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Welcome Notes
Dolibois European Center, Miami University in Luxembourg

mardi 31 mai 2011, par Thierry Leterre

My first Welcome to my first group of students at Miami University in Luxembourg.

My name is Thierry Leterre, I am the Dean of the John E. Dolibois European Center, and it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome you to Luxembourg and to Differdange, along with Assistant Dean Raymond Manes and the whole staff of the Dolibois European Center.

I will introduce the staff a little later on just before Raymond Manes addresses you in his turn. But I would like first to tell you the one important thing you have to know : by electing the John E. Dolibois European Center as your destination for your study abroad program, you have not made the right choice… You have made the only possible choice for smart people ! I warmly congratulate you on such a smart choice !

As you see, we are in a quite impressive place. When I was your age and a student I would probably have said “c’est franchement pas mal”—the equivalent in French of something like “it’s pretty damn cool here”. That’s actually how I remember my first impression of the old Commons of Trinity College Dublin, where I spent my own year abroad as a student.

But since I am an old professor and a Dean, I feel compelled to use a more appropriate vocabulary and I will instead express with more carefully chosen words how honored I feel to welcome you to the most prestigious premises of the Differdange Castle, a place pregnant with history, dating back from the 14th century. Over the next months you will discover more of it, the beauty of the library room upstairs, the mysterious atmosphere of the cave, the old wood panels and the multitude of little details that give this place a distinctive cachet.

Though the Miami Program in Luxembourg has not always been located in the Differdange Castle, where it moved only in 1997, we feel that this special place does illustrate what studying abroad is precisely about : grasping the spirit of different cultures and ways of life. Here, indeed, we are in contact with a distinctive trait of Europe : how history shapes the relation of Europeans with their surroundings both physically and intellectually.

I am far from pretending that, as many non-Americans believe, the United States is a young country with no history. On the contrary, I have always insisted, as a historian of ideas, on the fact that the US has the oldest history and the most ancient experience as regards to modern democracy. But here, in this Château, it is difficult not to seize the specificity of the European history : its grandeur as well as its significance, its complexity as well as its closeness.

The Chateau, as we know it, is in itself a testimony to this intimate relation between Europe and history. You will probably take note at some point of the plate in the courtyard commemorating the halt of Charles the Bold in this very place : Charles, Duke of Burgundy and Luxembourg, was the major contender of the King of France in the 15th century. His final defeat —a year and half after he met with the ambassadors of the French king a few yards away from where we are now—attached the West of the Rhine River to France. As you know, contention over this very same region, centuries afterwards, between Germany and France, started the bloody cycle of the World wars. In a way, in this very place, part of the tragedy of the world history was in the making.

But this place, this Château, commemorates a history far closer to us and of a different sort : the wing in which we are now is by far not as ancient as the rest of the edifice. It was built in the 20th century, to accommodate the reception needs of the local steel industry, when the medieval castle was turned into a “Casino”. In the local language, a Casino is not a gambling place, but the luxury façade of the local business of steel. By reminding us that Luxembourg is a place that thrived on industrialization in the 19th century, it reminds us of the emergence among the tears and toil of wars and politics of the power of economy. Its cost has often been hardly less harsh than the toll of the past wars.

I leave it to you to find, where on the walls of the Château, you can find the portraits of many great minds who analyzed this evolution and the logics of this economic system known as capitalism. You may notice, when you find it, that the portraits of Marx, the most systematic critique of capitalism or Keynes are displayed side by side with those of Bastiat or Say who praised it. Our old château, not only reminds us of history, it may also teach us a discreet lesson about academic fairness and objectivity.

This all but to say, that, maybe, we should not separate history and academia—not only because there is a course of history taught here, but also because being an academic program is our way of humbly but resolutely taking our own place in this long history I have just sketched. Now, that the glory of princes has long faded away and that Luxembourg has moved from an industrial capitalism unfortunately soaring with repetitive crises, to a finance-based market economy, our age is seeing the rise of another sort of power. It is no more the sword of the princes or the brutal wealth of capitalism in its early stages that makes the difference, but a power that some call a “soft” one, the power of education and qualification. That is the little part of history we are to play, hopefully in a more peaceful way.

Saying so, I feel deeply faithful to what is for me the inspiration of the John Dolibois European Center. It is named after John Ernest Dolibois, a native of Luxembourg, and a Miami University alumnus ,who became the US ambassador to Luxembourg. John Dolibois had seen the tragedy of the Second World War at close range : he was on the team of interrogators who conducted the interviews of the most repugnant Nazi criminals of war. I think that both as an American and as a European he knew that education was the key factor to a more prosperous and peaceful world. When Miami University sought to establish a European program, he recommended his native country as a place of choice. Luxembourg, a country at the heart of modern Europe, recommended itself by its exceptional location, and by what was not yet called its “multicultural” identity.

The Center was established in 1968. I would like to borrow the words of my predecessor, Dean Ekkie Stiller to picture the significance of establishing a center of higher education precisely at that time :

In 1968 Miami University decided to establish a European campus in Luxembourg, a truly visionary and wise decision at a time when many European and American universities were in turmoil and the brutal Soviet repression of the development of socialist democracy in Czechoslovakia challenged East-West relations.

Since then, more than 10,000 students have come over the years to attend the John Dolibois European Center, which is one of the largest American academic operations in the EU.