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András Bozóki, an expert on the post-Communist democratisation of Europe, conducted a media research seminar on the existence of a European public sphere at the JMSC on Friday, February 18, 2011.
Professors and students of Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre attended the event, split equally between a lecture portion and a subsequent discussion.
During the lecture, Bozóki began with a history of post-Communist Europe. He noted that although a union of European nation states began in 1945, those east of the Iron Curtain did not see inclusion until 1989, when nations applied widely to the European Union. The EU set up criteria for these applicant countries “as a school teacher to the pupils in an elementary class,” he said.
Bozóki then addressed what accounts for the absence of a European public sphere. Cultural diversity, he lectured, is a primary reason. “The real language of the EU is the translation, and it is not obvious that people understand each other,” he said. The lexicon of pan-European government is therefore a “broken bureaucratic English,” according to Bozoki.
For Bozóki, disparate cultural priorities between Western and Eastern Europe also contribute to the lack of a public sphere. He added that while Western Europeans tend to focus on political policy, Eastern Europeans maintain a preoccupation with “the riches and welfare that they experienced [in the West]…not democratisation.”
Bozóki explained that if an issue rises to European public interest, it is most often scandalous in nature. “There are several European discourses…sometimes, if an issue touches sensitivity, then it comes up to the European public sphere. It is like a patchwork,” he said.
He provided examples including the discrimination against the Roma, or the amorous interests of the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Bozóki addressed the application of Hungary’s new media law during the discussion portion of the event. “It is a harassment on democracy and the Hungarian government is educated by the EU,” he said. Bozoki added that Brussels has employed recent modifications to the law on four major points, and that these modifications have been successful.
Bozóki is currently a professor of political science at the Central European University in Budapest. A Hungarian native, he grew up “on the dark side of the Iron Curain without much chance to travel to the West.” He has published over thirty-five books on the politics of post-Communist Europe.
He concluded the discussion by addressing the integration of environmental issues into the public sphere. At the moment, he explained, environmental issues fail to rise to pan-European public interest: “[Green] discourse is still an elite discourse – a young, professional elite discourse.”