Václav Havel’s conviction that truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred and that we must remain faithful to our own values are vital for the survival of pluralism. Because of their relevance to Central Europe now and in the future these issues are at the centre of Central European Forum 2012.
From 15 to 18 November 2012 the Slovak non-profit organisation Projekt Fórum, in conjunction with a number of other Slovak and international instVáclav Havel’s conviction that truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred, that we must remain faithful to our own values as well as believe in love that upholds the truth of others, are the two key principles without which a pluralist world cannot, in the long run, exist. Central European Forum 2012 will focus on these issues, which seem particularly relevant to Central Europe in the present day and the future in 2012, the year of ominous prophecies.itutions, is organizing the fourth Central European Forum, a three-day series of discussions in Bratislava open to the public and featuring an international cast of panelists.
“The little brother of Prague’s Forum 2000, only younger, more subtle and better looking” is how Central European Forum was described by literary historian Martin C. Putna, the first Director of Václav Havel Library in Prague.“ It shares its older sibling’s strengths: the idea of bringing together intellectuals from several countries and getting them to discuss a variety of subjects; making the debates accessible to the public of its host city; and the patronage of Václav Havel.”
The first Central European Forum was held in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Its participants, who included Václav Havel, discussed issues concerning the central question: ‘Whatever happened to democracy?‘. In its second and third year, Central European Forum focused on the question ‘How can we hold on to our freedom?‘ and on the ‘The End of the Future‘. Central European Forum 2012 will revisit ‘Truth and Love‘ of Václav Havel’s famous motto.
The universal outpouring of grief, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, that followed the death of Václav Havel reinforced the validity of his credo not only under dictatorship but also at a time of general uncertainty, since it is a credo whose power is capable of turning the anonymity of society into a community. Havel’s conviction that truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred, that we must remain faithful to our own values as well as believe in love that upholds the truth of others, are the two key principles without which a pluralist world cannot, in the long run, exist. Central European Forum 2012 will focus on these issues, which seem particularly relevant to Central Europe in the present day and the future in 2012, the year of ominous prophecies.
Under the central heading of ‘Truth and Love‘ Central European Forum 2012 will discuss the many and varied forms and causes of lies and hatred. Lies become untenable in a time of crisis, as evidenced by the current debt and economic crisis and the crisis in European coherence it has engendered. This is a time when instances of fraud are being uncovered and lies exposed. It is also a time of hatred unleashed by the lies that have been exposed. It seems that the fiercest opponents of lies are more lies, generating more hatred. Writing about Václav Havel, French philosopher André Glucksmann has said that an era is dawning in which various hues of aggressive populism will enjoy their moment in history. One of our panels will discuss possible ways of breaking this vicious circle.
Panel discussions at Central European Forum 2012 will be structured around the following headings:
We made the mistake of placing our trust in economists and ceding to them some of our intellectual and political responsibility, Václav Havel said in Bratislava in 2009, in reference to the legacy of the Velvet Revolution. While a dysfunctional planned economy was being transformed into a functioning market economy, intellectuals – who had championed the ideas of democracy and human rights but lacked the skills required for the new role – were replaced as central figures by experts in economy. Over the past few decades the role of the public intellectual who speaks out on key problems of society, has waned not just in the post-communist world but the world over, as if society could manage without intellectual reflection and intellectuals could manage without society. However, at a time of universal anxiety, the time has again come to pose fundamental questions and for intellectuals to assume their responsibility.
Taking stock of the protest movement
The past two years have seen nearly every region of the globe being swept by unprecedented mass protest. The character of these movements has varied widely, people in democratic countries primarily voicing their indignation, while those living under dictatorships have faced violence and risked their lives. However, what the protests have in common is a dynamism, born of the capacity of social networks for instantaneous mobilisation of large masses of people. What does the experience of these protest movements tell us? Slavoj Žižek, who himself has addressed protest rallies, said a few months ago that the Occupy Movement was an understandable protest of the ‘salaried bourgeoisie‘ which fears the loss of its material privileges. In Russia, on the other hand, the protest has been led mostly by the new middle-class whose basic material needs have been satisfied and which now feels an urgent longing for freedom, civic dignity and civil rights. Is there an insurmountable gap between these two kinds of movement? On what ideologies are they based and what are their likely outcomes?
Sources of Hatred
In spite of frequent reports of sudden eruptions of violence cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker claims that over the course of human history, as a result of increased self-control and rational behaviour, violence has, in fact, gradually diminished worldwide. Violence triggers hatred, which Pinker believes to be the product of ideas and systems of ideas, in which violence is encoded. However, this train of thought might ultimately undermine freedom of thought and expression. The shock over the boundless hatred that seems to have exploded out of nowhere in the Norwegian murderer’s act of terror has reopened the discussion of whether ideologies and, ultimately, words may be responsible for violence, even if they don’t explicitly incite it. Central Europe seems to have bred a particularly vicious type of ideology of hatred, with several countries reporting a growing number of shockingly violent attacks on the Roma over the past few years. How should society deal with ‘dangerous words‘? What should it do about them if they become part of the social mainstream, as we have seen in Hungary?
The Biggest Lies of Democracy
It has become a universally held belief, certainly in Central and Eastern Europe, that alongside official power and an official economy there exists a parallel, invisible world in which real power resides and real money circulates. At times of crisis people tend to believe that it is this hidden power that controls their lives, and they resent the idea that the world they live in is based on lies. How justified is this feeling? Is it possible to draw a distinction between the world of private money on the one hand, and government and the world of politics on the other? Why is democracy just as prone to corruption as dictatorship? Why has the outrage over corrupt power often helped install an even more corrupt power? Czech philosopher Václav Bělohradský claims that the terms ‘corruption‘ and ‘fight against corruption‘ are meaningless as they prevent us from seeing the real core of the problem. What is the real core of the problem and how can intellectuals cope with it?
An Emptied World
Writing in a Nazi jail, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on the nature of stupidity. He believed stupidity to be a collective rather than individual trait, not necessarily denoting a lack of intelligence but rather a state that deprives us of the capacity for autonomous thinking and for trusting our own judgment, making us instead accept ready-made solutions. This is how stupidity contributes to the triumph of totalitarian ideologies. Several decades later the phenomenon of the Internet has begun to destroy communication monopolies of individual ideologies, introducing continual all-round communication. To what extent does the end of ideological monopolies provide protection from stupidity? Is superficiality a less dangerous form of stupidity? French-Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva maintains it is crucial to preserve an ‚inner world‘, a world of contemplation, creativity, art, of experiencing love as well as faith as the only chance of defending ourselves from ‚hypercommunication and robotisation‘ as well as from the loss of autonomous thinking. What can society do to avoid drowning in stupidity?