Forum 2000 looks at 'Conflict and Coexistence'

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTK

Intended as a one-off meeting of intellectuals and activists from around the globe, the Forum 2000 conference has become a veritable Prague institution. Founded in 1996 by former Czech president Vaclav Havel, the Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, the theme of this year's conference is "Conflict and Coexistence".

Vaclav Havel,  photo: CTK
With his characteristic sense of irony, Vaclav Havel opens the ninth annual Forum 2000 with a disclaimer: it was never meant to go this far, but institutions have a talent for self-preservation, as does global conflict.

"The goal every year has been to invite people of various professions, nations and religions to discuss the future of our humankind, the current state of the world, the threats to peace and security that we all face, and finally, how to dispel them."

Keynote speakers at this year's conference include former CIA director James Woolsey: "The major challenge of the 21st century is going to be exactly the same as the principle challenge of the 20th century. How do we deal with fanaticism armed with power?"

Ghassan Salame, a Former Minister of Culture of Lebanon, now Professor at the Sorbonne: "Religions are like weapons of dual use [that] are sometimes looked after by the United Nations; sometimes they are used to legitimize autocracy, and sometimes they inspire democracy"

and Gareth Evans, who served as Australia's foreign minister, and is now President of the International Crisis Group: "What is it that we have learned about what works and what doesn't when it comes to war and civil war? What are the things that governments and non-governmental organizations have been doing right - up to a point - but could do a lot more of, and could do a lot more consistently?"

Several dozen other prominent former government ministers, leading academics, political scientists and peace activists are delegates to this year's Forum 2000 conference. The goal has always been to further dialogue, rather than chart a definitive course of action or even reach consensus.

But among the delegates this year is the main opposition presidential candidate in Belarus, Alyaksandar Milinkevic, and former Czech president Vaclav Havel is a vocal critic of the autocratic regime of Alyaksander Lukashenka, sometimes referred to as "the last dictator" in Europe. If we may expect any call for definitive action from the Forum 2000 conference, it is likely to come in the form of an appeal to support the democratic movement there.