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Forum 2000: Striking A Balance Between Freedom, Responsibility

Oldrich Cerny (file photo) (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Forum 2000 starts in Prague on October 7. The annual gathering, which concludes October 9, brings together politicians, business people, and academics to discuss themes of social concern. This year, the overall issue is “Freedom and Responsibility.” RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with Dr. Oldrich Cerny, executive director of Prague-based Forum 2000, about the goals of the conference.

RFE/RL: The theme of Forum 2000 this year is "Freedom and Responsibility." Those attending will look at how to strike a balance between these two values in the fields of politics, international law, and media. Why did Forum 2000 choose to focus precisely on this challenge?

Oldrich Cerny: Forum 2000 decided to focus this year’s conference on the theme of freedom and responsibility for several reasons. One of them is the fact that the Forum 2000 conferences are Vaclav Havel’s brainchild, and the relation between freedom and responsibility is one of his recurrent themes since the very first day he became president of the then Czechoslovakia.

The other reason is the fact that during the second half of the last century, countless millions of people fought for freedom and when they gained it they found out -- and sometime in a very bitter way, particularly in this part of the world -- that freedom without responsibility has a pretty diminished value. However, I would like to point out that despite whatever theme we choose for any Forum 2000 conference, what is currently going on in the world always has an impact on the conference’s proceedings. So I am sure that we shall also hear a lot about Burma, Iraq, etc.

RFE/RL: To discuss freedom and responsibility, Forum 2000 has invited thinkers from a number of different backgrounds. What are some of the points of view that will be represented?

Cerny: When it comes to points of view, we always strive for the widest variety possible. Forum 2000 Foundation is not an organization with a fixed political agenda. We are neither on the left or the right of some spectrum. Our goal is to provide a room for dialogue for people representing widely different professions, people from all corners of the world, people of various political convictions and religious denominations.

This is why this year we shall hear from people of such differing backgrounds and experiences as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Prince Turki al Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Russian opposition politician Grigory Yavlinsky, French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, or Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy in Singapore.

RFE/RL: Finally, do you expect some kind of consensus to emerge from the discussions – is that what usually happens at Forum 2000 gatherings? Or is the important thing simply to hear a number of views so that participants – and observers – can arrive at their own conclusions later?

Cerny: The Forum 2000 has never been, and never will be, an institution. It has no members; it cannot make any decisions. It is really just a space for debate for people who believe that dialogue about our civilization, its contradictions and the threats that loom over it, is not a way but a goal, the only solution that should and could work. Forum 2000 has no executive power, but it can issue recommendations and suggestions. We do it by regularly publishing and widely distributing the proceedings of each conference, as we did in 2001 when we issued our Prague Declaration pointing out a number of key problems in the world at the start of the new millennium.

This year, we will try to supplement and summarize the results of the last six years of dialogue at Forum 2000 conferences by issuing -- if the participants will agree on it -- the Second Prague Declaration.