Fighting corruption can be a lonely and dangerous business. That is one reason why people interested in doing so are meeting this week at the annual World Forum on Governance in Prague. The gathering brings together thinkers from the public and private sectors to discuss ways to push for better governance, especially in societies in transition. RFE/RL spoke with one attendee, Senior U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf, about the meeting and its aims.
RFE/RL: What are some of the elements in society that can be mobilized against problems like corruption, and how can they make a difference?
Judge Mark Wolf: The World Forum on Governance is really the response to your question. The American ambassador [to the Czech Republic] Norman Eisen was a determined foe of corruption in the United States and was President [Barack] Obama's ethics advisor in the White House before he became ambassador in Prague. When he came here, he recognized that the Czech Republic, but certainly the former Soviet countries and many other countries throughout the world, needed the combination of resources that are deployed in the United States to combat corruption and promote good governance. And the forum itself is an exemplar. It is run by the Brookings Institution, a private think tank [in Washington, D.C.], in collaboration with Ambassador Eisen, so it is a model public-private partnership.
Wolf: [The Forum] brings together not just perhaps what I would call the usual suspects. I am a federal judge and often I speak around the world on panels with people who are professionally engaged in combatting corruption from the United Nations, from the OECD, and from the European Union, but the World Forum on Governance in my experience is unique because it brings together the people I have just mentioned, but also representatives of NGOs and especially leaders of the business community. So, the NGOs, to some extent the faith-based community, the business community, governments, because there are government officials from many countries who attend the forum, and people professionally engaged in combatting corruption. The premise of the forum, which I think is correct, is that there are a lot of resources and people interested in combatting corruption but often they operate in silos and there is the potential for the whole to be far more formidable than the sum of its parts.
RFE/RL: How do you get these people -- such as public policy groups, social organizations, the media, the business community -- to work together and generate a collective power for change?
Wolf: Human relationships and personal contacts are very important. When people meet at the forum, sometimes they meet people from their own countries, and sometimes they meet people from neighboring countries who are confronting common problems. They get connected with each other and they also realize that there are counterparts to the people at the forum in their own communities and countries.
RFE/RL: The World Forum on Governance is held annually in Prague, the capital of a country that joined the European Union 10 years ago in the company of a number of other former satellites of the Soviet Union. What is it about Prague's history that makes it the venue for this gathering?
Wolf: The experience of the Czech government in the last 10 years and many of the other new EU nations offers important lessons for each other, and Ambassador Eisen and his colleagues quickly recognized that Prague was a superb hub potentially for these anti-corruption efforts throughout the region and indeed throughout the world. The Czech Republic has made progress, although there is more progress to be made. But people will come here and comfortably learn from each other. And the experience of the Czech Republic is much more significant for people from Slovakia and Hungary, or Romania and Poland, than the experience of the United States.
RFE/RL: The world as a whole has become a smaller place with the incredibly rapid growth of communications technology, and people in many parts of the globe are now well-informed enough to compare their governments with other models. Do you think this has led to rising expectations in many countries for better governance?
Wolf: Definitely. I think it is not possible for any country to keep its people completely ignorant of what is going on in the rest of the world and indeed what is going on in their own country. So, I think that the internet and advancing technologies have been a very powerful instrument. One of the things I have learned over the last couple of years is that there is now a younger generation of corruption fighters who use the internet in a very significant way. Of course, this is what brought [Aleksei] Navalny to prominence in Russia but he has counterparts in countries throughout the world.