DAAD alumni association Czech Republic: signal for tolerance
Euro or Koruna? The question of which would be the better currency for their country is haunting many people in the Czech Republic, as a recent event of the DAAD alumni association Czech Republic showed. Upon joining the European Union in 2004, the country agreed to introduce the common currency – though without a specific date.
In the meeting at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague in late summer 2019, the participants from the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany had some objective, but also very emotional and highly political discussions about the pros and cons of each decision.
Strong emotions and heated debates
The very title of the talk by economist Hana Lipovska of Masaryk University in Brno, “Die Tugenden der Krone und die Laster des Euro” (The virtues of the Koruna and the vices of the Euro), provoked strong emotions among the participants and subsequently sparked heated debate. But it was exactly this kind of controversy that some of the Czech and Polish participants welcomed and perceived as a sign of freedom of opinion. “In this anniversary year of the fall of the wall, we in the Czech Republic remember the end of the Communist dictatorship,” says Terezie Erhartová, who had helped organize the meeting as a DAAD alumna and vice chairperson of the association. “In a democratic, open society, discourse about controversial topics is indispensable – and the right to freedom of speech should be of the utmost importance for all Europeans.”
Important topic: introduction of the Euro
Speakers from the academic and business world had been invited to the meeting deliberately. “In their talks, they gave the alumni a wide range of insights into the issues of the Euro introduction, which is of great importance here in the Czech Republic,” says Erhartová. “This spurred the participants to question their own opinions and become aware of other aspects of the problem.”
The idea of having a topical meeting in Prague emerged during a large alumni event in 2018. That meeting had acted “as a catalyst” for the alumni association, President Stanislav Fligl recalls, and encouraged him to once again host an event after not doing so for a long time.
The question of more or less Europe
In his opening speech, Dr. Michal Pullmann, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, DAAD alumnus and a great supporter of the DAAD, placed the topic of the Euro introduction in the context of the great discourses since the formative 1970s. The collapse of the Bretton-Woods system with its fixed exchange rates and the oil crisis resulted for the Czech Republic in a large national debt, a decline in economic growth, inflation, growing social inequality and mass unemployment. “Issues that have troubled us ever since,” as Pullmann said.
Professor Jürgen Jerger of the University of Regensburg stated that ultimately, political rather than economic aspects are significant for the Euro introduction: The Czech Republic borders mostly on countries who have adopted the Euro as their currency. More than 65 percent of its foreign trade is with Euro-nations. Accordingly, the country has been economically ready for the Euro for a long time, and the introduction would integrate it more firmly in the European Union – but that is something Czech policy makers do not want at this time.
Benefits for industry
DAAD alumnus Professor Roman Grill, who has been committed to the DAAD alumni association Czech Republic as a board member since 2017, answered the question about the right time for a currency reform in a similar vein: “The introduction of the Euro would significantly impact people’s daily lives – and would be of benefit,” says Grill. Still, he feels it is unlikely to happen soon: “The citizens are rejecting the Euro introduction mainly because of the economic problems of southern Euro nations. Also, the exchange rate of Euro to Czech Koruna is very stable.”
Grill sees a large problem with a lack of information about the pros and cons of the Euro introduction. “The topic is often discussed without the necessary background information, and there are sources which provide only unreliable data.”
The Euro could have great benefits for industry, Markus Kalepky of Škoda Auto explained in his talk. Working with two currencies at the same time – the Euro and the Koruna – increases the complexity and costs of risk management, procurement, accounting and controlling for the automobile manufacturer. While for small companies this is a considerable burden, the Czech Republic's largest firm can live with the Koruna – even though the Euro would make many things much easier. Škoda stands to gain a lot from the introduction of the Euro, but could lose a lot if the Czech Republic left the EU, said Kalepky.
The head of the DAAD alumni section Dr. Heidi Wedel, who supported the programme in Prague, was pleased with the great voluntary commitment of the DAAD alumni, who had organised the discussion forum. The event shows, she stated, how enriching alumni meetings can be when knowledge and experience from the academic and practical world are brought together. “The DAAD can thus contribute to the differentiated discussion of important social issues,” says Wedel. The controversial exchange is a sign of tolerance and openness, and promotes cross-border dialogue in the spirit of the DAAD.
Thanks to the success of this year’s event, the DAAD alumni association Czech Republic plans to continue the exchange on socially relevant questions in 2020 with another event. “Apart from the professional level, the social component is also very important to us,” explains Terezie Erhartová.
During the two-day event, the DAAD alumni had lots of opportunities to engage with their peers and establish new contacts. “I am certain that some will stay in touch after the event.” With regard to exchange and cooperation, the DAAD plays a key role, explained Roman Grill: “The DAAD is an important institution that is unique in the world. Experience abroad helps to break through preconceptions that still exist in the Czech Republic today.”
Post your ideas!
Are there controversial issues that trouble you in your country as well? Do you want to promote the exchange between the academic and practical realm? Then an alumni event could be just the thing for you. Post your ideas in the comments section and find committed, like-minded peers!