Peace Monger

The Nation - Sunday, November 02, 2003

Uwe Morawetz's mission isn't so far-fetched - he just wants people to talk about the possibility of world peace.

Thailand is at the centre of his design.

Uwe Morawetz is directing a project that defies imagination: promoting peace in a world wracked by war and bickering, where tolerance for cultural and religious diversity seems to be spreading dangerously thin.

He is the founder and chairman of the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, a non-profit NGO that is ideologically, politically and religiously independent.

The foundation plans to bring together Nobel laureates for peace, physics, chemistry, medicine and literature, as well as international decision-makers, to interact with Thais from all walks of life to promote this country as a centre for peace and international understanding.

"Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace", a series of more than 100 free events running until April, starts with a speech on Thursday at Thammasat University by the Rev Jesse Jackson, a prominent US political figure.

His timely talk is entitled "Can the United States Become a Force for Peace? - The United States After the War On Iraq".

Known in Europe's literary circles for his free-spirited writings, Morawetz, 39, and Lichtenstein's Prince Alfred established the Peace Foundation during the 1999 Vienna Peace Summit under the patronage of 21 Nobel Peace laureates, including Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama and Jose Ramos-Horta.

Contacts In High Places

Morawetz's chain of contacts within European and American art circles led him to the likes of renowned conductor Lord Yehudi Menuhin, the late poet Allen Ginsberg, actor Richard Gere and author Norman Mailer.

Morawetz says Thailand was chosen as the host country for the dialogues primarily because of "His Majesty the King's wisdom and spiritual leadership and for the Thai people's self-confidence, open-mindedness and tolerance", which he describes as an inspiring role model for the prevention, mediation and solution of conflicts.

Many were initially wary of Morawetz's ambition to bring more than 20 Nobel laureates to Thailand, but thanks to support from the German, Swiss, Austrian and the American embassies here, doors began opening. Former Thai premier Anand Panyarachun became the chairman of the foundation's advisory board.

"I am not the first one to be actually doing this," says the self-effacing Morawetz. "I am only a facilitator to make something possible, but the work is done by the Thai people.

"The foundation is not about putting a few poets and artists together and singing a few peace songs. This is not a spiritual, religious or idealistic thing. It is something very practical."

In his bid to get to know the real Thailand, Morawetz spent time in temples learning about Buddhism from Phra Payuth Payutho, Phra Payom Kalayano and Mae Chi Sansanee. He travelled to different provinces and communicated with people in Thai while working with Aids victims and ill children.

A look at Morawetz's past hints at the personality behind the foundation. He was a gifted and precocious child, a soprano with Germany's famed Freiburg Boys Choir, composing music and playing the piano.

Precocious Youth

By 17 he had published several books, mainly of poetry, which would later become plays. "I did a lot of poetry readings and performed with other artists."

Morawetz studied literature, history and education at university, but was uninspired by the rigid and theoretical structure and left to work as an events organiser.

Witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Morawetz realised that there should be no borders between people, only bridges to a peace that is practical for everybody and not the elite few.

Morawetz envisioned a platform where diverse groups could exchange views and work together to solve problems that no single sector alone could solve.

"We want to talk about peace as something practical," he explains. The Thailand series, he says, "takes a multi-disciplinary approach, dealing with environmental problems, the role of science in the world, community trade, corporate and social responsibility, with many people and issues.

"After September 11, there could have been a lot of possibilities, but the US took the way of trying to create a unilateral world. I believe that with the position of the US these days, it is important to create platforms which are pluralistic, where those from different parts of society can speak out and be heard."

Morawetz believes communication goes beyond the spoken form. "Politicians speak a different language than artists, while scientists communicate differently from religious groups," he says. The result is misunderstanding, which in turn is the basis of conflicts.

The Peace Foundation's message is clear: There are many solutions to a problem, and if we broadcast different voices for different solutions through the media, the opportunity for conflict becomes slimmer.

Cora Sukhyanga