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Forum 2000: Prominent Conference Participants Tackle Globalization

Prague, 12 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The second annual conference of Forum 2000 opened yesterday in Prague Castle with a monumental theme and modest hopes.

The Czech Republic's philosopher-dramatist president, Vaclav Havel, told the international conference's opening session he wants the meeting to be a place where the great problems of world globalization can be discussed in one arena by philosophers, statesmen, spiritual leaders, and intellectuals.

The United Nations and other international bodies, he said, hold gigantic events, each with one main topic. He said he hopes participants in this year's Forum 2000 can "find an area where these topics intersect."

Havel said nobody can expect such a conference to change the course of world events. But, he said, "the many threats to the modern world are guarded by a hope of averting those threats." Havel said: "To take responsibility for world globalization, each one of us must start with himself."

Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, is Forum 2000's sponsor. He told the opening ceremony audience that he hopes the coming century will establish an effective international order. This would require, he said, care to assure that, as he put it, "East-West differences (don't) degenerate into East-West antagonisms."

Sasakawa said that the world's peoples have much in common and many opportunities to, in his words, "learn from each other (and) mutually enrich each other's lives and cultures." He urged the conferees, as he put it: "to seek ways to (develop) the modes of globalization which will ensure a bright, peaceful and sustainable world for all in the next century."

Jordan's Crown Prince El Hassan bin Talal, scheduled to be an opening day keynoter, sent word he was unable to attend. In a message read at the opening ceremony, he said the 20th Century's great advances in technology, production and economics have, as he put it, "not been accompanied by equal progress in relationships between human beings or between human communities." He said recent turmoil in global markets demonstrate the world's collective vulnerability.

Havel has said he conceived the Forum 2000 series because of the tragic nature of the 20th Century and of the challenges he perceives facing the world in the coming century. The theme of this year's conference, the second in a planned series of four, is globalization of the world's economy, politics and culture.

More than 500 people attended the opening ceremony. Participants this year include more than 40 Nobel laureates, international human rights activists, diplomats and government leaders, writers and scholars from India, Russia, the United States, Japan, and all over both Western and Eastern Europe.

Forum sponsor Sasakawa said at the close of last year's conference that Prague, at the heart of Europe, is a proper venue for the Forum 2000 series because the city has experienced first hand the joys and traumas of the last century.

He said Havel, as the president of the Czech Republic and also a global figure, is a proper person to be host.

Each of the three days of this year's conference is to be devoted to a different aspect of globalization. The first day is dedicated to discussion of supranational economies, the second to tensions between world markets and the politics of nation-states, and the third to questions of human rights, and spiritual and cultural values.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and international affairs consultant Henry A. Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, and Polish Minister of Justice Hanna Suchocka, are scheduled to make keynote addresses today. Suchocka, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Commission, was Polish premier in 1992 and 1993.

On Tuesday, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton and European Commission member Hans van den Broek, will give keynote addresses in the morning session. Bedrich Moldan, director of the Environment Issues Center at Charles University, will speak at the opening of the afternoon session.

Among the featured speakers Wednesday will be Polish publisher Adam Michnik, one of the founders of the Solidarity union, and Robert L. Bernstein, founding chair of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch. The conference closes Thursday evening with a final address by President Havel.