Dozens of philosophers, philanthropists, political and religious leaders from all over the world are meeting in the Czech capital, Prague, for Forum 2000. The brainchild of Czech President Vaclav Havel, the annual forum brings together some of the world's leading thinkers for discussions on humanity's challenges and goals at the turn of the millennium. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill reports that at last night's opening session, billionaire philanthropist George Soros started right in, criticizing the Balkan Stability Pact and what he called "market fundamentalism."
Prague, 11 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- International financier and philanthropist George Soros opened the third annual Forum 2000 conference with a thunderous message delivered in gentle tones. Soros said that the Balkan Stability Pact -- aimed at speeding Balkan nations' recovery after the Kosovo war -- is, in his words, "an empty thing without any content."
Soros joined Czech President Vaclav Havel and Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa as speakers for the forum's opening session last night in Prague Castle. Havel and Sasakawa delivered mostly ceremonial addresses, but Soros got right down to business.
He said the Balkans constitute a test for the whole idea of open societies and, specifically, for Europe as an open society. Soros, founder of the Open Society Fund, defined an open society as one that recognizes its own imperfections and remains open to improvement.
He told the internationally prominent audience that NATO's assault on Yugoslavia achieved a military victory, but failed in its goal to control ethnic violence in Kosovo. He said the only way left to justify the NATO intervention would be for Europe to extend substantial help to the region and bring it closer to peace and prosperity.
Soros said Europe's leaders recognize that need. But, as he put it: "Unfortunately, it would require a substantial allocation of funds and a mechanism for delivering the aid." He said that Europe and the EU haven't yet backed up their good intentions with material contributions.
In his speech, Soros reiterated his warning against what he calls a new kind of fundamentalism that he said threatens the nations of the world. That is, in his phrase, "market fundamentalism." He said that societies like Russia's, where unrestricted markets are combined with governments too weak to maintain law and order, constitute an international danger on a par with fascism and religious fundamentalism.
This Forum 2000 is the third in a scheduled series of five annual conferences that Havel and associates organized, as they put it, "to deal with humanity's hopes and risks at the turn of the millennium." Sasakawa's Nippon Fund is a principal financial backer of the forums.
Each year from 1997 through 2001, the organizers are inviting some of the world's best-known intellectuals, scientists and political and business leaders to, in Havel's words, "come together in peaceful discussion."
For this year's gathering, Forum 2000 has asked the participants to speak to the topic of shared visions for global integration.
The forum's task in 1997 was to appraise the world up to now and to assess its prospects. In 1998, speakers looked at what globalization has comprised and how it has developed so far. The organizers plan next year to discuss, in their phrase, "the spiritual basis of an integrating world."
And in 2001, according to the Forum 2000 literature, they will seek to find practical applications for the discussions. They expect to issue, in their words, "some kind of universal political appeal." Its anticipated title is "The Prague Declaration."
Among the featured speakers this year beside Soros and Havel are Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard professor who advised Russia during its privatization and early economic changes; Elie Wiesel, the Jewish philosopher and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Timothy Garton Ash, a British historian; and Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Jordanian Hashemite dynasty, an advocate of cooperation and tolerance among Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
At past conferences, speakers have included the Dalai Lama, U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, and American statesman Henry Kissinger.