Martin Bútora: A new beginning – and not just for America

In one of his comments on the US presidential election, Martin Bútora, honorary president of the Institute for Public Affairs, and former Slovak Ambassador to the USA, anticipates the impact Barack Obama’s election will have on Slovakia, including its ethnic minorities.

“Apart from anything else, Barack Obama’s election as US President is a response to three of America’s worst legacies, its burdens from past and more recent history. While his victory does not automatically transcend them, it presents a way of coming to terms with them. The first legacy is skin colour, the race issue. The second is 11 September 2001. The third is the disenchantment and disappointment over the country’s direction, often accompanied by a sense of helplessness, pessimism and cynicism as to whether social change is possible,” writes the author in an article for the Sme daily.

“Barack Obama has confronted these traumas head on through his entire life story, his presidential programme and his personality. He has broken barriers that we may have hoped no longer existed - but someone had to test them first. Americans had to see a living proof that race did not play a key role in the final vote. It is not by abandoning security programmes that he can help America come to terms with the legacy of 9/11. It is by seeking new allies, moderate representatives of other races, other continents and other religions, who can make their due contribution to stemming the tide of terrorism and militant radicalism,” he continues.

Bútora believes that a strong and cooperative USA is a top priority for the European Union and Slovakia, as allies of the USA: “If an Obama administration succeeds in overcoming the current economic and financial crisis, it will help restore faith in democratic capitalism, and this is not without importance for us in Slovakia. What I mean by democratic capitalism is a social system that is not doctrinaire but open, capable of self-correction and learning from its mistakes. Our faith in this system has been badly shaken and it would be unfortunate if this opened the door to other, less desirable models of state-controlled or authoritarian capitalism.”

For people in Slovakia, worth of attention is also Barack Obama’s ability to inspire, motivate and attract young people in business, politics and in civil society: “In our country, too, we have minorities in need of such role models. Back in the 1960s Slovak students used to have photos of President Kennedy on their dormitory walls. The world has since become a smaller place and we should not be surprised soon to find a picture of the new US president adorning the desk of a young Roma leader,” says Bútora.

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