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As in previous years, RFE/RL is an official media partner of the annual Forum 2000 conference, which takes place in Prague on October 12-14. Since 1997, the conference has brought together leading human rights advocates, political thinkers, and political figures from around the world to discuss the challenges of our times.

This year, the conference is titled "Openness and Fundamentalism in the 21st Century." RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with Forum 2000's executive director Oldrich Cerny about the agenda:


When Does Faith Turn Into Blind Fanaticism?


RFE/RL: This year, Forum 2000 has chosen for its theme "Openness and Fundamentalism in the 21st Century." Why did you decide to dedicate the conference to that subject?

Oldrich Cerny: As you know, Forum 2000 is a spiritual child of Vaclav Havel and Eli Wiesel and we always consult on the upcoming themes of the conference with Vaclav Havel very closely. And this year I wanted to do a completely different conference, I wanted to do a conference on Europe and the relations of Europe with other parts of the world, and when I told this to Vaclav Havel, he said: "No, no. As you know, for quite some years I have been obsessed with obsessions of all kinds and let's do a conference about that. Let's do a conference about various forms of fanaticism and let's try to find out what to do about it."

RFE/RL: Let's look in greater detail at a few of the key topics on the agenda. I believe the subject of the first plenary panel is "Faiths and Fanaticisms." The title seems to be an invitation to consider what distinguishes the two phenomena. Where might the discussion go?

Cerny: Well this is exactly what we are asking our panelists to try to help us find out. Where and when is that fragile and precise moment when faith turns into blind fanaticism? I think the whole panel will reflect some disappointment that although the demise of the [bi-]polar world was greeted as the end of history, instead of that we have seen the rise of so many adverse sides of human behavior: ethnic strife, genocide in two places of the world at least -- Srebrenica and Rwanda -- and so this is what we want to look at in the course of this panel. And what are the necessary steps to at least prevent some of these things happening.

RFE/RL: Another topic for a plenary panel is "The Powerful and the Powerless." History is full of the difficulties that these two sides have in accommodating each other, violently and peacefully. What are some of the dimensions that might be explored here?

Cerny: This panel, again because this is Forum 2000, is about human rights. How can we help the defenders of human rights better and in a more effective way? How can we make them heard in an age of advanced information technology?

So, this is what the panel will be about and I suppose it will also reflect memories of 1968 and what it meant for this era and as is usual during the Forum 2000 conference, anything that is happening in the world right now will be expressed, regardless of the theme of the panel. So, I suppose we will also hear echoes of the recent war in Georgia.

RFE/RL: Still another issue to be discussed at this year's conference is "Modernity Without Democracy." That is indeed an interesting question. Can a nondemocratic country become fully modern? What does it mean, in fact, to be modern?

Cerny: This is a huge paradox, isn't it, because until recently it was confidently predicted that modernity goes hand-in-hand with democracy and that the more modern countries like China and Russia become, the more democratic they will become.

But our recent experience with both of these countries, to name just a few, is exactly the opposite. They enjoy the benefits of modernity and at the same time they are very uneasy when it comes to democracy. And now, is there anything we can do about it and, if so, what is it?

RFE/RL: Finally, it is interesting to think that for a few days Forum 2000 becomes a small, open society of its own, wrestling with some of the most difficult social questions. The participants include religious leaders, business people, political leaders, and political thinkers. When such very different kinds of people approach such very difficult questions, how do they proceed? Do you find they tend to speak and act based upon their own roles in society? Or are there always some surprises?

Cerny:
How these people proceed, I suppose, depends on individual personalities. You have people like Adam Michnik [former dissident and editor in chief of the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza"] who are in a very succinct way, in three minutes' time, able to express what it takes someone else 10 or 15 minutes to say. But, again, it depends from person to person and we are always in for quite a few surprises in this regard.

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Further information about this year's Forum 2000 conference program and participants is available on the Forum 2000 website.
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