(Prague, Czech Republic)
RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin, Executive Editor John O'Sullivan, and Afghan Service journalist Freshta Jalalzai all took part in this year's Forum 2000 conference in Prague. The annual conference brings together personalities from politics, business, academia, journalism, and NGOs as well as leading pro-democracy activists from around the world for a discussion on the state of freedom in the world.
Gedmin appeared on the conference's opening panel with Forum 2000 founder and former Czech President Václav Havel, theologian Michael Novak, Czech Ambassador to the U.K. Michael Zantovsky, and Russian economist Grigory Yavlinsky. He discussed the rise and proliferation of modern authoritarians like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, urging liberals around the world to both be patient and to stand firm. "Democracy is about values, habits, and behaviours, and it takes time," he said. "Authoritarians have asserted their self confidence, it would be a big mistake if we lost ours."
Authoritarians have asserted their self-confidence, it would be a big mistake if we lost ours
During the discussion, titled, "Metamorphosis of Democracy After the Cold War," Gedmin touched on RFE/RL's role in the former Soviet Union, and how slow the adoption of democracy can be for transitioning countries. Using the former Eastern Bloc as an example, Gedmin told the audience: "I think the West underestimated the damage done by communism. We didn't fully grasp the damage to the mental, spiritual, and moral infrastructure." (watch the panel - Gedmin begins at 53:00)
RFE/RL Executive Editor John O'Sullivan gave the keynote address of the second morning panel. He spoke of "five revolutions of rights," which include freedom of assembly, the formation of international human rights organizations, and various enforcement mechanisms. Joined on the panel by Zimbabwaen opposition politician Trudy Stevenson, Belarusian opposition party leader Alyaksandar Milinkevich, President of Seychelles Islands James Mancham, ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, and former President of Botswana Festus Mogae, O'Sullivan called for a "revival of the democratic spirit within Western countries—and especially within Western Europe," arguing that such a revival would be more beneficial than simply creating more human rights or democracy-focused bodies or organizations. (watch the panel; click here for a transcript of O'Sullivan's remarks)
Freshta Jalalzai, a journalist with RFE/RL's Afghan Service participated in a discussion on the role and rights of women in countries with spotty human rights records titled, "Universality of Women's Rights." The panel was moderated by Tereza Wennerholm Caslavska of the Open Society and included Jalalzai, Palestinian peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish, leader of the Czech political party EDS Jana Hybaskova, and Berkat's Jana Hradilkova. Forum 2000
was founded in 1996 as a joint initiative of Václav Havel, Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, and has held its annual conference in Prague since 1997. Attendees have included a number of prominent intellectuals, Nobel laureates, and former and current political and business leaders from around the world including the Dalai Lama, Prince Turki Al-Faisl, and Madeleine Albright.