RFE/RL: This year, the forum has chosen for its theme: Dilemmas of Global Coexistence. Could you outline some of the dilemmas the forum will explore?
Oldrich Cerny: This year is a follow-up to last year's theme and we did it because, before, Forum 2000 explored various aspects of globalization. So last year I declared a slogan that we had to go back from globalization to civilization again. And so we would like to explore some, I think, very fundamental questions. For example, how to handle the global variety of cultures, ideologies, and religions.
One of the questions that we pose to our participants, for example, is: "Is the era of multiculturalism over?" Or whether the different societies in a globalized environment grow increasingly intolerant toward each other, and why. The other fundamental question, for me, is whether democracy is really the answer on the global level. Because there has been raging debate about this, particularly in the United States. The third panel is 'Human Rights Revisited' and we call it 'revisited’ because the last time Forum 2000 explored the issue of human rights -- I mean, it does it always on some level -- but the last time Forum 2000 explored the issue of human rights at some depth was 2001. And since 2001, I mean, a century has passed.
RFE/RL: It is interesting to note that Forum 2000 actually began in 1997 with the theme: Concerns and Hopes on the Threshold of a New Millennium. Now, it is 2006 and the theme is: Dilemmas of Global Coexistence. How much has the focus of the forum changed over the past 10 years, and is there now more reason for concern about the world situation than a decade ago?
Cerny: Of course it has changed, because the world has changed. And back in 1997, there were more hopes for the coming new millennium than concerns. I mean, there were concerns for the environment and so on and even in 1997 there was terrorism, but it was not so omnipresent as it is now. So, the world has changed and it hasn't changed into a better and safer place, but on the contrary. So that is why there is more emphasis on concern when it comes to choosing Forum 2000 topics
RFE/RL: As you mentioned, this year’s agenda poses several highly interesting questions for the participants to address, such as, "Is democracy an answer on the global level?" In a bit more detail, how would you hope to see the participants explore that issue?
Cerny: Well I think this is going to be quite a hot topic. If you look at this year's participants, you will see that although there are some staunch proponents of democracy on the global level -- I can name, for example, Andre Glucksmann, a French former-leftist philosopher who turned to the right of the spectrum -- we also will be having Prince El Hasan bin Talal of Jordan who, I think that he doesn't think so. And we also will have some Americans, for example, like James Zogby, who is the founder of the Arab-American Institute, who thinks that as far as [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush's strategy is concerned, it is completely wrong. So, I expect it will be a very hotly debated topic at this year's Forum 2000.
RFE/RL: Another provocative question on the agenda is: "The risks of globalization -- do religions offer a solution or are they part of the problem?" What are some of the dimensions of this issue?
Cerny: I think that the key question here is how to protect religious faith from associations with violence and intolerance, and what can the world's religions do to prevent globalization processes from slipping into, from emphasizing, the so-called clash of civilizations. But the main reason why we are doing it is to try to ask these questions to, at the same time, provide a forum for representatives of different religions to meet and conduct dialogue.
RFE/RL: Finally, Forum 2000 began under the auspices of former Czech President Vaclav Havel and perhaps derived much of its international appeal from his reputation as a human rights champion. Do you think the forum is now well enough established to continue on its own authority. In other words, is it finding its own place in the world as a regular meeting place for leaders and thinkers?
Cerny: The Czech Republic is a very small country, a relatively young country. We don't have that many [such] traditions. Forum 2000 began in 1997 and it was supposed to be the first and last conference. It somehow developed, grew up. There are many other associated activities with Forum 2000 -- we do programs for young people, sharing our experiences during the transition period, and so on. And Forum 2000 in its beginning was ridiculed. And I can understand that because it used to take place in the castle and if you are an ordinary citizen of Prague and you stand on the embankment of the Vltava River after 15 minutes you begin to feel a little pain in the neck [looking up at Prague Castle].
And also there were three-day conferences that didn't produce anything you could eat or change into something. But over the years it became less fashionable to criticize Forum 2000, and it is considered even to be a little bit in bad taste [now to do so] because people in this country finally begin to realize how important it is not to sit in your own ditch all the time but also to see various other perspectives and different angles in looking at some very important issues. So over the 10 years, Forum 2000 has become something of a trademark.
A session of Forum 2000 in Prague on October 9, 2006 (RFE/RL)
'DILEMMAS OF GLOBAL COEXISTENCE.' RFE/RL has a close relationship with Forum 2000, an important global conference of ideas and initiatives. On October 9-10, 2006, RFE/RL sat down with several Forum 2000 participants to find out more about their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing the modern world.