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Prague Forum To Debate Democracy Since the Cold War

Oldrich Cerny

Oldrich Cerny

Politicians, scholars, and activists will gather in Prague starting October 11 to discuss democracy and human rights since the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago. That's this year's theme for the annual Forum 2000 conference, started by former Czech President Vaclav Havel in 1997 to discuss key issues facing the world. RFE/RL is an official media partner of the event. RFE/RL's Gregory Feifer spoke to Forum 2000's Executive Director Oldrich Cerny about his expectations for the conference.

RFE/RL: How has the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall informed the conference's theme, "democracy and freedom in a multi-polar world?

Oldrich Cerny: We don’t want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War because everybody else will be doing it. What we would like to do at this year's Forum 2000 would be to have a good look at the past 20 years and do a bit of stock-taking. Because Forum 2000 began in 1997 as an exercise in stock-taking. We thought that we might go back and do the same by comparing the hopes and expectations people had at the end of 1989 with what actually happened in those 20 years.

RFE/RL: One topic for discussion is the metamorphosis of democracy after the Cold War. In what ways has the idea of democracy changed since then?

Cerny: At last year's conference, Bruce Jackson [president of the Project on Transitional Democracies] remarked that democracies have an ability to counterfeit themselves. And that many things like populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism nowadays masquerade as democracies. We have "sovereign" or "managed" democracy in Russia, "disciplined" democracy in Burma, and "controlled" democracy in Pakistan. And we also hear of "cynical" Western democracy. So what we would like to ask our participants is to attempt to find some answers to questions about what's really happened to democracy and the spread of democracy during the last 20 years and whether we're seeing the creation of new fault lines dividing the world between democracy and autocracy.

RFE/RL: Another topic is "multipolarity and human rights." Is multipolarity eroding a universal idea of human rights?

Cerny: That's what we would like to find out because human rights as we know them in this part of the world are often labeled "Euro-centric" or "Western-centric." And some people advocate the need for a more pluralistic approach. Some even talk about "cultural imperialism," so what we'd like to know is whether emerging global pluralism represents a threat to human rights and what will happen to the idea of universal human rights. I know these are very provocative questions, but we always try to ask provocative questions.

RFE/RL: The global financial crisis is another big topic. Has the economic recession influenced Western advocacy of democracy, human rights, and common values?

Cerny: We are asking our participants whether this crisis serves as testimony that a change in values is needed and whether there are any global threshold values for doing business. To put it another way, we'd like to know more not only about the economic impact of this crisis, but also the moral and ethical impact. We would like to know whether the current crisis actually has taught us anything about business values and ourselves, or whether we're going to repeat the same mistakes in 10 years' time.

RFE/RL: Would you briefly explain Forum 2000's role?

Cerny: We try to invite people from all over the world -- people of different denominations and different professions -- to Prague for an exchange of views on some fundamental issues central to the survival of our civilization. We feel the need to articulate what's worrying us.