Professor Christopher Coker Memorial 30.11.2023, London

  • Post category:Articles

by Nicolae Ratiu, Chairman

It was 5 years ago that a former scholar of the Ratiu Foundation, Vlad Zigarov, introduced us to Professor Christopher Coker as a potentially suitable Romanian partner for LSE IDEAS CSEEP (Central and South Eastern Europe Programme).

We quickly agreed an association named the Ratiu Forum at LSE IDEAS, with a mission to create a Hub in Romania where people could meet and develop connections, looking to create a regional cooperation in the support of liberal democracy, more specifically to uphold the rule of law, to protect freedom of the media and individual rights and to pursue the fight against corruption. All issues which to a greater or lesser extent were challenging every country in the region.

With liberal democracy clearly being under threat, shared experiences and measures taken to expose and counter these threats would, we hoped, be of great value to our region and would help in identifying ways to defend it. Speakers and representatives from the region came to our Democracy Centre in Turda and to Cluj, to participate, as well as from Romania itself, from neighbouring Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Hungary and Poland.

Prof. Christopher Coker

Concentrating on the Central and Eastern European region we attempted to at least counter locally the negative effects of those promoting autocracy and illiberal democracy. The dangerous reality we have to face is not only that those states, in particular Russia, are succeeding in destabilising our democracies from within, they even more insidiously are winning the wider information war, with Putin’s narrative, of he being the peacemaker, he the one seeking peace in Ukraine, or in Gaza, an upside-down narrative which is being swallowed by the majority of the world, while western democracies quietly sit on their hands and appear incapable of propagating any coordinated strong counter narrative. CC, whose speciality was War, owing to that lack of western determination was especially pessimistic about western governments ability to defeat that information offensive, to fight the so-called cyber war. Christopher and his insights have left us far too soon.

Together, however, over the years, both in person in Turda and Cluj, and via ZOOM during Covid with Christopher Coker’s guidance we put together an excellent series of panel debates with many, many incredible speakers, covering at least these regional challenges and going further with wider-ranging titles such as Human Rights at Risk, European Values, Populism and Nationalism or the Use and Misuse of History.

In addition to the Ratiu Foundation’s already existing annual Investigative Journalism prize an annual Journalism Masterclass was launched, run of course masterfully by John Lloyd of the FT, here today, with a journalism mentoring programme lasting two to three months every year. Alison Mutler being one of our very regular mentors also here today. With John Lotherington we inaugurated a Teaching of History programme – again a problem that all of our region’s post-communist countries were facing – and for which we are also devising an on-going mentoring formula.
Christopher and his great friend Slobodan Markovic from Serbia created two wonderfully depressing two-day discussions on Pessimism out of which we nevertheless came out smiling. And what was most important for us Christopher both devised and populated the panels of our Annual Democracy Dialogues from his extraordinary network of academic and political colleagues and friends topped amongst others with such keynote speakers as Margaret Macmillan, Michael Burleigh and Gordon Barras.

I do believe we succeeded far beyond what we all had initially imagined and even better had tremendous stimulation and fun in doing so, basically down to Christopher’s imagination, drive and sparkling wit.
Noone who was present, particularly now, will ever forget the very last session we had this June in Cluj at our Democracy Dialogues where with the title ‘Ukraine and the Return of History’ we were treated to more than an hour of a three-way intellectual and history-based verbal ping-pong with participating Professors Daniel Lieven, Michael Burleigh, both here today, and of course Christopher himself as ‘moderator’ although there was nothing moderate about Christopher’s lightning-quick strokes and counterstrokes. Needless to say, the other two put up a very good fight…
CC was essentially a very private man, not given to speaking about himself or his health, however in these last years of his life, which many of us believe he knew very well that that’s what they were, he did really enjoy himself with the Ratiu Forum, a major element of which was actually being in Romania. He said as much to his friend Slobodan Markovic how much the Ratiu Forum LSE IDEAS Association had meant to him. He found a kindred spirit in my sister-in -law Pamela, who is of course here today, our Director in Romania of the Ratiu Foundation. He even spoke of retiring to Turda one day. In our guest-house, Casa Ratiu, Chistopher had his own suite, the Professor’s suite, full of his books, and even occasionally his sometime dog named Vladd (with two Ds) a fluffy black cocker spaniel, the suite being literally a short stumble to, or more probably from, our Executive Suite which, especially under the patronage of Christopher, was notorious for very late nights, indeed early mornings,  of unmissable discussion, historical anecdotes, quotation after quotation, book references, a never ending information and intellectual stimulation aided and abetted by significant quantities of ice-cold grappa, malt whisky, frozen grapes and cigars.

CC will be very sorely missed by everyone in Turda, as well as further afield in Romania, and indeed around the world.
He enriched all our lives.

Thank you to him – and thank you!