13th Forum 2000 Conference: “Democracy and Freedom in a Multipolar World”

Prague, Czech Republic

It is my great honor to say a few words here at the 13th Forum 2000 Conference.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of The Velvet Revolution led by President Havel. This historic event sent an important message to the world. It was a message that one country in the middle of Europe could play a pivotal role in changing the world and the course of history. A message that it could do so, not through violence, but through the peaceful pursuit of liberty by its people. A message that moral leadership could make all the difference.

The collapse of authoritarian regimes twenty years ago brought optimism to the world. It generated a genuine sense of hope. There was hope that the world would become more united. That we would no longer have to live in fear of self-destruction. That the world would inevitably change for the better.

By the middle of the 1990s, however, this optimism was beginning to fade. There was a rising sense of unease with the direction in which we were heading. There was concern that new tensions and conflicts could potentially create another major catastrophe. And there was a realization that we could not take the course of history for granted.

It was against this backdrop, in 1995, that the vision for this Conference was born. President Havel was speaking in Hiroshima to commemorate half a century following the atomic devastation of that city.

In his speech, President Havel talked about the “Future of Hope” and stressed the urgent need to identify that which unites us rather than divides us. He spoke of the need to find a deeper foundation. One that would allow humanity to avoid conflicts that culminate in catastrophes like Hiroshima. This vision was shared and further articulated through conversations with Mr. Elie Wiesel.

Not long after making this historic speech, President Havel came to me with the idea of creating a forum where his vision of global unity could be realized. We came from two very different parts of the world. We had led very different lives. But I found that we shared the same concerns, the same fundamental values, convictions and hopes. I was immediately convinced that it would be the beginning of a truly important initiative as well as the start of a lifelong friendship.

And I believe I was right on both counts. I am convinced that our basic responsibility at this conference has been and will always be the same. It is a responsibility to continue building on the foundation of our shared moral and spiritual values. To foster a sense of universal responsibility for our world. To address the problems created by our rapidly changing world. And to provide moral leadership and a genuine sense of hope. With this hope, the world can derive the energy and enthusiasm to continue to tackle these challenges.

Today the world may not be in the divided state it was two decades ago. But it is still plagued with countless problems. Religious conflict. Global epidemics. Environmental degradation. Recent events have also shown the fragility of the very concepts of democracy and freedom that brought the world together two decades ago. Now, more than ever, we need venues like the Forum 2000 Conference. It is important that the spirit and message of this forum reach as many people as possible.

Fifteen years ago in Hiroshima, President Havel reminded us that the hope for the future lay in the awakening of a universal sense of responsibility. Earlier this year, here in Prague, President Barack Obama took another important step.

He became the first US president to state clearly that the US, as the only nation to have used nuclear weapons, has a moral duty to take the lead in bringing about a world without them. He followed in the footsteps of President Havel by calling for people to unite in the responsibility of creating a more peaceful world. This led to last month’s unanimous adoption of a UN Security Council resolution aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons. I take hope from these developments.

I also take great hope from the fact that the most brilliant minds on the planet continue to gather here every year with the shared commitment to work toward a better future, regardless the scale and complexity of the challenge.

I therefore consider it a great honor and privilege to extend my heartfelt welcome to our distinguished guests, and my sincere gratitude to President Havel and the members of the Forum 2000 Foundation, who continue to make it possible for us to gather every year at this venue of hope.

Thank you.