By Bob McMahon and Jeremy Bransten
Prague, 8 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An extraordinary gathering of world thinkers ended in Prague Saturday with an appeal for global responsibility to help solve the problems that have haunted the 20th century.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a co-organizer of the Forum 2000 Conference and a survivor of the Holocaust, addressed himself to future generations in his concluding address, saying: "We are here because I don't want my past to become your future."
Czech President Vaclav Havel, who co-organized the conference with Wiesel, told participants that they generated a "positive energy" over the past three days.
He noted that a religious service at Prague's St Vitus Cathedral Friday brought together Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian faiths. He said this confirmed his belief that all religions at their core share many common elements.
The conference brought together about 60 leading thinkers from diverse backgrounds. There were Nobel peace prize winners and laureates in chemistry and medicine. There were many former heads of state and some potential future leaders. Political scientists, authors, religious leaders and distinguished university professors also took part.
A majority of participants interviewed Saturday by RFE/RL said they found the conference useful, primarily because it brought together such a varied group of individuals to share their experiences and air their thoughts. A number of participants said they would suggest that any similar conferences in the future be more focused on specific topics. Havel and Wiesel said they planned to have several more of these conferences in the runup to the year 2000.
The main financial backer for this year's event, Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, told RFE/RL he would support such conferences in the future.
Saturday's concluding session explored prospects for improving life in the 21st century.
Looking to the future, Former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev declared that in his view, "the next millenium will be the first cosmic one." Zhelev said those who doubt it or find his prediction naive should remember that throughout history, men have never stopped to solve their problems at home before setting off to explore new continents.
He said technological progress will likely tempt man to colonize space before earthly problems such as unemployment, crime, violence and ecological problems are resolved.
But British scientific writer James Lovelock, in a speech entitled "Our Future Seen from Mars," noted that mankind's exploration of other planets in our solar system had the paradoxical effect of revealing the unique richness and beauty of Earth. He said the urge to colonize new planets such as Mars was indeed natural, given human psychology, but was ultimately irresponsible.
Lovelock said that instead of trying to make barren Mars an escape from overcrowded Earth, our science and efforts should go towards understanding Earth an improving life on it.
A prominent American professor of humanities, Henry Louis Gates, said the challenge for the world's most powerful democracy, the United States, is to overcome the racism that has created huge black underclass. He said up to now, society has been too weak to bring about change.
"Instead of action we get hand-wringing. Instead of forthrightness we get equivocation," he said.
He called for a "muscular humanism" in which well-meaning people are not afraid to act.
In concluding the conference, Havel and Wiesel repeated the importance of striving for a sense of global responsibility in solving the world's many problems, and to keep alive a spark of hope.
Wiesel said people and communities are united by questions but "find themselves divided by the answers."