Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies

The Elysee Treaty Debate

Debating Peace

On Sunday, April 14, 2013, IERES hosted The Elysee Treaty Debate. For the first time, our institute worked with the national college debate community to celebrate the 50th anniversary of an exemplary treaty that helped secure peace in Europe. Or did it? The challenge for the sixteen debate teams was to question this assumption or to defend it, depending on whether it was assigned the role of the "affirmative" or "negative." The result was a day of vibrant discussion during which the substance and meaning of this highly symbolic yet influential document became more obvious to everybody who listened.

The debate tournament was initiated and funded by the embassies of France and Germany who last year approached George Washington University--that is, IERES--and American University with the idea. I have to admit that at first, I was skeptical, especially in regards to the complicated logistics of such a tournament. But after contacting Paul Hayes, GW's Director of Debate, it became clear that not only does GW have a whole group of strong debaters but also enormous experience in how such tournament must be organized. Due to Paul's expertise and enthusiasm, a long phase of thorough preparation, and many helping hands, including IERES's skilled staff, the event turned out to be a huge success.

As a judge for three debates, I was fascinated to see so many students with enviable eloquence, representing universities from the entire United States, from Ivy League to small liberal arts colleges. The final debate between the teams from the Pittsburgh and Loyola was as exciting to watch as a good basketball game. The power of argumentation was based on the teams' preparedness and historical knowledge, but also on their rhetorical flexibility and wit. An additional factor was self-discipline: the more the teams were able to keep their self-control even in the most heated moments, the more persuasive did their performance come across to the audience. Regardless of who ultimately won or lost, observing these students' passion for history and political logic and to see how quality debates could reveal hitherto unknown viewpoints was absolutely fascinating.

Working with the French and German cultural attaches, Emilienne Baneth-Nouailhetas and Betram von Moltke, as well as Paul Hayes and his team was an inspiring professional experience. Many thanks to IERES's Caitlin Katsiaficas and Eric Hansson who worked hard to make our institute a reliable host.

Peter Rollberg



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