Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel says nations in the new millennium must put conscience on the agenda wherever political leaders or generals meet. His appeal opened the first day of deliberations of the third annual Forum 2000 conference in Prague. Czech President Vaclav Havel has gathered more than 50 international intellectual and spiritual leaders to deliberate on building better a world in the next century. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill says that while other speakers instructed or warned, Wiesel sought to inspire.
Prague, 12 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel told the Forum 2000 conference that Dostoyevsky was wrong when he said that mankind does not choose, but rather oscillates, between good and evil.
Wiesel said that humans do choose. And people have learned, he said, that not to choose is also a choice. As he put it: "Bystanders are never innocent."
Other speakers yesterday, on the conference's first day, chose to urge solutions -- as did Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal -- or to warn of the dangers inherent in a world of poor nations and rich nations -- as did Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa, himself a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
But Wiesel strove to inspire with passion, in a call for triumph over the evil that humans do. Said Wiesel
"We must introduce conscience in history. It's no longer politics alone, or geopolitics. It's no longer economy. It's no longer strategic considerations alone. We must somehow, always, at whatever summit meetings occur, wherever generals meet, wherever military experts are trying to prepare plans for their peoples and others -- somehow conscience must be on the program."
The 20th century has been filled with atrocities and hate, he said. In his words: "So many millions of casualties. So much blood." And all because Europe and the West failed to choose properly, or decided too late. Wiesel said:
"It is because we have not chosen the right way, that so many men, women, and children were killed in Rwanda, in East Timor, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo. Had the world intervened immediately, these tragedies would have been averted, but we chose to wait. And we learned not to wait, not to give evil a chance to strengthen itself."
Prince Hassan of Jordan appealed for a worldwide code of conduct for nations. China and some other Asian nations have argued in recent years that what they call Asian values aren't always compatible with Western ideas of human rights. Prince Hassan said he wants the code of conduct to be, in his words, "binding without exception," a code that would apply "to all nations and all cultures."
Hassan told the Forum 2000 audience in the Prague Castle that distinguishing countries by their economic levels, dividing them between developing and developed nations, is no longer a useful distinction. Hassan said:
"But the quality of life also depends on other factors, which are frequently left out of the development equation. One such consideration is humanitarianism and human rights, which recognizes the common humanity shared by each and every individual. Another related concern, which places the individual squarely in the context of his or her community, is culture. Closely related to both is the question of identity."
Frederik de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with former South African President Nelson Mandela for their work in ending apartheid in South Africa. At Forum 2000 yesterday, de Klerk said that African and other Third World countries are falling continuously farther behind in what he called "the race for peace and prosperity.
De Klerk issued what he said was a "stern warning." As he put it: "Europe and the world cannot accept a new, de facto, apartheid between a rich, white north and an impoverished and unstable black belt on the continent of Africa."
He urged world leaders to help foster, in Third World nations and elsewhere, conditions that would enable different ethnic groups to live together, as South Africans are learning to do.
"In a multicultural society, mutual respect and pride in the diversity of national culture should be fostered through the education system, through the teaching of national languages, and through the media. Furthermore, multicultural societies should also, wherever possible, strive, I believe, for inclusivity. Simple majoritarianism, where significant minorities can be excluded from important processes of decision-making, should be avoided."
Each year from 1997 through 2001, Forum 2000 is bringing to the Czech capital some of the world's best-known intellectuals and political, business, and spiritual leaders. The topic this year is global integration from the perspectives of developing countries, of fully industrialized countries, and of countries in transition from communism.
The forum's task in 1997 was to appraise the world up to now and to assess its prospects. In 1998, speakers looked at how globalization has developed so far. The organizers plan next year to discuss "the spiritual basis of an integrating world." And in 2001, they hope to issue a universal political appeal to be titled, "The Prague Declaration."