CPG Spring School 2015 Scholarship Awarding Ceremony Speech
Speech by Dr. Warawit Kanithasen, CPG Senior Research Fellow
Dear Ajarn Henning Glaser, Director of the CPG,
Dear Professors and Members of the Academic Circle, Ladies and Gentlemen,
let me first congratulate you for having successfully passed the examination. From now on you are officially on the list to participate at the Spring School intensive course in Germany. Although your stay in Germany will be of a short duration, nevertheless it will surely leave a lasting impression on all of you.
It is my wish that all of you will take the fullest advantage of this study tour. Once you land on German soil, you should not only be physically connected to this great Teutonic nation, but also mentally. Try to recall what you have read and learned about the achievements of the German people, whether it was in the science and history classes of your school, in the libraries and in the lecture halls of your respective universities.
Most of us are familiar with German products, such as Mercedes Benz, Zeiss or Leica. But did you know that when you go for a general check up at the hospital, that the x-ray was discovered by the German Konrad Röntgen? In fact the German word for x-ray is ‘Röntgenstrahlen’, named after the famous German discoverer. When you turn on the radio in your car, do you know that the word connected with ‘Megahertz’ comes from the German name Hertz? If your car or the bus that brought you to Thammasat is a Diesel, then you know what I am talking about. Honestly, do you know that if the vehicle does not have a Diesel motor, it is called an Otto engine? Otto, the inventer, was a German. Today there are more cars with Otto engines than Diesel, although modern versions of Diesel engines are catching up since they are much quieter than before and have a longer life.
Science, in particular natural science is tangible, a subject you can visualize. There is another side of science, called ‘Geisteswissenschaft’ in German. German thoughts and philosophy has influenced the world. Did you know that American universities have been structured according to Humboldt, a German? Names like Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Marx, Weber, Heidegger, Arendt, Ardorno, and Habermas, just to mention a few, may not be very familiar to you at the present, but I am already certain that one day you will have the opportunity to get more acquainted with German thoughts and philosophy. Hence it would not surprise anybody that Germany is also known as ‘Das Land der Dichter und Denker’ – ‘The land of poets and philosophers’.
Rome was not built in a day. And so it is with Germany. It took the Germans many centuries to build a nation, based on a solid foundation of democracy and the rule of law. That was not always so. There were periods of war and peace, of trial and error with happiness, but also with lots of suffering and despair. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am one of the few living Thais that have witnessed the rebirth of modern Germany. Although most of the ruins of the Second World War have been removed when I first arrived in Germany, but traces of a completely destroyed country were still to be found everywhere. The suffering was immense and I must honestly say that it is difficult for people from other parts of the world, not only for Thais, to imagine what the German people have gone through. ‘Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt.’ – ‘Hope is the last thing to die.’ As long as there is hope, there is life. Then step by step the Germans started to rebuild the country again. I remember having visited a German professor at his home. He told the visitors, including me, that he literally built his house with his own hands. Each single brick of his house was laid and cemented by himself. As he was neither an architect, nor a construction worker, he was particularly proud of his achievement. In this respect, he was only someone doing his duty. ‘Die Pflicht ruft’, the German would say, recalling that he has a duty to fulfill.
When the Germans were building their country out of the ashes and the ruins, they all had one thing in mind: to never again violate the dignity of human beings and to respect the rights of others. In order to achieve a common goal for the pursuit of happiness, the Germans had to learn to accept the underlining principles of law and democracy. It is only if you respect other people’s rights as an honest citizen that you will be able to live in a peaceful world.
Allow me to paraphrase Kennedy’s and Churchill’s famous speeches into one single sentence: Freedom is not easy and democracy is not perfect, but there is no other better form of government than democracy.
As soon as you set foot on German soil, you will be seeing democracy in real life. You will be seeing cars stopping in front of traffic sign that had turned red, people queuing in front of the bakery waiting for their turn to buy, while at the same time respecting the rights of others who came before them. Just by watching the streets in Germany alone will tell us how democracy works in daily life. Your observations will certainly be useful to you and supplement your courses in Münster.
Changing the laws by improving them may help us to live in a better world, but at the end of the day, it is not only the laws as such, but our attitude towards law and justice that counts. A purely legal mind is not enough, it has to also be democratic. The German people have a long history behind them and when they took over Roman law or parts of it, they already began making commentaries. Throughout the many centuries that have passed ever since, the Germans were always striving for knowledge. During certain periods, much of this knowledge was heavily influenced by the teaching on Christianity, later more on the philosophy of enlightenment and science. People who could not read and write often attended sessions organized by those who were already literate. Unlike England, where university education was centered in Oxford and Cambridge at that time, the German universities were truly provincial, scattered here and there and thereby enabling people living nearby to educate themselves with higher education. Some of these universities were really small with only a few hundred students at the very beginning, but the standard remained more or less the same.
When I visited Germany a few years ago, I was in a small town near Frankfurt am Main, called Bad Soden. It just happened to be that the average citizen of Bad Soden spent 158 Euros for books per year, which is the equivalent of around 6000 baht. The German town with the lowest average spending was at 78 Euro or around 3000 baht per annum. Each day well over 200 new books are being published in Germany and once you land at Frankfurt airport, please think about the annual book exhibition in Frankfurt which has been around since over 500 years. In this connection, I would like to mention that there only a few people who have encouraged me to read good classical books and articles, not only on topics with regard to legal science, but also to history and philosophy as well. One of them is no other than Henning Glaser, Director of CPG.
While praising Germany and the Germans, I would like to mention an event that took place a few weeks ago. This is to give you a more objective picture of the world. I was invited by the French Ambassador to an awards ceremony attended by a number of guests. Many of them were French-speaking, but all of them were Francophiles and certainly pro-democracy thinking Thais. The citation was about 10 pages, the longest I have ever heard in my entire diplomatic carrier. When I make my annual presentation in Germany, I will also touch upon certain historical events in England that had an impact on the philosophical thoughts of Pridi Banomyong, the Father of Thai Democracy and Founder of Thammasat University. I still have to finish reading a few books or rather a few chapters written by prominent and lesser known British historians on this topic.
My message to you for today is that you should try to have an objective picture of the world and see things in the right proportion and perspective. Beginning with Germany under the guidance of the CPG Spring School is a good starting point. There is a quotation in facebook that says: “Education is not about learning of the many facts, but the training of the mind to think.” The exact quotation from Albert Einstein, whom we consider to be a citizen of the world, is as follows: “It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” This is what is generally known as critical thinking. Critical thinking is an important element of the Spring School course. It is the first and crucial step in understanding and experiencing good governance, the rule of law and democracy in the German context and beyond.
On behalf of the CPG as well as on my own behalf, let me once again extend my congratulations to you all. May you have a successful trip and come back not only with fond and pleasant memories, but also with even more critical thoughts than before as well.