The Runciman Lecture continues to thrive

The Runciman Lecture, a prominent cultural event held in honor of the memory of the distinguished Byzantine scholar, the late Sir Steven Runciman, who won the Onassis International Award for his contribution to civilization, took place as usual on the first Thursday in February at King’s College, Cambridge. Renowned painter and Philhellene Nicholas Egon, president of the Patrons of the Greek Studies Center at King’s, instituted the Runciman Lecture 12 years ago, in honor of his friend, who had attended many of the lectures. After the death of Runciman, Egon arranged for the lectures to continue every year on the same day. The speaker last Thursday was Angeliki Laiou, professor of Byzantine history at Harvard, a parliamentary deputy and former deputy foreign minister. Her topic was timely: «Brothers in Arms: Byzantium and the West during the Crusades.» The lecture was preceded by Orthodox Vespers, sung by the King’s College Choir in the college chapel, and followed by a reception. A dinner had been held the night before at the Athenaeum Club in London where academics and politicians met and talked. The event was sponsored by Matti and Nicholas Egon who quietly work to promote Greece and to enhance cooperation between Greece and England, where they live most of the year. They spend the summer in Greece at their estate Aetos, in Katakali, near Corinth. Egon paints antiquities and the Greek landscape that he loves. Of course, for the Europeans, the disagreement is nothing but a return to the good old pre-September 11 days. That was when we could all express healthy outrage at President Bush’s decision to walk away from the Kyoto Agreement on limiting greenhouse gases, when America continued to oppose the establishment of a permanent court for war crimes, when it cared nothing about ratifying a ban on land mines, when it executed its own and others’ citizens. America, having shown that it can win wars on its own, is accused once again of doing what it wants, justifying itself to no one and demanding what it wants of its friends and enemies. Bush has done little to alleviate this. In his talk of capturing Osama bin Laden «dead or alive,» he conjures up a cowboy culture that might alienate other nations. His declarations that whoever is not with America is «with the terrorists,» and the «axis of evil» that he has devised to lump together the disparate states of Iran, Iraq and North Korea might be great for steeling Americans’ resolve, but they also raise fears elsewhere that Washington may rush in where angels fear to tread, upsetting delicate balances and causing a backlash that may lead to further trouble. French officials, for example, have been growing increasingly critical of what their foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, on Wednesday called America’s «simplistic approach that reduces all the problems in the world to the struggle against terrorism.» This came a week after Bush presented his budget, in which he cut some social programs and introduced a deficit in order to provide more funds for security at home and abroad. The greatest criticism will, no doubt, come from Americans themselves if they judge that Bush’s budget and policies have damaged the economy more than they have benefited the country’s security. That is their call. What affects the rest of us, though, is what effect America’s actions have on the world.

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