Starting tomorrow, economists, journalists, businesspeople, and politicians from around the world will join representatives of nongovernmental organizations for a weekend of discussions in the Czech capital, Prague. It's another follow-up to a five-year series of Forum 2000 conferences that were the brainchild of Czech President Vaclav Havel. This time, delegates will focus on the world economy and globalization.
Prague, 17 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel's thoughtful Forum 2000 conferences have become a familiar autumn feature in Prague.
But if they've often lacked a certain spark -- "clever people meeting for a quiet conversation," as Havel once said -- organizers are hoping this year will prove a bit more lively.
Starting tomorrow, Forum 2000 will bring together men and women from international financial institutions and multinational corporations -- along with their critics from the ranks of the world's nongovernmental organizations.
This year's conference will find a World Bank vice president and one of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) deputy managing directors sitting around a table with a top Indian environmentalist and two Kenyan debt-relief activists.
In another workshop, a deputy chief of the World Trade Organization will face a French leader of ATTAC, an organization opposed to free trade and globalization.
Organizer Oldrich Cerny says he's hoping for a vigorous debate: "We're expecting a very lively exchange of opinions, whose point will be to try and agree on some kind of lowest common denominator [between] the actors in the globalization debate. I don't know if we can manage this. I'm tense and I'm curious ahead of this conference."
The conference is the latest follow-up to Havel's five-year series of Forum 2000 conferences, which ended last year with the adoption of what was called the Prague Declaration. This distilled five years of thoughts into one document, and gave wide-ranging recommendations on everything from UN reforms to business ethics.
This weekend's conference draws on what the declaration said about multinationals and international finance and trade organizations. It urged the IMF and World Bank to become more transparent, but also called on their detractors to pursue constructive -- and peaceful -- criticisms.
The delegate list at this weekend's conference sports some high-profile names -- such as World Bank Vice President Mats Karlsson and Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs. But there are relatively few with the name recognition or pulling power of previous attendees such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or the Dalai Lama.
But Cerny says the conference still boasts a strong lineup: "[We'll have] Frederik Willem de Klerk again, the former South African president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. [Prince] El-Hassan bin Talal from Jordan is coming. They are moderators this year because we're aware that it won't be a simple debate, and we need strong personalities to moderate."
Cerny is realistic about what the forum conferences can achieve: "You know very well that one Forum 2000 can't really change the world -- not even 100 Forum 2000 conferences can do that. They can only bring about a small shift, give a small contribution to improve relations. With the other Forum 2000 conferences, we showed that dialogue between representatives of various opinions, different lines of thought, different religions, is possible, and it's possible to hold this dialogue in a cultivated and meaningful way. That's what I think the main contribution of Forum 2000 is."
Forum 2000's next project is a roundtable discussion next month on the future of NATO after enlargement. Cerny hopes for more conferences in subsequent years.