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World: Havel's 'Prague Forums' Series Nears Its Conclusion

  • Don Hill

Czech President Vaclav Havel plans to act as host next month in Prague to the fifth -- and probably the final -- Forum 2000. Among the guests who already have agreed to attend are the Dalai Lama, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, and U.S.-based political philosopher Francis Fukuyama. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill says the forums' founders expect to close the series of meetings with an influential statement about world governance in the 21st century.

Prague, 27 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Six years ago, in a previous century -- well before the 11 September terror attacks on the United States and before most people in the world had heard of Vladimir Putin or George W. Bush; before the Kosovo war and the fall of Slobodan Milosevic; before Dolly the sheep ushered in the age of cloning; before the violent globalization protests -- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and Czech President Vaclav Havel proposed a series of forums for the new millennium.

Czech officials in Prague now are preparing for the fifth -- and probably the last -- of these forums, to begin 14 October. Although the official theme of this year's Prague Forum 2000 was determined long ago, Olga Cerny, executive director of the Forum 2000 Foundation, says that recent events will command the agenda:

"It is a tradition of the Forum 2000 conferences that, no matter what the official topic is, what is really happening in the world in real time is always to a very high degree reflected at [each] conference. And this is what I expect from this year's conference -- that the issue of international terrorism and what the world should do about it will be one of the hot topics -- though it is not the official theme of the conference, which is human rights."

Elie Wiesel and Vaclav Havel took a walk together in 1996 in Hiroshima, Japan, where Wiesel had organized a meeting. By the last step of their stroll, they had conceived the idea of a Forum 2000 conference. They saw as its goal, as Cerny puts it, to analyze "why people do so little to avert threats about which they know so much."

At the end of the first Forum 2000 in 1997, the founders and organizers determined that more remained to be said -- enough, in fact, for at least five such conferences stretching into the new millennium.

Wiesel enunciated at the 1999 forum his vision for the thrust of the series. It sounds as though he could have composed the thought last week.

"We must introduce conscience in history. It is no longer politics alone, or geopolitics. It is no longer strategic considerations alone. We must somehow, always -- at whatever summit meetings occur, wherever generals meet, whenever military experts are trying to prepare plans for their peoples and others -- somehow conscience must be on the program."

The first Forum 2000 conference addressed the state of human society as the millennium drew to a close. The second, in 1998 -- a year before the first mass anti-globalization protests in Seattle -- discussed globalization. The third discussed world integration and alternate visions. The organizers assigned the theme of "culture, education, and spiritual values" to last year's meeting, and some participants complained that the discussions were too general and developed little fresh or original thought.

A sociological process known as institutionalization has overtaken the Forum 2000 Foundation. First, one conference stretched into five. Then the foundation added related events, student forums, and other functions. Now, director Cerny says, the foundation is developing some type of follow-up programs for the future.

"It should go on. Maybe in slightly different format. Maybe it should not take place at the castle anymore. Maybe we should move it to the Vltava River, make the city of Prague more involved. This is what we are trying to do right now."

Cerny and the conference founders are, however, contemplating an appropriate wrap-up for the five fundamental Forum 2000 meetings to be completed with next month's gathering. Part of the wrap-up is to be a document already entitled "The Prague Declaration." It has been in preparation for some time, Cerny says, and is to be presented to this year's conferees and, he hopes, adopted by them.

"There will be a Prague Declaration. And 'The Prague Declaration' is not going to be a lengthy document. [It] will be a sort of summary of the findings of the series of the Forum 2000 in the form of recommendations to world leaders and the general public."

Cerny says the forums have met their goal. They have brought great minds of the time to address the question Havel posed early on: "Why does humankind allow itself to be swayed in a sort of perpetual motion and do nothing about it?"

One forum participant two years ago had a query about Forum 2000 put to him rather harshly. That was Harvard University economist Jeffrey Sachs, widely known for his pragmatism. The question was: Should conferences such as these be dismissed as merely a bunch of idealists spitting out ideas without practical effect?

Sachs's response: "Well, I know some of these idealists. They're people like Vaclav Havel, who just had ideas and ideals, and he helped bring down a government of tyranny. And Adam Michnik, who is another idealist, who had some simple ideas about truth in Poland, and he helped to create a democratic revolution. Ideas count in the world. They don't count [alone]. Real power counts. Real wealth counts. And ideas count."

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