Europe and the world engage in thoughtful debate in Prague
25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague, the capital city of the Velvet Revolution, has become the place for people to reflect on peace, democracy and citizenship.
“How desperately the world needs, and how desperately the troubled Middle East region and Egypt need, more efforts in spreading the ideas of forgiveness, coexistence, peace, respect for others and respect for freedom, democracy and human rights.” These are the words used by Ahmed Maher when, speaking from his prison cell in Egypt, he addressed the participants attending the Forum 2000 Conference held in Prague on 12 – 15 October. “I would have loved to participate, but the bars of the régime’s prison surround me.”
Forum 2000 was founded in 1996 as a joint initiative of Václav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, Yohei Sasakawa, the Japanese philanthropist and Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. During the first conference, held in 1997, they invited many world leaders to come to Prague to discuss the challenges for humanity at the dawn of the Third Millennium.
In autumn this year, Prague is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the fastest revolution of all those that happened in the former Communist bloc: only a dozen days lay between the students’ demonstration in Prague on 17 November 1989, suppressed by the police, and the moment when the Communist Party abandoned power on 28 November. Moreover, it was scarcely one month later, on 28 December, that Václav Havel, the renowned intellectual and opponent of the régime, was elected President of the Republic.
The Philosopher President made a deep impression on Czech national and international politics right up until he retired from public life in 2003. His views and his political thinking have not lost any of their relevance to events today, and it is astonishing to discover that the works of Václav Havel are read in Iran, in Venezuela, in Hong Kong and in all the places on this planet where democracy is attempting to find its way.
During his presidency and during his trips abroad, Václav Havel had expressed the view that “it would be good if intelligent people, not only from the various ends of the earth, different continents, different cultures, from civilization's religious circles, but also from different disciplines of human knowledge, could come together somewhere in calm discussion...” This gave rise to the idea of launching a Forum run by Foundation 2000.
The Forum continues the legacy of Václav Havel by supporting the values of democracy and respect for human rights, through providing assistance to the development of human society and through encouraging religious, cultural and racial tolerance. It provides a platform for the world’s leaders, as well as to thinkers and to courageous men and women from every domain of activity, to allow them to hold open debate and to exchange views on crucial questions.
Therefore in recent years we have seen the presence at the Prague Forum of VIPs such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Elie Wiesl, Mary Robinson, Rabbi Michael Melchior, José Ramos Horta, Grigory Yavlinsky, Henry Kissinger and Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
This year 2014 we are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the 1989 Tiananmen Uprising. Looking back over the quarter of a century that separates us from the events which had raised both enormous expectations and huge disappointments, the theme of this year’s ‘Forum 2000’ Conference is Democracy and Its Discontents .
What type of democracy do we then expect? To what kind of democracy do we aspire today?
The Conference opened with a speech from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russian businessman and recently freed political prisoner. The programme that followed over the course of three days was most impressive, particularly for its richness. With often four Round Tables being held simultaneously in different rooms in the sumptuous Žofín Palace in the centre of Prague, each participant found it difficult to choose: all the themes were equally exciting and promised passionate debate: Is democracy possible in Post-Soviet Space? Resurgent authoritarians the world; Democracy in Asia: India and its neighbours; Putin’s Trojan Horses: Russian influence on the European Radical Right and Radical Left; Religion against Totalitarianism; Challenges for democracy in Latin America; Young people in politics: the promise and the reality. And so on.
From Europe, from India and from the Americas – their most distinguished experts and political specialists shared their assessments of the situation. The leaders of major movements for change around the world described how they had survived during revolutions and transitions to democracy; people like the young Chinese blogger Murong Xuecun, the young Venezualan student leader Juan Requesens or the Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez.
It is a pity that so few European leaders, officials and MEPs attended this conference. While Brussels is indeed the institutional capital city of Europe, it should still look towards Europe’s intellectual capital, the seat of revolutions and power struggles, where the changes of today and tomorrow are the subject of reflection. High time that Brussels went to Prague.
Translated from the original text in French