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Czech Republic: Religious, Environmental Issues Highlight Of Forum 2000

By Jolyon Naegele and Jeremy Bransten

Prague, 5 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Much of today's discussions at the Forum 2000 conference in Prague touched on religious and environmental issues.

Boston University president John Silber said civilizations that acknowledged religion or a higher order managed to accomplish the most, because they were building for eternity.

The president of the Taiwan-based World League for Freedom and Democracy, Tze-Chi Chao, echoed Silber's comments. He noted that thousands of years ago, eastern cultures had already developed deep respect for values of morality and spirituality.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner for 1996, East Timorese Bishop Carlos Filipe Belo, said the current crisis of values offers what he terms three great challenges.

He described the first challenge as economic, and defined it as the disparity between North and South, or "the widening gap between the world of opulence and the world of misery."

Belo said the second challenge is the ecological challenge, which he says results from "the indiscreet exploitation of nature."

He said the third challenge concerns the ability to possess information of any sort at the right time, which he noted confirms the old adage that knowledge is power.

In a similar vein, legendary Norwegian mariner, explorer and archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl told RFE/RL that man's tampering with the world's delicate ecological balance is having unforeseen consequences -- from droughts to flooding to changes in traditional monsoon patterns. He said that it is time for man to respect nature or else "we will be punished for destroying it."

In his address, university president Silber praised cultural diversity and lamented its loss in what he termed "a growing American mono-culture." Silber said U.S. inner cities have been crippled by the development of gigantic suburban malls.

"In America, we have collectivized farms, factories, banks and retail stores to a degree never achieved or even dreamed of by Stalin," said Silber. He said this non-violent collectivization had come at a fearful price in the quality of life.

Silber insisted this development has done nothing to reduce the disparity between rich and poor in the U.S., and he warned Europe against adopting the same model. He also denounced the global influence of U.S. culture and the dominance of the English language.

"If we are to have Pushkins, we must have Russian, if we are to have Molieres we must have French, and if we are to have Havels we must have Czech," he said.

Organizers of the Prague Forum 2000 conference of leading intellectual figures say it is unlikely they will issue a final document, given the differences of opinion and emphasis heard so far.

But the organizers say that, in any case, final documents and manifestos of intellectual conferences are rarely read, unlike the appeals and final documents of state conferences. More meaningful, say the organizers, is the sharing of ideas and lively discussion.

The conference is due to conclude tomorrow.