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Czech Republic: Forum 2000 Backer Assesses Conference

Prague, 8 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The main financial backer of the Forum 2000 conference says it is fitting that such a gathering of leading world thinkers should take place in Prague.

Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, spoke to RFE/RL on Saturday, the closing day of the event. He noted that Prague, at the heart of Europe, has experienced all of the joys and traumas of this tumultuous century and is therefore the logical place to pause and reflect as we prepare to enter the next millennium.

Sasakawa said that Vaclav Havel's humanitarian vision makes him not just the president of the Czech Republic, but a global figure well suited to hosting this week's forum.

The president of the Nippon Foundation also called Forum 2000 a success, saying the fact that so many of the world's great thinkers have come together for open discussion is a first. Now that philosophical approaches and opinions have been aired, Sasakawa said he supports the idea of holding four more conferences each focused on a particular global problem and its possible resolution. He said the Nippon Foundation will continue to offer its support for such gatherings.

The Nippon Foundation, founded by Sasakawa's father after World War II, is divided into more than 25 charitable organizations across the globe, many with endowments of several million dollars each. It is among the world's largest private philanthropic associations and supports a panoply of causes, from the preservation of ancient Japanese culture to sponsoring medical research. In each case, says Sasakawa, the aim is to foster understanding among nations, bring the planet's inhabitants together and improve their quality of life.

The foundation currently sponsors projects in 12 African nations to improve agricultural production and prevent a repeat of the 1984 Ethiopian famine. It is supporting doctors fighting to eradicate leprosy, and providing treatment to thousands of child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, among other things.

Sasakawa says he is optimistic about the future of humankind in the new millennium.

"Society is the sum of human behavior and with greater awareness, it is possible to change our behavior," he said.

But Sasakawa cautions that mankind must once again find its balance with nature and cultivate the spiritual, after a far too materialistic century.