This year conference’s focus was on the upcoming European Council on security and defence and the Vilnius Summit of the EU’s Eastern Partnership. I was especially interested in conversations on the future of the European project, democracy and tackling voters’ apathy and political populism, with a focus on Slovakia and Central Europe. The discussion opened up some dilemmas in how to address the populist challenge.

1. Should mainstream politicians and administrators isolate or engage the populists, even if they are on the extreme-right?  The argument in favour or engaging is that these politicians have an unquestionable democratic mandate. Isolating populists and extremists only helps their arguments that the European political elite is detached from the people. The argument against engaging is that the populist has demonstrated by his actions that he is not ready for a dialogue.

2. Should we continue using ‘politically correct’ language? One argument is that political correctness is damaging for mainstream political parties: These parties are afraid to address certain societal issues, such as the integration of immigrants or the Roma minority, for fear of offending. Populist parties misuse this by breaking public taboos and offering simplistic solutions. We should therefore abandon the politically correct language. The counter-argument is that we should not abandon political correctness. Doing so would result in generalising about groups of people, such as Jews, immigrants, the rich people or poor people. Europe has had a bad historical experience with such generalisations and using the wrong language brings back the demons of fascism and communism.

Although these difficult issues are too big to be answered by one conference, the 2013 Château Béla provided an excellent forum for debate.