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World: Davos Economic Forum Attracts Prestigious Participants

  • Breffni O'Rourke



Prague, 26 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Swiss mountain resort of Davos is the venue this week for the annual World Economic Forum -- an exclusive conference bringing together many of the world's top political, economic and business leaders and intellectuals.

More than 40 heads of state and government will be present, along with 1,000 of the world's top businessmen, plus hundreds of scientists, academics, experts and senior government officials. A swarm of journalists will also be present to cover the forum, which opens on Thursday (Jan. 28) and continues to the following Tuesday (Feb. 2).

Among those due to attend are UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov, South Africa's President Nelson Mandela and German President Roman Herzog. Business giants like Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and media executive Ted Turner will be there. So will religious leaders such as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew the First. Artists will include violinist Yehudi Menuhin, author Nadine Gordimer and film director Volker Schloendorff.

The theme of the conference this year is "Responsible Globality -- Managing the Impact of Globalization". The theme will be examined in its economic, political, social and cultural contexts. Globalization, meaning the integration internationally of formerly national economies, is proving a much stormier process than originally foreseen. Asia's economic collapse, the Russian crisis, and worries that Latin America's biggest economy Brazil might be next to fall, all form the background to the Davos discussions.

Accordingly, one of the forum sessions will focus on preventing future crises, with the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer and World Bank Senior Vice President Joseph Stiglitz. The IMF has come under some heavy criticism for its handling of recent crises, and Davos will give Fischer the opportunity to set out the Fund's latest thinking.

Top American investor George Soros will be talking in another session on how governments can seek to manage integration into global capital markets without falling prey to excessive market volatility. Soros, whose own Soros Fund Management in the last 18 months has lost thousands of millions of dollars in sudden market swings, has repeatedly warned that mechanisms are needed to control the huge flows of capital which characterize globalization.

The new European single currency, the euro, which was successfully introduced in 11 countries at the beginning of this month, is a concrete example of globalization in action. A big contingent of West Europeans will be present to talks about the new money and the European Union's prospects generally. They include European Central Bank chief Wim Duisenberg, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, EU Executive Commission President Jacques Santer, and French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Through the dramatic economic ups and downs of the last 18 months, the U.S. economy has continued on a steady course with generally healthy indicators. It's sometimes called the "teflon economy" because of its recent resilience and near-immunity to turmoil. A range of American speakers, including Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, Stuart Eizenstat, will discuss the reasons for the U.S. economy's strength.

Central Asian leaders will also be present. The Presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Askar Akayev, will both talk on how the Russian financial crisis has affected their region, and ways to limit its impact on other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). From Central Europe comes Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, who will use Davos as another opportunity to assure the world his country has stepped out of its isolation since last year's elections, and is now aiming to be a front runner for membership in European and trans-Atlantic structures. A contingent of Polish and Hungarian leaders will be participating. So will the chairman of the lower house of the Czech Republic's parliament, former prime minister Vaclav Klaus.

From Tehran comes a delegation led by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. They will talk on the outlook for their country, and whether the administration of reformist President Mohammad Khatami has lived up to expectations. Among other things, Khatami has cautiously sought to warm Iran's long-frozen relations with the United States. One member of the Davos delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, will have the unusual opportunity to participate in a discussion with American academics on whether or not the U.S. is an imperialist power.

A Palestinian delegation, led by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, will talk on prospects for the territories' economy.

Returning to the theme of globalization, one of the sessions asks the question of whether global justice will ever really be possible, given differing moral and social concepts, and state sovereignty. It considers the significance of the case of General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who is now in Britain facing possible extradition to Spain on murder charges. One of the speakers in this discussion will be UN Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson.
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