Lifestyles Magazine Prague: Havel’s search for common aspirations

Throughout history, the czech lands, located in the center of central europe, have been a crossroads of diverse power interests as well as currents of thought. “events in our country were a test for all europe, a warning to the continent, and a challenge to redefine its basic values…,” then-President Václav Havel noted in his Address to forum 2000 ten years ago.

“Probably even more important than this political fate was what I would choose to call the spiritual record of our country,” he said then.

In this issue, we take a look at the progress – or lack of it – the czech lands, the continent, and humanity as a whole has made since that forum a decade ago by looking at some of the conclusions from the latest forum 2000, held oct 7-9 this year. to set the scene, we begin with a closer look at some of Mr Havel’s remarks from sept 4, 1997:

“I see a large, yet typical, paradox for our era in the fact that though contemporary humanity has been aware of [social] dangers, it does almost nothing to confront or avert them.”

He continued, “It is fascinating how preoccupied people are today with all kinds of catastrophic prognoses. Is it not common for titles, containing impressive evidence of the disasters into which we are tumbling headlong, to become best sellers? And
how very little people take these into account in their everyday activities.

For how many years now have these warning data been taught in schools and yet how small is the effect of this knowledge on human behavior! Does not every school child know today that the resources of this planet are limited and that if exhausted
faster than recovered, would mean we could not but be doomed? And still we continue in our ways and, moreover, do not even seem perturbed. Quite the contrary: rising production, and therefore also consumption, is felt as the main sign of success of a state…”

In his earlier address, Mr Havel pointed out that it would be unfair, however, to deny the existence of numerous projects aimed at averting the dangers and at implementing action.

“However, all attempts of this kind have one thing in common: they do not at all touch basic trends of development, from which the threats I am speaking of, sprout; but [they] merely regulate their impact using technical or administrative instruments.”

He explained, “A typical example of such instruments are legal acts, ordinances, or international treaties stipulating how much toxic matter this or that product may contain or how much toxic waste this or that plant may discharge into the environment. I am not criticizing this type of standards or safeguards … I only claim that these are technical tricks reducing the unfavourable impact of other techniques, without … having any effect on the substance of the matter.”

How many of the ideas of that 10-year-old address remain relevant today? Back then, Mr Havel addressed the participants:

“It is my deep conviction that the only option is for something to change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience, in the actual attitude of man towards the world and his understanding of himself and his place in the overall order of existence.”

He explained further, “It cannot suffice to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. It is necessary to understand differently and more perfectly the true purpose of our existence on this earth and of our deeds.” he pinpointed his belief that the crisis in global responsibility is due to the fact that “we have lost the certainty that the universe, nature, existence, and our lives are the work of creation guided by a definite intention, that it has a definite meaning and follows a definite purpose, and together with this certainty, of course, also all and every humility towards what reaches beyond us and surrounds us.”

Mr Havel then suggested that the remedy might be found in what unites “the various religions and cultures, in the search for common sources, principles, certitude, aspirations and imperatives, a purpose-minded search,” and then to cultivate “all matters of human coexistence and endeavour” as well as the treatment of the planet; and to “suffuse it all with the spirit of … the common spiritual and moral minimum.”

Ten years on, after this forum 2000 Address, and eighteen years after the Velvet Revolution, what progress has been made? listen in on just a few of the conversations held at the latest forum 2000, in the following pages.

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