The 20th edition of Forum 2000 started with an opening ceremony for invited guests at Prague Crossroads. The main theme of this year’s conference is The Courage to Take Responsibility. Slovak President Andrej Kiska was one of the keynote speakers, and he expressed his concern about growing xenophobia.
He said he prepared for his speech by having lunch with the Dalai Lama in Bratislava. The Dalai Lama also will appear at the Forum and will give a public talk Oct. 19. Kiska pointed out that the Dalai Lama was close friends with former Czech president Václav Havel, one of the founders of Forum 2000.
“The Dalai Lama is the best teacher in my life. [He] helped me to understand one of the most difficult questions, the purpose of my life. … If you find a purpose to help, to serve, it is really the best purpose of a life.” Kiska said. The talk he had over lunch covered how to motivate young people to be more active and how the world has gotten smaller. “We had a lot of discussion about our Europe,” he said, adding that it seems unreal to imagine anyone who would not want Europe as a place of peace, now and forever. Only a madman would want to roll back the centuries of developments of human rights and civil society, he said. “Today, many of us feel deeply worried that this unbelievable scenario is happening in front of our eyes,” he said. “There is a clear and present danger which many of us thought we would not see reincarnated again. It is the rise of nationalism, extremism and racism. … We suddenly feel as if the unpleasant history of Europe is returning,” he said.
But he was not entirely pessimistic. Every generation has to fight for its own freedom, he said. The current level of innovation and information has set the current generation apart. “We are the best-equipped generation in history to deal with every imaginable challenge,” he said.
He also pointed out that poverty has been cut and globally people conduct fewer wars, despite some exceptions. “More men and women have access to health care. More girls attend schools than any time in the past,” he said, going on to point out both public and private efforts to aid people. “This scope of generosity and humanism is unparalleled in our history,” he said. Europe is an example of success, he added, citing the European Union and the Schengen Zone. There have been some crises, but Europe can handle them, he maintained. “In reality, we have been doing fine so far and there is not a single objective reason why we should not continue to do so,” he said.
“It is not all sunshine and rainbows in out part of the world, of course. I can see signs I consider to be a real threat. Above all, it is the conviction of many politicians that they can play with fire forever, free of any consequences,” he said, referring to fear-mongering and the promotion of animosity. “I am talking about attempts to rewrite the truth about our history, to revive the demons of out dark past: extremism, xenophobia and general suspicion against liberal democracy.” It is a shortsighted and unrealistic gamble, he maintains.
He went on to discuss the power of words, which he said can make peace but also war. He cited populist words used by politicians in the Brexit campaign in the UK, which have led an increase of xenophobic sentiment and violence toward people from Central and Eastern Europe. “And what is the reason? Words. Words by politicians,” he said, adding that people need to be concerned about words against any religion or group of people because the words can lead to action.
Kiska also expressed concern about communication bubbles and the development of parallel universes in society that fail to communicate with each other, and that people refuse to understand one another. “Step by step we lose the ability to agree with one another on questions of common public interests. This is all happening in the time when Europe is in the heavy crossfire of an information war, a war the we observe but do not fight back at,” he said. He was confident though, that Europe could defeat the threats it faces from extremists and autocrats.
He concluded by talking about Slovak Roman Catholic priest Anton Srholec, who had been jailed under communism. Srcholec always said that people had to stay with their values, and people with the same values should stay united. “He liked to say, ‘I don’t know what will happen in the future, what will happen tomorrow, but today I know how I would behave.’ So, please, we should stay with our values, and we should know now how we would behave in the future,” Kiska concluded.
Václav Havel’s brother, Ivan, also spoke on the opening night. He pointed out that it was the 20th Forum 2000 and that this month it would have been his brother’s 80th birthday. He summarized that the forum is a place for politicians, democratic leaders and other thinkers to meet once a year to discuss the important topics of the day. “Looking back I am astonished by the extensive number of themes discussed in the various meetings,” he said. The key words, according him were “global,” which has occurred most often, followed by “democracy,” and then “co-existence,” with “freedom,” “hopes,” and “world” also turning up more than once. This year, two important new concepts were added, courage and responsibility, he said, pointing at that plain courage is one thing and the courage to take responsibility, which is this year’s theme, is something quite different. He wished the conference success.
Parts of Forum 2000, which runs to Oct. 19, will be live streamed over the internet. See http://www.forum2000.cz/en/homepage for more details.