In Memoriam Livia Plaks (1947-2013)

 

A incetat din viata Livia Plaks, cea care, impreuna cu Alan Kasoff, a fondat Project on Ethnic Relations, o organizatie neguvernamentala dedicata dialogului, tolerantei si democratiei. Nascuta intr-o familie de supravietuitori ai Holocaustului, Livia avea o sensibilitate cu totul speciala in raport cu tot ce tinea de drepturile minoritatilor. Ne-am cunoscut la Princeton, era cred in 1984. Pe vremea aceea, Livia lucra inca la IREX. Ne-am revazut apoi, an de an, cu prilejul unor conferinte ori atunci cand ajungeam la Princeton. Dupa 1990, ne-am intalnit des, am corespondat si am avut prilejul sa colaboram pe teme de interes comun. Mi-a scris chiar acum cateva saptamani propunand o intalnire in trei cu un bun prieten al ei, fostul ambasador al Macedoniei la Washington. N-a mai fost sa fie. Originara din Romania (s-a nascut si a crescut la Baia Mare), a fost o mare prietena a Romaniei. Livia a plecat brusc, in urma unui atac de cord,  in lumea dreptilor, lume din care venise. Public aici necrologul scris de familie, precum si omagiul profesorului Stefano Bianchini.
 
 
 
 
Obituary notice from her family
 
With great sadness in our hearts, the family of Livia Plaks would like to announce her death on February 2, 2013, of a sudden heart attack at her home in Princeton.Mrs. Plaks, known professionally as Livia, but to family and friends as Lilly, was born in Baia Mare, Romania in the shadow of the Holocaust in April, 1947. Her parents, Coloman (Kalman) and Cecilia (Tsili) Basch, both suffered tremendous losses due to Nazi persecution. Kalman lost his first family – his wife Lily Freund, and their children Estuka and Öcsi; while Tsili lost her parents and several siblings in the hell of deportation and concentration camps. Tsili survived Auschwitz, and Kalman survived by escaping from a forced labor camp. After returning to Romania and learning that his entire family – wife and children – had been killed, Kalman was in deep despair, but was eventually persuaded to try a second start at life by marrying Tsili, the sister of his first wife, Lily, in 1946. Kalman and Tsili had two children, Lily (b.1947) and Vera (b. 1949).Despite the traumas of war and persecution, Kalman, Tsili, Lilly, and Vera Basch lived a normal family life in Baia Mare, where they spoke Hungarian and Yiddish at home, but Romanian in school and other public places. But with the intensification of anti-Semitism in Romania , the family began the process of attempting to leave, finally succeeding in 1964 with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). After spending six-months in a refugee transit center in Rome, the Basch family arrived in the United States, settling in Highland Park, New Jersey. Lilly attended her senior year of high school in a strange country while learning a new language.

The following year, she enrolled in Douglas College (Rutgers University). During her freshman year, 1965, she met Andrew Plaks, a Princeton undergraduate, who would become her husband in 1968. The Plakses spent most of the subsequent 45 years of their marriage in Princeton, where Andrew continued his studies as a graduate student and later joined the faculty, serving as professor for many years. Mrs. Plaks earned a Masters Degree in Russian Literature from New York University, but began her own professional career only some years after the birth of her two sons, Jason (b. 1971) and Eric (b. 1974). It was not until 1984 that she began working full-time, first in interpretation and translation services, then in the field of academic exchanges with Communist countries through the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) as Assistant to the Executive Director. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, a rare opportunity presented itself to make a difference in conflict resolution between ethnic groups in the new and chaotic world of former Soviet bloc countries, and Mrs. Plaks joined founder Allen Kassof in creating the Princeton-based Project on Ethnic Relations (PER), serving as Executive Director. When Dr. Kassof stepped down as President in 2005, Mrs. Plaks succeeded him and led PER until the organization closed its doors in 2012. During her years with PER, she was a key player in mediating ethnic disputes in her native Romania, as well as in several other countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. She was awarded the Order of Merit by the President of Romania in recognition of her work.

Her passing is felt with the profoundest sorrow by communities in Princeton, Eastern Europe, Israel and beyond, but most deeply by her husband, Andrew, Professor Emeritus of Chinese Literature at Princeton University and currently a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, her sister Vera Moreen, a scholar in Persian Studies based in the Philadelphia area, her son, Jason, a professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Toronto and her son Eric, a music teacher in the New York City public schools. She also leaves three grandchildren.

Although Mrs. Plaks’ sudden passing leaves a void in a place where there was so much hope and excitement for the years to come, her life story – rising literally from the ashes of the Holocaust, through the trials of the American immigrant experience, and culminating in professional and personal fulfillment and a career of service – has served as an inspiration for everyone who knew her. Known for her radiant smile and contagious charm, Mrs. Plaks will be deeply and sorely missed.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Alliance for Peacebuilding at https://afpb.site-ym.com/donations/fund.asp?id=6854, or by check to AfP Plaks Fund, 1320 19th Street, NW, Suite 410 , Washington, DC 20036.

Professor Stefano Bianchini personal tribute to Livia Plaks

In addition to the above obituary notice prepared by the family, I would like to pay a personal tribute to Livia Plaks, an extraordinary and charming personality – and a great friend – who made tremendous work in support of ethnic mediation in South East Europe.

I met Livia for the first time at the beginning of the 90s, when she attended – together with Allen Kassof, at the time the President of PER – a conference of our newly established network “Europe and the Balkans” in Forlì (Italy). The war that was dismembering Yugoslavia was just beginning and the network was originally created with the aim of preserving the direct communication of intellectuals, experts, scholars, activists of civil society organizations and pacifists from the different areas of the collapsing Yugoslavia. This commitment was adamantly consistent with the strategy and the activities of the Project on Ethnic Relations, which was founded “to encourage peaceful resolution of ethnic conflicts in the new European democracies” (as stated in PER publications). As a result, a mutual interaction was rapidly and, I would say inevitably, established.

From then on, our cooperation intensified and I had many chances to appreciate Livia’s terrific ability in promoting dialogue in deeply divided societies. In fact she spent all these years of her life to organize round tables, informal meetings, opportunities for negotiations between opposite political parties both in Europe and in the USA. Chairing these events tactfully and charismatically, Livia acted with great sensitivity towards intercultural and interethnic mediation. She pursued this challenging task with great patience, perseverance and empathy towards the “otherness”; truly, she used these qualities as powerful tools, thanks to which she dramatically contributed to restoring ties that were broken, enhancing the majority-minorities dialogue, and giving more chance to peace. Her work is marked for posterity in dozens of short but very useful publications that PER did since 1991: they refer to Romania, Hungary, Serbia and its neighbors, Kosovo, Vojvodina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, as well as the Baltic-Russian relations, security, leaderships, schools. Particularly, together with Andrzej Mirga, she spent lots of energy on the Roma issues in the Balkans and beyond: some years ago we jointly organized an event in Bologna, to support the local authorities to tackle effectively aspects of Roma education and integration. These topics have been previously debated with school teachers of Forlì and Livia and Andzej together published an occasional paper for our Network on “Nomadic and Sedentary Citizens: the Culture of Roma and the World of Education”.

I keep also a vivid memory of a mediation that we jointly promoted in Belgrade in June 1995 between Albanians of Kosovo and Serbs with the participation of Fehmi Agani and a young Ivica Dacic. The event was also attended by the vice-president of the European Parliament Renzo Imbeni. Together, Livia and I remembered this event last September when she lectured for our International Summer School of Cervia and our European Regional Master in Democracy and Human Rights in SEE in Santa Sofia. As a superb practitioner, she was able to combine successfully her experience with theoretical approaches: as a result, while teaching and sharing her unique knowledge with both MA students and young activists of Civil Society organizations from the Balkans, under the aegis of the CEI and the European Commission, she was so brilliant and effective that participants were deeply impressed and strongly motivated to learn as much as possible about her methodology and results. In fact, her contribution to inter-ethnic dialogue, empathy and peace represents Livia’s powerful intellectual legacy.

I could not even by far imagine that Cervia would have been our last meeting: remembering her lectures now is a pivotal incentive to draw inspiration from her work. What’s more, her bright, intense, glance and her fascinating smile will remain forever in our memory.

Thank you, Livia.

Professor Stefano Bianchini

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