Ralf Dahrendorf in memoriam

Ralf Dahrendorf

1 May 1929 – 17 June 2009

Lord Dahrendorf, one of the founders of CEEBP together with György Bence, Francois Furet, Timothy Garton Ash, Raymond Georis, Jerzy Jedlicki, Jane Kramer, Eda Kriseová, Per Wästberg, and Laurens van Krevelen, died on 17 June 2009 in Cologne. He served on CEEBP´s Advisory Board from its inception in 1992 until 2001 when he retired. We wish to commemorate him today by remembering his guiding ideas about liberty and civil society which went into the making of CEEBP.

From 1986 he was chairman of the predecessor of CEEBP, the Oxford-based Fund for Central and East European Publishing Projects (CEEPP), founded to help create “a common market of the mind” in Europe, a “marketplace in the old liberal sense, the place where ideas are exchanged, and where by their exchange they generate new ideas, the ‘public’ in the best sense of that word”, as he wrote in his introduction to the history of the Oxford project “Freedom for Publishing, Publishing for Freedom” (Timothy Garton Ash (ed.), Central European University Press, Budapest-London-New York, 1995). The objective was to foster civil society, an “independent, truly autonomous sphere”, as an essential condition of liberty, free thought, and the public exchange of ideas.

The Oxford project supported translations across the Iron Curtain, dissident authors and underground publishers in the communist countries of Central Europe and their exiled colleagues, and assisted them to adjust their work to the new conditions that emerged after the demise of communism, which they helped to bring down.

As Dahrendorf wrote in 1995 in “Freedom for Publishing, Publishing for Freedom”, “Newspapers and journals and books are perhaps the most visible index of whether there is an autonomous sphere of associations or whether government determines all. Today we know that such autonomy is at risk not only from governments but also from private monopolists. (…) Civil society cannot survive in a world of cartels and monopolies. A new battle may well have to be fought in this regard. It is, however, important precisely because publishing is at the heart of civil society.”

By Vera Ebels

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