Bridges and Gaps at Forum 2000

Invitation of President Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

Over forty world opinion formers were in Prague for the weekend, on the invitation of President Vaclav Havel, for the sixth Forum 2000 conference. They were discussing one of the pressing problems of our time - the economic gap between North and South - and many other problems relating to globalisation.

Invitation of President Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK
In a city where bridges are frequently used as metaphors for one thing or another, it comes as no surprise that the slogan for this year's Forum 2000 was "Bridging Global Gaps." The bridge builders included a list of major decision makers and leaders, such as former South African president F. W. de Klerk, economist Jeffrey Sachs and vice president of the World Bank Mats Karlsson. Alongside them were activists such as Ricardo Navarro of the El Salvadorean environmental group CESTA, and Najma Sadeque of Pakistan's Women's Action Forum.

All of the participants agreed on one thing: that much more needs to be done to address the inequality between the developed and undeveloped worlds - or the "enriched" and the "impoverished," as some put it. I asked the World Bank's vice president Mats Karlsson what role a small country like the Czech Republic had in changing this situation:

Mats Karlsson, photo: CTK
"Every country can bring something. It is the joint strengths of many small countries that changes the world. It's naive, perhaps, but that's the way it is. And what we need to realise is that globalisation, interdependence, simply means that you have to act together. And so, as the Czech Republic enters the European Union, it will also enter the European Union's obligations to fight poverty, to promote development and engage in the United Nations and in the World Bank."

As was expected, the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were strongly criticised by most activists, some of whom maintained that the West itself should limit its own consumption in order to curtail further damage to the environment. While Forum 2000 did conclude with proposals on how to "bridge the global gaps," its main success - as in every year - was that it brought together prominent figures to discuss and share their often opposing ideas… Although many critics maintain that the conference is still no grand achievement, just a talking shop.

This year's Forum 2000 was not at Prague Castle - as has been traditional in the past - but at the city's Municipal House. The first Forum 2000 was held in 1997 under the initiative of Vaclav Havel and the writer Elie Wiesel, and many are wondering whether it will continue next year after Havel's presidential term ends. Oldrich Cerny is the executive director of Forum 2000:

"Well, it has already changed with this new project which we call "Bridging Global Gaps." I mean, we aim to do not only one conference a year, but lot's of other things, such as roundtables. We did one on the role of world religions in the contemporary world. In about a fortnight's time, we will be staging another roundtable on the role of NATO after enlargement, and so on. And actually, President Havel received the participants of the conference yesterday at Lany Chateau, and among other things he said that he is looking forward - when he is not a president anymore - to having more time to devote to projects like Forum 2000."