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East: Historian Has Vision Of Diversity For Eastern Europe

  • Alexandra Poolos



The subject of the second day of Prague's Forum 2000 was Visions of Countries in Transitions and the Developed World. Historian Timothy Garton Ash gave the keynote speech. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports that a lively discussion ensued about how best to help transitional countries.

Prague, 13 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Opening the second day of Forum 2000 at the Prague Castle, renowned historian Timothy Garton Ash said he was slightly worried about the title of the conference, Visions of World Integration: "I have to say 'World Integration' has to me a slightly metallic almost Orwellian ring to it. I'm not sure I want world integration. I'm worried by that aspect of globalization which is a spread of a single model of world consumer society. I believe that the condition and first fruit of freedom is diversity."

Forum 2000 brings some of the world's best-known intellectuals and political, business and spiritual leaders to the Czech capital. The forum's task in 1997 was to appraise the world up to now and to assess its prospects. In 1998, speakers looked at how globalization has developed so far. The topic this year is global integration from the perspectives of developing countries, of fully industrialized countries, and of countries in transition from communism.

But Garton Ash believes that people pursue goals, dreams and visions that are inherently incompatible and can never be reconciled. He said it is a false and dangerous political undertaking to believe these differences should be reconciled. And instead of trying to integrate these differences into one common vision, Garton Ash said, the role of state governments it to protect their individuality.

Instead of 'World Integration,' Garton Ash proposed that the goal of politics should be something he called 'Liberal Order.'

"The purpose of politics is rather to find arrangements of liberal order where these inevitably and irreconcilably human goals can peacefully coexist."

Garton Ash explained that the foundation of this type of social order should rest on what he called a "moral minimum of human dignity and human rights." He said that when this moral minimum is violated, states have not only a right but a duty to intervene. He called the international intervention in Kosovo a good precedent for the establishment of a global liberal order in the next millennium.

But although peacekeeping has rapidly become the new trend of international relations, Garton Ash said that human rights violations are still common. He said the most primary right being violated was the right to freedom from want.

"The greatest single challenge to a new liberal order is the massive and systematic violation of that moral minimum, in that more than one billion people in our world live in conditions of shaming and inhuman poverty and misery."

Garton Ash said the first step towards establishing a new social order is to tame violence. He said a good model is the European Union, where it has become unthinkable that members would resolve their differences by war. Garton Ash said the EU can serve as a stepping stone to a larger regional and global order:

"I think that the purpose of politics in the next millennium should be nothing less and nothing more -- and the nothing more is as important as the nothing less -- than to create a framework of liberal order, a framework in which men and women will be as free as they have ever been or can ever be."

Some speakers at the conference said Garton Ash's calls for freedom were too vague. Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal said that bickering over the validity of labels such as social order and global integration is tantamount to, in his words, "putting old wine in new bottles."

"I simply wonder whether it's a question of what's in a name -- New Information Order, New Liberal Order, New International Humanitarian Order -- or is it a question of the uni-dimensional way in which we look at things. An economist will see one perspective, a representative of the world's faiths will see another perspective. And there is an absence of an overarching ethic of human solidarity."

Jacques Rupnik, a political scientist focusing on Central and Eastern Europe, also joined in the discussion. He countered Prince Hassan and said that an overarching theory cannot be applied to the countries in transition. Rupnik said it would be a mistake to overlook the specific problems of different countries.

"The question for Europe vis-a-vis Russia is quite different from those (questions) vis-a-vis Central Europe, where we have had a conversion to democracy, a market economy, and where the issue for Europe is no just what kind of partnership, but what kind of integration, what kind of enlargement of Europe is possible. And then we have a third element, third part of the European picture after the transition, that is the fate of the transitions in the Balkans, the transition derailed by agendas of nation-state building, or homogeneous nation-state building. And there the issue for Europe is not integration, in the same sense as with Central Europe, but intervention."

Rupnik said that if you ignore the specific circumstances of each country, you are ignoring the larger historical personality of transition nations. He reminded the audience of intellectuals that the past will not escape us. Each nation, he said, lives within the confines of its own history -- whether the future brings a celebration of diversity, or a denigration.

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