Lifestyles Magazine Prague: Havel’s Forum 2000

“Young people do not want to follow in our footsteps. In fact, they are one step ahead of us.”

The new report cards are out. And the generation that’s currently running the world is getting a failing grade. That’s the bottom line in “The Second Prague Declaration” issued at the Forum 2000 Conference which was held Oct 7-9 at various locations around Prague. Forum participants from around the world agreed that the problems initially identified in the first Prague Declaration in October 2001 have not been solved.

In fact, in many respects, they say, the problems have deepened.

The First Declaration warned about the growing threat of confrontation between different cultures and civilizations due to their inability to understand each other. “[This could] endanger not only the peaceful coexistence of nations but the very survival of mankind,” it had warned. It called for all individuals to realize more fully their shared responsibility for the shared world.

Now, The Second Declaration reports that the threat is even more acute today than six years ago. The conference delegates therefore reiterated their earlier message to all responsible citizens of the world, and in particular to the young generation which will take over the responsibility for solving global problems.

But, as the Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean noted in her welcoming speech, “Young people do not want to follow in our footsteps. In fact, they are one step ahead of us.”

So what hope does that give to the current generation, the one now (but for not much longer) in power, the one now in political office, the one running corporations, creating jobs, investing in global markets? Should this generation simply jet off into the sunset and cushion itself in one of the remaining private resorts before it’s too late?

A look at the socially-responsible corporation

Predictably, the answer is no. Fortunately, the participants of Forum 2000 brainstormed some concrete suggestions, in panel discussions on freedom and responsibility in politics, international law, media, and business, respectively. Following is a look at the discussion from two of the many Forum sessions.

The socially-responsible corporation was the focus of the panel discussion, “Freedom and Responsibility in Business.” Graham Mackay, CEO of SABMiller, emphasized the importance of business being integrated with society. “Business is not a separate society, it is society,” he declared. Further, a general consensus was reached on the point that business cannot even survive without a healthy society.

Meanwhile, all panelists – except one – agreed that socially-conscious companies are the future in a multinational business environment. The lone dissenter was Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation, a philanthropy dedicated to world peace and to education. In his view, the reality of the corporate world is that “businesses have never been able to restrain themselves.”However, since profits are the driving force of a healthy society, he suggested that proper government regulation helps to hold companies accountable to their shareholders and customers.

Already, dozens of companies with massive economic and political power are more influential than many governments”

The role of government was also cited by panelist Leszek Balcerowicz, former president of the National Bank of Poland, who put on the table his list of three vital roles for government: to protect businesses, governments should fight corruption, protect property rights, and respect the rule of law.

On the other hand, education was the favored solution of Frank Lampl, president of Bovis Lend Lease. Addressing the topic of a company’s longevity, he said, “The company with the highest educated employees are the companies that will outlast any oil company.”

That thought was again supported by Lampl, and Ronald E. Gerevas, former president and CEO of Heidrick and Struggles, speaking at an invitation-only luncheon entitled “Emerging Challenges to Corporate Social Responsibility.”

The speakers pointed out that already, dozens of companies with massive economic and political power are more influential than many governments. The corporate sector is taking a leading role in more spheres of public life, and increasingly, at the expense of government power.Business support limited to charity and sport may no longer be enough, they warned.

The financial experts advocated support of, and participation in, education and innovative thinking. They believe this is the way not only to ensure individual freedoms and contribute to public well-being, but also to guarantee the most advantageous environment where business can flourish. Youth and minority radicalization in large cities.

And what about those youth who are one step ahead of the current generation in power? Remarkably, by the year 2030, about 60 percent of the global population will live in cities – and the majority of them will be young people. Those statistics were revealed at the public roundtable debate, “Youth and Minority Radicalization in Large Cities.” Although the city has always been perceived as the place for opportunity, it’s expected that reality in a few short years will be quite different for the new generations. Many will never find work, and will face poverty, social exclusion, and political and religious radicalization.

Sadly, we won’t have to wait for the future to see the beginnings of these trends; speakers from several countries revealed the situation in their neighborhoods right now. Gabor Demszky, the Lord Mayor of Budapest, recalled that in his country’s pre-democracy period, no force was used in the fight for democracy. However, today’s radical, nationalistic oriented youth already living in a democratic environment are using force in attacks on both the police and the elderly.

Pavel Bém, the Mayor of Prague, said young people here are facing “soft” social problems such as drug and alcohol addiction and HIV; whereas Jan Kasl, the former mayor, addressed problems similar to those listed by Demszky: extreme radicalization issues, he claimed, exist in Prague in a latent state; they just aren’t visible – yet. He added that although the fight for democracy is over, the young generations must be made aware of what the older generations have bequeathed them. Education and promotion of multicultural integration are the highest priorities, in his view.

“Business support limited to charity and sport may no longer be enough”

Faouzia Hariche, Councillor for Youth and Public Education in Brussels, cited the stigmatizing of foreigners as the reason citizens are tempted to fight the marginalized in society. He described a devastating cycle: first, the lack of employment opportunities, coupled with a lack of housing options an cultural differences, set the cycle in motion. Perpetuating it is the education system in Belgium. Then, violent and inappropriate behavior of radicals towards police solidifies the stigma, which is again further strengthened by harsher punishment and legal action taken against youth and minorities.

Another interesting factor was proposed by the University of Birmingham’s Tihir Abbas: the large number of underachieving youth with talent that fails to thrive. Modernizing and improving schools was a solution suggested by Afzal Kahn, former Lord Mayor of Manchester. Indeed, maybe to find the freshest solutions it’s time to ask the kids.

Among those participating in this year’s Forum 2000 conference:

  • Former US Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright
  • Iranian Lawyer/Human Rights Activist/Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadí
  • Opposition Leader Alexandr Milinkievič, Belarus
  • Jan Muhlfeit, Chief of Microsoft Europe
  • Dissidents Oswald Paya Sardinás, Cuba, And Galymžan Žakijanov, Kazakhstan, Accepted Invitations But Were Prohibited By Their Governments From Attending.
  • CNN Chief Correspondent Christiane Amanpour
  • Former President Of Chile Ricardo Lagos

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