By Jolyon Naegele and Jeremy Bransten
Prague, 3 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Some 60 of the world's leading thinkers, writers, religious leaders and politicians will gather tomorrow at Prague Castle to begin a three-day conference jointly organized by Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
Havel says the main themes of the conference, called "Forum 2000," will be the state of contemporary civilization and the threats the world faces on the threshhold of a new millenium. He is asking participants to evaluate "the state of our knowledge of ourselves and to propose alternatives for the future."
Forum 2000 is divided into three parts, with informal discussions on the opening day dealing with the past, the second day examining the present and the final day looking into the future. Havel, a renowned essayist and playwright, told Czech TV viewers this week that he had been pondering for many years what he called "today's situation, the threats to humanity and the connections among them, and above all the methods by which we can face them...."
In his keynote speech tomorrow morning, Havel is expected to call upon the participants to consider how, in effect, to change history and to avoid what he believes may be impending disaster. One way, Havel believes, is to evaluate the moral ideology and religious values which people now share. Another way, he will suggest, lies in searching for common ground among various cultures and creeds.
Havel is also expected to dwell on the significance of Prague as a magical, mysterious place that has grown out of the interaction of Czech, German and Jewish cultures.
Wiesel is a novelist, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, an authority on the holocaust and an internationally renowned moral figure. In a recent statement, he said it is significant that the forum is being held in Prague, where German tanks rolled in to crush democracy in 1939 and Soviet tanks repeated the act in 1968.
"Twice betrayed and oppressed, this city ought to serve as a warning to those who will inherit the 20th century. It is incumbent upon us to decode and deepen its meaning," said Wiesel.
Among those expected to attend are religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama of Tibet and France's Roman Catholic Cardinal Lustiger. Politicians will include former South African president Willem De Klerk, Israel's Shimon Peres, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former German President Richard von Weizsaecker. The leader of Germany's Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, will also take part, as will Polish historian and former Solidarity activist Bronislaw Geremek and Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Among the key questions to be discussed during the conference will be the overcoming of ethnic divisions and establishing a civil society and environmental awareness in a world of shrinking resources.