I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to wish you a warm welcome on behalf of East West Bridge of which I am a very proud president and the Serbian Group of the Trilateral Commission which I am honored to chair.
Special gratitude goes to our member and head of EWB youth and student issues task force, Maria Jelic and her team for putting all this together, so let’s give her a round of applause please.
But the biggest thanks goes to you dear young leaders and guests for taking the time and making the effort to come to our city. I am so glad to see you all and wish you a profoundly hearty welcome to Belgrade.
And now I have to sincerely apologize on behalf of my generation to your generation – you might inherit from us a pretty messed up world.
You will agree with me that despite all our dreams and aspirations and indeed devotion of millions of exemplary people to improve standard of living, health care, education, human and all other rights, our planet seems to be a lot more dangerous and twisted place than decades ago.
Modern globalization and internet have given us a huge boost – knowledge from across the globe is at our fingertips, countries thousands of miles apart are today figuratively and in many aspects close neighbors. The butterfly effect has never been more evident than today. So with all this huge knowledge at our disposal why then aren’t we smarter, kinder to each other, why there is still bias, bigotry and cruelty in the world? Instead of being wiser I sometimes think all this readily available information has made us only dumber.
There are 18% more hostilities today than in the same period last year which again recorded an 80% increase in terrorist acts than the previous year. This year is certainly going to be a lot worse. Economies are shaky and even the EU system, the most advanced social order in the recorded history of mankind, an economically sound system shared by half a billion people is being challenged, not to use a more serious word, by less than one million unarmed refugees.
The old world order is being torn down while despite all the wisdom of the world, no one can truly say what and how will the new one look like. We have no genuine safeguards in place, and we are still looking at our foes, real or perceived, through outdated and distortive optics.
The reason why is perhaps in the fact that now riding with the Four Riders of the Apocalypse is their Mother, galloping for all she is worth – you know who are the riders? Conquest, Famine, Wars and Death. Do you know who their mother is? She is Greed! Never curtailed over the past millennia, she is now free to ride across our world as the downside of globalization.
So this is your lot, my dear friends, which you won’t have to but in all likelihood will be asked to take care of one way or another. It’s a huge task you face. I can only promise that we, the outgoing generation shall try to make it easier for you.
But not to end this welcome speech on a dour and sour note, let me revert to the issue of globalization and put it into the context of Kennedy’s words – that all it takes for evil to triumph is for the good guys to do nothing. The upside – thanks to said globalization you, the good guys, are legion and you are spread all over the world and can easily link up into a formidable array of goodness to put a stop to any madness. There are no limits to sources of inspiration for great things and with instant information you can draw that positive energy from myriad little examples from people living in every town or village across our planet. Study history but not by heart but instead learn lessons from it, something that not many of my generation have done.
And that’s why you are called young leaders – you are good at what you do and will get better over time. And you will be called to step up and do remarkable things for your family, city, country and indeed for all of us. And when things get tough remember this event, where you youngsters from all over this region sat together and generally had a good time in the company of one another. You will remember that friendship and togetherness work and that people are judged not by race, color, creed or religion but simply whether they are good or bad. This concept is also one of the basic mottos of EWB.
And if you falter, and you occasionally will, remember Winston Churchill’s words – Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. Perseverance and commitment are the cornerstone of great deeds just as dialogue and negotiations are quintessential to stability, peace and prosperity - always a much better alternative to wars, unless you are an arms merchant.
To finish this up, allow me to quote from the great poem IF by my late Brother Rudyard Kipling:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
I wish you fruitful discussions over the next few days and simply a great time which will leave fond memories to cherish. And one more remark – no matter what and how bad it might seem, and I certainly painted the picture a bit bleak, the good guys always win at the end. Be those good guys. Thank you