The Institute of Advanced Studies Kőszeg (iASK) was established in 2015 with the aim of helping to navigate the complexities and uncertainties of this age, contributing to the formulation of solutions to pressing problems that require complex and interdisciplinary thinking, and developing a new vision and strategy for small city development.
iASK was founded at a time of great global uncertainty and growing interdependence. As American-Hungarian permanent research fellow at the Institute, Jody Jensen tells Diplomacy&Trade, the world has since become even more complex and “this recent pandemic is a very good metaphor to show how interconnected we all are and how responsible we should be for each another.”
iASK’s founding director, Ferenc Miszlivetz adds that “Jody wrote a book about ten years ago about global governance and its contradictions. Some of the problems we face today were possible to foresee 15-20 years ago.”
Multi stakeholder approach
Jody Jensen agrees: “You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to forecast what was coming. I understood that there was going to be a global economic crisis due to the instability of the financial structure. I also saw, connected with that, a rise in social unrest because of the increase in economic inequality, which is the result of the kind of capitalist system we live under today. I knew that these two trends were intertwined. It is a global phenomenon not just occurring in Western countries.”
She calls for an alternative multi stakeholder approach: a more coordinated cooperation of the main actors of states, markets and societies. “In order to confront and manage the crises and the challenges that we face, we need an alliance between all three partners. In my further analysis, I include the media as an additional stakeholder since its impact and importance is considerable.”
Ferenc Miszlivetz points to a deepening division in different societies, with special emphasis on the United States, in the past four years. “It is combined with the growing lack of trust in conventional politics, even democracy and its institutions.” His conclusion is that there must be a better version of democracy but – as many analysts have already stated – political, economic and financial leaders simply did not want to consider changing the basic rules. “They act as if they were blind and turned a deaf ear to the other parts of society. All of this provides fertile ground for populism.”
Interdependence, cooperation, coexistence
“We are very proud that our new Institute involves both natural sciences and social sciences and that our researchers are also engaged in social and institutional innovations within the Creative Cities and Sustainable Region (CRAFT) program. We have worked with evolutionary biologists and other natural scientists over the last five years. What they have shown us is that the human species would have never survived without cooperation. Those species that are increasingly able to cooperate have the best chance for survival – and that goes for us, as well,” Jody Jensen points out.
In a video about the first five years of iASK, the Director talks about European democracy and shared values. Now, he says, the chances for those are pretty slim. “In the short run, I am not too optimistic. In this ongoing crisis, more and more people are looking for alternatives, so the quest for cooperation and coexistence needs to be analyzed and understood in a more complex way. We do have Europe and, at the same time, we have an atavistic non-European approach in Hungary and in many other countries. We have democracy, which is identical to ‘democracy and the lack of democracy’. So, in social sciences – and in sciences in general –, we have to look for better alternatives. Here, the alternative is to understand the importance of the nation state – something that we have experienced in Hungary for the past ten years. However, it is also important that these nation states cooperate in a much better way. The European Union is a great laboratory, at the same time it is full of misperceptions and mistaken, failed politicians. It is absolutely legitimate to criticize them, but we have to look for common solutions. In this post-Brexit period, the center of the European Union moves more eastward, and we here in the central part of Europe should find a much better way to cooperate with each other, sharing burdens, information and responsibility,” he highlights.
He adds that the current political map of the world features a weakening and troublesome Russia, a strong China and a weakened United States, which has lost its position as the flagship of democracy. “Therefore, the EU and European societies in general, have a chance to create something new and different – what we have today is not enough. We cannot just lay back and say ‘we have a wonderful European history’, we need to work on the future and this is what we do at the Institute: we look for alternatives, and we try to increase mutual understanding.”
The soul of Europe in jeopardy
Jody Jensen spoke about ‘the soul of Europe’ in a recent lecture and said that this soul is in jeopardy. Her most recent lecture is about Europe fighting for ‘the better angels of its nature’, taking this expression from a speech of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. There is definitely a potential in Europe, she says, to play a positive role in these very uncertain times.
She just edited a book with young researchers from the Balkans, trying to explain how people experience this changing reality from the perspective of memory politics and populism. In her view “we also have to focus on where our individual strengths lie. I am glad to see Hungary’s role in helping the European integration of the Balkans, helping them prepare for EU accession.” She believes the stability of Hungary and the Visegrád Four countries and Europe depends on stability in the Balkans. “Having worked with these young researchers, I can tell you that they have a different vision of their futures in Europe than what many East Europeans had in mind after 1989 regarding European integration. I know they have the energy and determination to follow through on many aspects of their vision for the future.”
As regards future plans at iASK, Ferenc Miszlivetz explains that they wish to continue the involvement of different academic disciplines: social and natural sciences, as well as culture and arts. “We are trying to enhance our impact in academia and bring in more young researchers interested in interdisciplinary research. We also want to increase the dissemination of our results and impact in social, economic and cultural terms as far as resilience and sustainability are concerned. All this will require a stronger and somewhat larger institution. For this we will need EU resources as we did in earlier years. So, big challenges and changes are ahead of us.”
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