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Forum 2000: News Briefs From The Conference On Globalization

By Breffni O'Rourke and Don Hill

Prague, 13 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- More than 40 prominent writers, philosophers, statesmen and human rights activists are participating in this year's Forum 2000 conference taking place in Prague from Sunday Oct. 11 to Wednesday Oct. 14. The theme of this year's conference is globalization of the world's economy, culture and politics.

Featured speakers include U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, Israel's Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, Polish journalist and ex-dissident Adam Michnik, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Hillary Clinton Offers Vision for 'Global Neighborhood'

Hillary Clinton, the wife of U.S. President Bill Clinton, called today for developing a global neighborhood in the next century that invests in creating citizens -- not just consumers and producers.

Speaking at the Forum 2000 conference in the Prague Castle, Mrs. Clinton said that globalization of the world's economies, politics, and societies is a fact that can neither be reversed or denied. The issue, she said, is how to harness these forces.

She urged a vision of the future in which governments seek to give all citizens a stake in their future, in which economic development, in her words, "benefits all and not just a few."

The way to this future vision, Mrs. Clinton said, is for governments to invest heavily in people -- in education, in credit for small businesses, and in teaching about the workings of democracy.

EU Preparing Assistance Package for Russia

The European Union says it's drawing up a package of measures to assist Russia in its economic and financial crisis.

Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner responsible for questions of eastward expansion, said today that the package should be ready for discussion with Moscow later this month.

Van den Broek was speaking today at the Forum 2000 Conference in Prague. He noted the EU's committment to support Russia in its social and economic life, including its efforts at market reform.

He said the task of rebuilding Russia after the Marxist era had been more difficult than the same process, for instance, in Poland and the Czech Republic. That was because there had been less collective memory in Russia of a pre-Marxist era and because of the vast size of the country.

Van Den Broek Praises EU Applicants' Efforts

Top European Union official Hans van den Broek has urged Central and East European countries wishing to join the EU to continue with their reform processes.

Van den Broek, the EU commissioner in charge of eastward expansion, said the reform efforts of candidate countries so far are "impressive."

He said however that action, not rhetoric, is needed now. Moreover, the EU too must continue with its own internal reforms.

He said the eventual accession of a total of eleven applicant countries would bring more than 100 million people into the EU. The impact of that would be to vastly increase trade, and that would in turn benefit countries further east, such as Russia and Ukraine.

EU's Van Den Broek Praises Slovakia

Hans van den Broek, the EU Commissioner responsible for eastward enlargement warmly welcomes what he called a demonstration of democratic sentiment by the people of Slovakia.

He was referring to last month's parliamentary elections in Slovakia, which saw strong gains by opposition parties.

In a speech today to the Forum 2000 conference in Prague, van den Broek praised what he called the willingness of the people of Slovakia to change the political life of their country. He said the EU hopes Slovakia will make full use in the near future of the chance to make democratic improvements. The new parliament is due to meet for the first time later this month.

In the elections, the governing coalition led by the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, lost its majority.

The EU has frequently expressed concern about Slovakia's democratization under Meciar's leadership. The country was not included in the fast-track group of candidate-members for EU membership.

Mrs. Clinton Praises Slovak People

The wife of U.S. President Bill Clinton has praised Slovak citizens and nongovernmental organizations on the peaceful Slovak elections last month in which the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar lost its governing majority.

Without mentioning Meciar, Mrs. Clinton said Slovaks had demonstrated their devotion to democracy. She said nongovernmental organizations played a significant role in the results.

The new Slovak parliament is scheduled to convene October 29, and four opposition party leaders have said they hope to form a new government before municipal elections Nov. 13-14. The four parties have promised to cooperate in the new government.

Malaysian Government Calls for Understanding

A Malaysian government minister has called for understanding for countries imposing restrictions on foreign, economic or cultural influences.

Minister for Special Functions Daim Zainuddin said in Prague today that such restrictions must not be seen as a wish to oppose the trend toward the globalized economy or community.

But he said they must be regarded as an effort by countries to preserve their interests and identities. Each country must be allowed to open at its own place, he said.

Zainuddin did not mention his own country, Malaysia, by name. The Malaysian government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir came under international criticism recently when it imposed currency controls as a means of coping with its economic problems.

Critics said that this meant Malyasia was abandoning its committment to open markets.

Bata Calls For Drive Against Corruption

Leading Czech-born businessman Thomas Bata says the economic development of the Central and East European countries is being hindered by the widespread presence of corruption.

In remarks to RFE/RL in Prague today, Bata called on governments in the region to take a stronger stand against corruption in private and public life.

He said all countries of the region are at fault in this respect.

He said the presence of corruption discourages foreign investment and is a disincentive to constructive work by local populations.

Bata, president of the Bata Corp., is now a resident in Canada, where he is Canadian director of the International Trade Council. He also has acted as an adviser to the UN on aspects of business development.

Top Muslim Clergyman Condemns Extremism

A leading Muslim clergyman has issued a strong condemnation of extremism in the guise of religious faith.

Sheik Fawzi Zafzaf, of the al Azhar Institute in Cairo, told RFE/RL in Prague today that people who bring fanaticism to religion should not be regarded as religious at all.

He said such people were merely common criminals. Sheik Zafzaf noted that in May he had signed with Pope John Paul II a historic agreement which condemned fanaticism in religion as well as terrorism.

The al Azhar Institute is regarded as a center of spiritual authority by Sunni Muslims around the world. The Sheik is in Prague attending the Forum 2000 Conference.