Intellectuals descend on Prague for timely debate on 'search for global responsibility'

Forum 2000

Politicians, clerics, intellectuals and retired presidents converge on the Czech capital this week for a major event on the world conference circuit - Prague's Forum 2000. The four-day international conference, brainchild of the Czech President Vaclav Havel and the American writer Elie Wiesel, meets for the last time this year, and, not surprisingly, will be dominated by the global crisis unfolding around us. Rob Cameron reports.

Vaclav Havel
Each year since 1997 personalities from the worlds of culture, science and politics have descended on Prague Castle for four days of rather earnest discussion on the state of the planet. The theme of this year's conference is 'Human Rights - the Search for Global Responsibility', and President Havel expanded on that theme in Sunday's opening speech to the conference:

"I believe that there is a need to think about how to incorporate this global progress, this huge technological development, into the development and strengthening of global human responsibility."

Well the guests pondering over that human responsibility for this, the final Forum 2000, are certainly illustrious - four former Presidents: Bill Clinton of the United States, South Africa's F.W. de Klerk, the former German President Richard von Weizsacker and Hungary's former President Arpad Goncz. Also taking part are the former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the leading Cuban dissident Elizardo Sanchez - the list goes on. However one man who won't be there is His Holiness the Dalaj Lama, who caused such a sensation at previous Forums. He's cancelled, apparently for security reasons.

Forum 2000
Delegates will be discussing, among other things, whether human rights are universal, or whether the concept of human rights is a solely Western notion which causes problems when applied to other cultures. It's certainly a timely discussion, as the U.S. and Britain pound Afghanistan in the 'war against terrorism' and people reassess traditional views of Islam and the Muslim world.

But is Forum 2000 anything more than a glorified talking shop? No, say the critics, who lament the endless discussions and intellectual musing so dear to President Havel's heart. The traditional 'Prague Declaration' has also been subject to criticism: last year it called for a delegation to be sent to the Middle East to ask Israel and the Palestinians to stop fighting and start talking. That seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

But supporters of Forum say the conference is not about producing concrete results, but is merely, as its name suggests, a forum for different ideas. Indeed, nowhere else in the world this week will people such as Rabbi Albert Friedlander, Vice President of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, be rubbing shoulders with Islamic scholar and Iraqi opposition leader His Excellency Sheik Mohammed Mohammed Ali. And in these troubled times, I suppose that can only be a good thing.