Kati Marton's Speech at the 2018 Dayton Literary Peace Prize



this evening ladies and gentlemen could only take place in America and like David I am I am completely overwhelmed and and intimidated by the quality of the speakers and by the depth of the humanity and men you have made me feel Korean and holla you have made me feel Palestinian and you have all made me feel very proud to be an American and and min I also thank you for giving me permission to be emotional because Dayton is a place that's that's so full of emotion for me but before I go on to speak about Richard Holbrooke and and what he did here in Dayton and I was privileged to be by his side we were we were relatively newlyweds and so he wanted me right there inside wright-patterson with him as he brought these Balkan warlords and war criminals to heel before I launch into that I want to just acknowledge the remarkable thing that Sharon you have done here in creating such a community and I and there are so many other people that I've become friends with thanks to you and thank you for for calling me back every year it's become one of the one of my favorite rituals in in my life and and and I cannot think of a more meaningful way to to honor my husband's legacy than Venton named a literary Peace Prize after him and of course – this year – to be able to present it to the singular talent that is John Irving is a particular thrill and it would make Richard very very proud I have as I was listening and deeply moved by all of all of the speakers I have made an absolute mess of my remarks because I kept borrowing John's pen and crossing out stuff and writing stuff so if I can make out what this is it'll be a miracle but let me try it'll be a shorter miracle than the one I originally intended to say because because I want to I want to hear John not not me he John John of course has expanded our vision and and stretched it to embrace the quirkiest most ferociously human and independent souls and made us love them as he does richard holbrooke ii was a humanist his brand of diplomacy was one human at a time and his ultimate target in bringing these these warlords to the peace table was was the human psyche he studied them his his diplomacy was was not an institutional abstract concept it was paying very close attention to the man across the table and observing him and even he was he's his many dramatic eruptions have been theatrically portrayed and I can tell you that those those so-called eruptions were carefully rehearsed because he rehearsed them with me and and when he would hit a wall with with Milosevic or Tudjman or or as beg ovitch he very often asked me to take them for a walk in that lovely parking lot outside outside wright-patterson where I circled and circled and circled and Richard's Richards instruction to me was make them focus about their future and the future of their children and their grandchildren and let me tell you something those guys were not interested in their grandchildren's future they were interested in one thing power and holding on to power it was such an eye-opening experience for me to discover that that people who make war should not be the people in charge of the piece I think I think I think Richard and John who unfortunately didn't know each other but I think they would have really liked each other John and I have known each other for a couple of decades and I I think that they both I hope I'm right in this John I think they both feel that that our country is is built on a particular vision and not merely on power that their their America inspires and draws the dispossessed to our shores for a second chance I hope it still does I hope it still does I as I'm as I mentioned Dayton is deep in my heart and and I partly because because I shared those the most dramatic weeks of my life here in that fall of 1995 but but also because because I observed Dayton the town play its role for history because the town was very much and Richard encouraged that was very much involved in in the entire process of making peace and the reason Richard chose Dayton was because it was in the heartland because it was middle America he didn't want it to be in the you know one of those glittering diplomatic settings that are usually chosen Geneva or Vienna or Paris he wanted this to be an American piece with Americans surrounding that base he wanted those guys behind the barbed wire but he wanted the town to be involved and the town was and through this through this amazing literary Peace Prize which has now turned into an amazing network and a project it has continued to play that role and this afternoon as I always do when I return to Dayton my good friend Matt Joseph and this year I was accompanied by my my beloved friend Kathy Lacey we we went to all the pilgrimage points now there's a whole Brook Plaza which makes me incredibly proud and a Holbrooke Bridge and then of course we we went to we went to wright-patterson and and and there I relive as I do each year that that dramatic first night of the of the peace talks when when my husband seated me between between Slobodan Milosevic and and alia is beg ovitch to to mortal foes who who just the week before had been literally gouging each other's eyes out or trying to and Richard said okay Katya your job is to make them talk to each other aye-aye sir said ah and and really for most of that that dinner they were all looking pretending they to ignore each other and looking in the often the space in different directions and at the point of despair at at not being able to fulfill my first diplomatic mission I said to just into the air – neither one I said how did this war start anyway you know like like some idiot child and at that point they they each jumped in and started telling their version and and after a while they forgot that I was sitting there and and Milosevic said to aspec a bitch alia do you remember the first time we met it was in Tito's office you were sitting on a green couch and and and his bag of it said yes it was Moslem green and they were off and and I and I at the head table at my husband and and I went and he went and so like you like Dayton I too played my small part for history and and that was as I said the most most rewarding chapter of my life a few weeks after exhausting round-the-clock negotiations because this was only the opening night they signed the Dayton Accords and the piece has held how many years has it been 23 years not a not a shot fired in anger in Bosnia thank you Dave but at but at what price 100,000 people were killed on the road to Dayton and thousands of others have become refugees but here in date here in Dayton Richard said and I quote that the world's richest nation one that presumes to great moral authority cannot make worthy appeals to conscience and merely call on others to carry that burden I wonder now do we even call on others to carry a moral burden I I just want you to think about that and I want to say a few strong words if you'll allow me about the present moment because Richard is no longer able to do so but I can assure you that he would be on fire at the way the United States is abandoning values values this is this is not a political speech I promise you but those values are the ones that brought me and my family of refugees here I came here not speaking a word of English so I feel like I'm in very good company here because we all seem to be from someplace else and this is this is what makes America still different from any other countries I was a small child in the late 50s and for the two years prior to that I had been separated from my parents prior to our escape my journalist mother and father were called enemies of the people by Hungarian authorities tender age children brutally separated from their parents reporters who were called enemies of the people does that have a vaguely familiar ring but but that was the Cold War and my homeland was Soviet occupied Hungary but in retaliation to my parents jailing the Eisenhower administration cut trade and cultural ties with hungry for the simple reason that reporters are not enemies of the state but as essential for a democracy to thrive as oxygen so when our president declares that the gruesome assassination of a journalist is no reason for us to stop selling weapons to Jamal cache oh jeez alleged assassins and we know that those alleged assassins are using those weapons in the mn2 the most barbaric effect we saw the pictures on the front page of the New York Times today those are the weapons that we sell them well I think it's time I think it's time I think it's time for the least politically engaged to speak up and and and we're not discussing politics here we're discussing values America in 1995 stood for its original values here in Dayton it was not our weapons of mass destruction that silenced the guns and stopped the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia of course there was the implicit threat of force which by the way in a typical Richard maneuver was well represented on that first night that I told you about because we were seated under giant bombers in the hangar at wright-patterson and that was Richard's Way of telling the the Balkan Chiefs that if diplomacy doesn't work we have other tools to hand but it was but it was round-the-clock painstaking time-consuming diplomacy that resulted in the Dayton Accords and that kind of diplomacy is as human and enterprise as the great writing which we celebrate tonight Dayton's shared in a moment when America walked the walk of the values which different which differentiate us from any other power on earth we can no longer take those values for granted Richards who whose Richard whose diplomatic career began in Afghanistan in Vietnam and ended in Afghanistan knew something about the extremely short distance between hot words and pipe bombs he had experienced that in war zones let's pay attention to the power of the words we speak words have power and we're seeing them in recent days I have to say as as the grandchild of grandparents who I never knew because they perished in Auschwitz I never expected to see the terrible thing that unfolded in Pittsburgh yesterday in America the most meaningful way to honor Richard's memory is for us all of us to be on fire now upholding those endangered values thank you so much for everything you do to do that and and thank you and finally and finally my my my revered friend John Irving congratulations on winning the whole group prize

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