The Nation - Thursday, October 02, 2003


After spending two years as a student of Thai society Austrian Uwe Morawetz decided it was time to give something back to the Kingdom.

Yesterday he celebrated his 39th birthday, but it was Thailand that received the gift.

Morawetz announced a series of lectures to be delivered by more than 20 Nobel laureates from diverse fields, ranging from physics to literature in a bid to foster a culture of peace.

While it might sound a little lofty, these lectures will fill a programme beginning next month and continuing until April next year.

Morawetz is the chairman of the International Peace Foundation's board of directors. Based in Vienna, he has a knack for networking.

It seems he has all the right local connections for this series of lectures, ranging from former prime ministers, to top academics, intellectuals to activists and spiritual and business leaders. And he has managed to build that raft of contacts in less than three years.

And so the events, "Bridges - Dialogues, Towards a Culture of Peace", came to fruition.

One of Thailand's most respected former prime ministers, Anand Panyarachun, is chairman of the event's advisory board.

"I did wonder why they wanted to hold it here in Thailand, Mr Uwe isn't someone who knew Thailand before, but he said he had heard about Thailand's reputation, particularly about His Majesty the King being not just a national symbol, but a symbol of love and harmony," said Anand.

He said many of these globally-known figures, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former assistant to Martin Luther King and former United States presidential candidate, had never visited Thailand but would come to speak for free.

The entire event will be open to the public.

"If asked what we shall gain from the event, I would then say that Thais will have the chance to broaden their horizons and listen to other people's views, while at the same time being offered an opportunity to express their own," Anand said.

"We will have an opportunity to understand one another and break national and racial barriers in a way that aims to bring about peace."

Morawetz, who stressed a multi-disciplinary and pluralistic approach towards a culture of peace, said some of the lectures would cover issues such as air pollution or corporate responsibility.

Three world-renowned artists who have never before performed in Thailand will also travel here. Morawetz suggested listening was the first step toward a dialogue for peace.

One of the prominent speakers coming is Professor Lord Dahrendorf, a leading social scientist and former Warden of St Anthony's College, Oxford, who next month will speak about civil society. Also next month, Jerome Karle, a Nobel laureate for chemistry, will speak on the role of science in the quest for peace.

Professor Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate for medicine, will speak about peace being imparative to health. Sir VS Naipaul, writer and Nobel laureate for literature will speak about the Muslim faith in non-Arab countries.

Anand was cornered by one journalist who thought the programme too lofty and asked why Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate now under house arrest in Burma, had not been invited.

Anand suggested there was a better platform for Suu Kyi.

The National Multimedia Group is a partner of the event and will announce details of the full programme in the near future.

More details can be obtained at www.peace-foundation.net.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation