Foreign Ministers' talk shop to hit Prague

This year sees the tenth anniversary of the demise of the Soviet Union, as a coup to restore Communist rule failed and one by one the republics of the USSR proclaimed independence from Moscow. Ten years on, many of the foreign ministers of the day are to meet again in Prague next week for a conference on the impact of these events, and what the future may hold for the former USSR and Central and Eastern Europe. Nick Carey has this report.

In his opening words at a press conference held to announce the upcoming conference, Donald Jensen, the associate director of broadcasting at Radio Free Europe, stressed that the tumultuous events of 1991 have more than left their mark, they are still with us today:

"Not just academics, but all of us living in these countries are still dealing with the consequences of this momentous time every day. At RFE's fiftieth anniversary celebrations, Cardinal Vlk of Prague talked about how the mentality of the communist period continues even today among a lot of people here, and not only here."

The Conference of Foreign Ministers will be attended by the former foreign ministers and in some cases former prime ministers of more than twenty countries, who will come together to discuss the past, the present and ideas for the future. Barbara Day from the Prague Society, which is organising the conference, summed up what the society hopes will be the result of the talks:

"We are very interested in reaching out into all the different disciplines of life; business, the media, politics, education. We hope that out of this will come a series of workshops, very practical workshops on a smaller scale than this but dealing with clearly identifiable issues. We hope we will get support for this, we believe we will. We think that this is the start of something that is going to reach much further into society."

The list of foreign ministers, although long, does not contain many of those from the countries that declared their independence from the Soviet Union at the time. This, the organisers say, was due to the response, or lack thereof, they had received from many of those in these countries. But, perhaps just as significantly, the list also does not contain representatives from the United States and the United Kingdom, which were also involved in the events of 1991. This is apparently due to the upcoming general elections in Great Britain, and, according to the executive director of the Prague Society, Professor Marc Ellenbogen, a flurry of diplomatic activity in the United States:

"One of the reasons we've had problems getting George Schultz and James Baker is because they are advising George Bush and you can take that as you like, but he certainly needs a lot of help and that's okay. Unfortunately this has used up the resources of a lot of people we would have counted on."

But Professor Ellenbogen feels that this could actually benefit the conference:

"We have discussed this and frankly, maybe it's okay for a change that the United States and Great Britain aren't here. Maybe it will create a different kind of vision."

The Conference of Foreign Ministers will be held in Prague next week, and Radio Prague will be providing reports on the conference as it happens.