15th Forum 2000: “Democracy and the Rule of Law”

Prague, Czech Republic

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 15th conference of Forum 2000. As many of you know, Forum 2000 was inaugurated in 1997 under the vital leadership of President Havel. Our founding aims were to host discussions concerning the many challenges, basic and structural, faced by humanity, and out of those discussions to build a civil society in accordance to the will of the people. With the convening of this 15th Conference, we now reach another milestone – a milestone made possible by the dedicated passion and strong convictions of the many individuals who have participated in the Forum 2000 Conferences to date.

Today, our world is undergoing remarkable changes. Some countries are developing rapidly into economic powerhouses – but their social development continues to lag behind; the human rights of their citizens remain suppressed; and injustice and corruption are rampant.

In other countries, the people have risen up and toppled their oppressive regimes – but democracy and the rule of law remain elusive; society continues to be in turmoil; and poverty, corruption and crime are widespread. Daunting challenges thus remain. And yet, the citizens of these countries have clearly taken the first steps toward achieving democracy and the rule of law – to enable the formation of societies based on the people’s own will.

This year, our underlying goal is to seek ways in which the people who are now engaged in these noble struggles can successfully create societies that will be based on democracy and the rule of law. We hope that as participants in this Conference you will all apply your vast experience and abundant knowledge toward finding solutions to these complex problems.

However, success, even when achieved, is often not enough. Even after systems based on democracy and the rule of law are put in place, as those societies mature, the people who live in them cannot simply sit back and let history take its course. Once the rule of law is achieved, citizens become protected by them. On the surface, this legal protection may give the impression that citizens are enjoying the benefits of safety and security. But when highly complex laws become guardians of the people, they can at times be an impediment to the growth of society. When people are enslaved to the laws that govern them, the driving forces needed for healthy growth – open-mindedness, sense of ownership, diversity – are no longer guaranteed. This social regression is what Tocqueville called “peaceful, gentle enslavement.”

In this respect, it is extremely important for leaders from different fields – political leaders; scientific experts; religious leaders; to meet on occasions like the Forum 2000 to discuss issues relating to democracy and the rule of law.

I hope your discussions will be of significance and benefit to various people around the world: those who are striving to create societies that conform to the people’s will, as well as those already in matured societies, who are susceptible to “peaceful, gentle enslavement”, so that societies around the world may continue their path of healthy growth.