Spirit of Havel informs 2013 Forum

Dalai Lama, photo: CTK

The Forum 2000 conference concludes in Prague on Tuesday evening. Over the past three days, over 140 distinguished speakers from around world discussed a wide range of issues related to the event’s central theme this year: societies in transition. The closing panel featured the Dalai Lama and focused on, among other subjects, the experience of former Soviet bloc countries and the legacy of the late Václav Havel.

Gareth Evans,  photo: archive of Gareth Evans,  CC BY-SA 1.0
People from five continents took the stage in Prague’s Žofín palace on Tuesday, in the closing panel of the 17th annual Forum 2000 conference. In front of a full auditorium, the Dalai Lama, former South African president F. W. de Klerk, Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sanchez and former Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg discussed some of the major themes issues related to the transition from totalitarian rule to democracy. The closing panel was hosted by Gareth Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia. He stressed how important historical conditions are in this process.

“I think Shlomo Avineri put it very clearly when he said in one session that countries memories or past democratic traditions, such as the Czech Republic and the other Visegrad countries, were likely to find the transitions to democracy relatively smooth, certainly as compared with countries in the Middle East and North Africa.”

The conference also highlighted the need for patience as changing societal mindsets takes generations. In this respect, Mr Evans highlighted the legacy of Václav Havel.

Václav Havel,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“A sustaining inspiration here, as a number of speakers pointed out, must continue to be Václav Havel who in his classic 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless argued that whatever the odds that seem to be stacked against those unhappily living under totalitarian regimes, the refusal of just some individuals to go on living the lie, a willingness by them to break the rule of silence, can have a really extraordinary impact in cracking open the fragile facades of these systems, and ultimately bringing them down.”

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama made several appearances at this year’s Forum 2000. He observed that prayer and meditation is restorative for individuals but when it comes to impact on the real world, action was more important than prayer. On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama elaborated on his views.

Dalai Lama,  photo: CTK
“It seems to me that in general, we put much emphasis on action. But the motivation is not discussed that much. Motivation is the key factor. For example, there are various religious traditions. That’s wonderful. But the motivation of individuals involved in this field is not very clear. Sometimes, they pursue wonderful teachings. But sometime, they are manipulative.

For her part, the Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez stressed the role of technology, which has become vital for bringing people together in authoritarian regimes.

“I believe technology is crucial for any transition that is now taking place. Technology in itself has no ethics; it’s not good or bad. Computer keys themselves cannot set us free. They need the ethics of those who use them. Technology serves to liberate and to oppress, to inform and to control. But for many activists in totalitarian regimes, technology is becoming a path to freedom.”