Science and Research, NATO, BankAustria, Coca-Cola and USIA made the conference possible.

The academic excellence and enthusiasm of the students was impressive. The long hours of preparation put in by CEP lecturers, staff and a small army of Austrian volunteers was more than compensated for by the excitement of all of the participants at the opportunity to attend the conference.

Each year the conference has a lasting impact on many of the lecturers and students who are lucky enough to participate. As one lecturer from CEP Hungary put it, "If CEP does nothing else each year, and that includes teaching, it should continue to sponsor this conference."

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Excerpts from a letter written by Alla Butovska, a student at Odessa State University, Ukraine.

Meeting with representatives from 16 countries during the 1995 Civic Education Project Regional Student Conference gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with many different ways of thinking and to achieve a better understanding of many cultures. The experience I had at the conference helped me realize how our generation can be influential in improving the situation in East European countries. The debate about issues facing the region and its relations with the West helped me to place Ukrainian development in the broader context of the continuous changes happening around us. As a sociology student, I enjoy the opportunity to meet scholars from different countries, and I found this conference to be an ideal event in which to interact with my peers from the rest of the region.

Overall, the conference in Vienna was well conceived and I found it to be a very productive and successful event. The meeting with Mr. George Soros was particularly exciting and helpful. The way the conference was designed, we participants had time to work but also time to rest and to see the sights of Vienna. Having the conference in Austria was a great idea as its stability and advanced economic state led me to think about its role as a model for the countries of Central and East Europe.