Forum 2000 Conference on Societies in Transition

September 17th 2013

Prague, Czech Republic, 16 September 2013 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in Prague at the invitation of the Forum 2000 Foundation established by his old friend President Vaclav Havel. This is his tenth visit since he came first in 1990, three months after the Velvet Revolution that ended 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Shortly after he was last here in 2012, President Havel died.


His Holiness and the late President Vaclav Havel's wife Dagmar Havlova looking at a poster depicting Vaclev Havel's arrests in his office in Prague, Czech Republic on September 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Today, His Holiness expressed a wish to visit Havel’s office to pay his respects. This he duly did, being met at the entrance to the building by Dagmar Havlova, the late President’s wife who escorted him inside. His Holiness touched his head to the chair in which Havel sat when they last met and laid a silk scarf upon it.

When he asked if they had anything bearing President Havel’s own handwriting a signed copy was found of his last play ‘Leaving’, which Dagmar Havlova presented to His Holiness. On the way out, he was moved by a poster featuring photographs of Havel on the various occasions that he was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities. From President Havel’s office His Holiness drove to the Zofin Palace where this year’s Forum 2000 Conference is taking place.

Among many friends in the room His Holiness greeted blind Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng as he entered. He was welcomed with warm applause and introduced to the gathering by Jacques Rupnik, who remarked that as His Holiness was President Havel’s last visitor it was appropriate that he should make the opening address to the conference he founded.

“Respected brothers and sisters, as a long time friend of President Havel’s I feel it a great honour to participate in a meeting that he began. I would like to tell you that I have just come from the office where our last meeting took place. I have made something of a practice of paying tribute to friends in this way. After first President of Independent India, Rajendra Prasad passed away I visited his apartment in Patna to pay my respects. I likewise went to Pandit Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister’s house after he died and I remember noticing the small Buddhist text and his Rolex watch that he kept beside his bed.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the opening session of the 17th Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, Czech Republic on September 16, 2013. Photo/Forum2000/Ondrej Besperat
“This time I went to President Havel’s place with feelings of sadness that this humble, honest, truthful person is no more. But, although he is physically no longer with us, his spirit remains and we have a responsibility to continue his work.”

He said he considers himself just one of the 7 billion human beings alive today, nothing special.

“As human beings we are physically, mentally and emotionally the same. We all want a happy life and don’t look for trouble, and yet many of the problems we face are of our own creation. If we rely on our basic human feelings of affection we can overcome these problems. We need to have a sense of the oneness of humanity. We have to look at things on a human level and remember that just as we want to live a happy life, others do too.”

He said that despite our increasing interdependence, our insistent emphasis on ‘them’ and ‘us’ becomes the basis for war and violence. Yet the notion of completely eliminating your enemy, to overcome ‘them’, is obsolete, out of date. His Holiness commented that while his generation belongs to the twentieth century, young people today belong to the twenty-first. Despite its many developments, the twentieth century was a century of violence and bloodshed. Young people of the present century have the opportunity to create a new world, and although he may not live to see it, His Holiness jokingly suggested that from heaven or hell he will be keeping an eye on how they are doing.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the opening session of the 17th Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, Czech Republic on September 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
“The past is past; nothing can change it. But the future depends on the present; we still have the opportunity to shape it. This is not a matter of employing technology or spending more money, it’s a question of developing a sense of concern for others’ well-being. We need to show each other affection; to be sensible, warm-hearted, more compassionate human beings. This twenty-first century should be an era of peace, and yet it will not be achieved by releasing a few doves, but by developing inner peace within ourselves. It will take non-violent action to make this an era of peace.”

His Holiness referred to our all being born from our mothers and brought up under the care of our parents’ affection. He said that those of us who enjoy such affection in infancy grow up to be happier adults. This is our common experience. Meanwhile, scientists have found that a healthy mind is important for even our physical well-being. He suggested that just as we teach about physical hygiene in our schools, we should view secular ethics and warm-heartedness as a form of emotional hygiene, which relates to human compassion and affection.

“Creating a more peaceful century will be achieved through education not through prayer. When it comes to the well-being of humanity, I’m not sure that prayer is really very effective. It is valuable to individuals, but when it comes to changing the world, action is more important.

“Whenever I have the opportunity to talk in public, this is what I talk about, so I thought I would share it with you here too.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi at the meeting of the Forum 200 International Advisory Board and Shared initiative Members in Prague Czech Republic on September 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
His Holiness then went into a meeting of the Forum 2000 International Advisory Board and Shared Concern Initiative Members, who included Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, former South African President F. W. de Klerk and former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Back at his hotel His Holiness gave an interview to Hospodárské noviny, the largest Czech newspaper. He told the two journalists that in his travels he is more concerned with engaging with the public than meeting political leaders. When they asked about the effects of his visits on, for example, the Czech Republic’s trade with China he acknowledged the importance of business, pointing out that when the USA was deliberating on whether to grant China Most Favoured Nation status, he was in favour, because we should not try to isolate a nation of 1.3 billion people. Trade relations are important and the Chinese want to be part of the world economic community. However, that does not mean that other countries should not stand firm on matters of principle like human rights.

Asked his view of prospective reforms in China he answered that it’s too early to say. He noted that prior to 1949 China was in a difficult situation and that the Communists brought about a renewed identity and leadership. He referred to four distinct eras in China’s development since then, noting that the same party and the same system had shown an ability to adjust to new realities.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama being interviewed for Hospodarske noviny, the largest Czech newspaper, in Prague Czech Republic on September 16, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
He said he hoped the new leader Xi Jinping would continue to work for harmony among the Chinese people and among the minority nationalities. However, the use of force and intimidation goes counter to this. He mentioned that Xi Jinping has launched a courageous movement to tackle corruption and that many of his friends say he has a more realistic way of thinking.

“China is a huge nation with an important role to play in the world, but in order to play that role it needs the world’s trust. A closed society constrained by censorship doesn’t earn that trust. No matter how powerful it may be, China must follow the world trend towards democracy and freedom of information.”

Regarding Tibet His Holiness reiterated its ecological importance in Asia, its role as the Third Pole, but pointed out that although policy may change tomorrow, damage to the environment can take decades to recover.

To a final question about what a political leader needs to be considered successful he had a simple, succinct reply:

“The people’s trust.”

His Holiness will attend the Forum 2000 Closing Panel and a Panel Discussion with students of Charles University on ‘Democracy, Human Rights and Religious Freedom in East Asia’ tomorrow before travelling to Hanover.
 

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