A RECENT Budapest Business Journal conference on Management Challenges in a New Europe covered a wide range of topics. But a common issue emerged in several of them: the knotty problem known as central Europe.
The talks were generally positive, but those few remarks, taken together, conjure up the all-too-familiar figure of the central European: determinedly gloomy; obsessed with short-term costs; unwilling to invest time or money in the future.
Yet at the same event, Euronet's Vilmos Benkő delivered a rousing message for anyone fitting this description. Hungarians may be pessimistic, but "luckily, it's not genetic."
As a Hungarian who grew up in the US, Benkő is living proof of this, and if you want more, look no further than two regular BBJ columnists.
Ron Nawrocki (Investor Insights) and Jeffrey Gitomer (Salesman's Corner) have roots in the region - yet both are epitomes of positive thinking, planning, and personal responsibility.
Moreover, some of the West's leading anti-socialist politicians are from this region, so brutally scarred by various socialisms. For instance, the German opposition leader Angela Merkel, an East German, or the Romanian who is leading Britain's Conservatives out of the wilderness: Michael Howard. And in California, Austrian self-made man Arnold Schwarzenegger is teaching America's reddest citizens what made their country great.
It's interesting how moving west has helped these central Europeans draw the correct lesson from their native region's past: One must move forward from it, not repeat it. But it is time that those right here in Hungary started to do the same thing.
Can Hungary, or an enlarged EU, become the kind of arena where central Europeans can develop these positive qualities? As our publisher notes, there are reasons for doubt. The EU is not a model of transparency, and some of its citizens are, themselves, tragically fixated on age-old traumas - as last week's attacks in Madrid show.
But let's choose to be optimistic about the challenges of "New Europe". Old and new EU states can learn much from each other - the West's older tradition of liberal democracy; the East's fresher memories of its evil alternatives.