Truth and Love

From the 15th – 18th November, Project Forum presented the Central European Forum 2012 at the Astorka / Korzo ’90 Theatre, Námestie SNP 33. This year’s forum focused on the theme of Truth and Love.

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 prerequisites for the survival of pluralism. As a result of their relevance to Central Europe, now and in the future, these issues are at the heart of the Central European Forum in 2012.

From the 15th to the 18th November 2012, the Slovak non-profit organisation Project Forum, in conjunction with a number of other Slovak and international institutes, will be hosting the Central European Forum featuring an international cast of panelists. A starting point for this forum is Václav Havel’s conviction that truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred and that we must remain faithful to our own values as well as continuing to believe in a love that upholds the truth of others. We believe that without these two key principles a pluralist world cannot, in the long run, exist. Central European Forum 2012 will therefore focus on these issues and their particular relevance to Central Europe, both in the present day and for those days yet to come.The Central European Forum is a three-day long series of discussions in Bratislava and fully open to the public.

“The little brother of Prague’s Forum 2000, only younger, more subtle and better looking” is how the Central European Forum was described by literary historian Martin C. Putna, the first Director of the Václav Havel Library in Prague. He added, “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, while making the debates accessible to the public of its host city”.

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 years, the Central European Forum’s overarching themes were ‘Holding on to Freedom‘ and ‘The End of the Future‘. 2012’s Central European Forum meanwhile, revisited the theme ‘Truth and Love‘ as based on Václav Havel’s famous motto.

The universal outpouring of grief that followed the death of Václav Havel, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, reinforced the validity of his credo, not only when struggling with a dictatorship, but also at a time of general uncertainty. It is a credo whose power is capable of turning the anonymity of society into a community.

Under the central heading of ‘Truth and Love‘ the Central European Forum of 2012 discussed 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 presently more lies, themselves 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. Our panelists discussed possible ways of breaking this vicious circle.

The panel discussions at Central European Forum 2012 were structured around the following headings:

Panel I: Lies

It is commonplace that behind the official public institutions of Central European societies there are other institutions – private, confidential and often top secret: mafias, brotherhoods, mutual back-scratching alliances. Why do they thrive in our part of the world? How do they operate? In what ways do they overlap with official institutions? How do they weaken democracy?

Speakers: Zygmunt Bauman (United Kingdom/Poland), Leonidas Donskis (Lithuania), Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine), Tomáš Němeček (Czech Republic), Giacomo di Girolamo (Italy)

Chair: Martin M. Šimečka (Slovakia)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel II: 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. 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 during the Anders Breivik’s acts of terror has reopened the discussion as to whether ideologies and, ultimately, words may be responsible for violence, even if they don’t explicitly incite it. Central Europe seems to have started to bread a particularly vicious type of ideological hatred, with several countries reporting a growing number of shockingly violent attacks on Roma over the past few years. How should society deal with “dangerous words” and what should it do about them if they become part of the social mainstream as we have seen in Hungary?

How is it possible for people living in a civilised country to succumb to sudden bouts of hatred? Is a predisposition to intolerance something shared by countries in this part of Europe? What, if anything, can we learn from the Western experience of multiculturalism and their integration of immigrants?

Speakers: Vladimir Arsenijević (Serbia), Andrzej Stasiuk (Poland), Jens-Martin Eriksen (Denmark)

Chair: Chris Keulemans (Netherlands)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel III: Stupidity

Writing in a Nazi jail, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on the nature of stupidity. He believed stupidity to be a collective rather than an 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 judgement, 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 the 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 and art. Kristeva believes that we can defend ourselves from “hypercommunication”, “mechanisation” and the loss of autonomous thinking through continuing to experience love and faith. What can society do to avoid drowning in stupidity?

On the one hand, ideologies in the 20th century managed to turn entire nations into mindless cattle, while on the other people now enjoy unprecedented access to information. The digital era is changing the way we think in profound ways. Where will this changes take us?

Speakers: David Auerbach (USA), Drago Jančar (Slovenia), Ivan M. Havel (Czech Republic), Miklós Haraszti (Hungary)

Chair: Thierry Chervel (Germany)

Watch the full length video of this panel here! 

Panel IV: Change

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 the 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 a ‘salaried bourgeoisie‘ which fears the loss of its material privileges. In Russia, on the other hand, the protest has been mostly led by the new middle-class whose basic material needs have been satisfied and who now feel an urgent longing for freedom, civic dignity and civil rights. Is there an insurmountable gap between these two kinds of movements, on what ideologies are they based and what are their likely outcomes?

What has been behind the mass civic protests and the demonstrations which have taken place in both the East and the West over the last few years? What were their goals and what have they achieved?

Speakers: Zygmunt Bauman (United Kingdom/Poland), Leonidas Donskis (Lithuania), Aitor Tinoco i Girona (Spain), Peter Pomerantsev (United Kingdom/Russia), Juraj Buzalka (Slovakia)

Chair: Eszter Babarczy (Hungary)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel V: Experts

“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. What does it mean to “cede the world to economic experts”? Was there any alternative and do we have an alternative today?

Speakers: Adam Michnik (Poland), Pascal Bruckner (France), Lajos Bokros (Hungary)

Chair: Ulrike Ackermann (Germany)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel VI: Fear

Leftist and rightist ideologies in their classic forms no longer work, not even in Central Europe where they once wielded immense power. Instead, new hybrids and aggressive mutations are beginning to make themselves known. What words does power use to speak to us?

Speakers: György Konrád (Hungary), Radka Denemarková (Czech Republic), Robert Menasse (Austria)

Chair: Jana Cviková (Slovakia)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel VII: Love

Why do the old feel disrespected by society, what wisdom does old age bring and how can we overcome our fear of growing old?

Speaker: Jiřina Šiklová (Czech Republic)

Chair: Svetlana Žuchová (Slovakia)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!

Panel VIII: Protest

Pussy Riot: their appearance in an Orthodox church, the punishment handed down to them, and the unexpected worldwide outrage have revived the broader question of what qualifies as art and what does not. Where does art‘s political power lie and what makes art attractive to politics?

Speakers: Anna Jermolaewa (Russia), Anna Daučíková (Slovakia), Bertrand Ogilvie (France), Alison Klayman (USA), Milena Bartlová (Czech Republic)

Chair: Michal Hvorecký (Slovakia)

Watch the full length video of this panel here!