Bridging on to Latin America

The Nation - Friday, April 29, 2005

Fly on the wall

After 27 months and 250 events, the final curtain has finally fallen on the “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” series of events for bringing out the best in us all.

For German-born Uwe Morawetz, 41, the founder and chairman of the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, it was the culmination of four years of work that began with a visit here to learn about a new culture.

”When I first came to Thailand in 2001 with nothing but a suitcase, I didn’t know anyone. And now, four years later, it seems that a miracle happened,” he recounted in a speech at the cocktail reception at the residence of Austrian Ambassador Herbert Traxl, to thank those who made Bridges possible.

During the two years that Morawetz was in Thailand, he studied Buddhism, worked with street children and people with Aids, learned the language and experienced first-hand and deeply appreciated the richness of the Thai way which, he said, “is characterized by respect, open-mindedness, tolerance, humour and unpredictability”.

Morawetz is known in Europe’s literary circles, and his contacts include intellectuals, celebrated artists and literary figures, thanks to his work in performing arts. A student of journalism, theatre, education sciences, and philosophy in Freiberg, Frankfurt and Berlin, he has organized more than 700 peace and education programmes involving some 600 speakers, 70,000 participants and 700 staff members in Berlin, Oakland, Vienna and Zurich.

Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein chairs the Vienna-based Foundation’s 30-member international advisory board, which includes many international notables.

In an earlier interview, Morawetz relates that 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.

Attracted into sharing their thoughts as speakers in the multi-disciplinary and pluralistic Bridges forum were 26 Nobel laureates, as well as artists including Marcia Haydee and Ismael Ivo, Jessye Norman and Vanessa-Mae.

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who is now using his peace promoting talents in seeking reconciliation in the Muslim South, chaired the first Bridges series. As Anand once remarked, peace starts in our minds and hearts, involves all sectors of society, and involves awareness and social responsibility on behalf of politicians, the business community, scientists, artists and the media.

Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont was the chairman of the second and final event series of Bridges. Morawetz’s high level diplomatic contacts both here and abroad opened doors to the top echelons of Thai society that included the Royal Family, high level government officials, academics and social activists.

But holding the two long series over two years may have stretched too far the intellectual curiosity of local seekers, which led to disappointingly low turnouts for several events. Nevertheless, former premier Anand and Ambassador Traxl agree that, overall, the events have been a good experience for Thailand. In his speech, Morawetz made sure to recognize the person who has had the most influence in his life, his mother Ursula, who stood quietly by with a proud look on her face. Morawetz plans to take her, his brother and his team of hard-working capable volunteers for a deserved holiday in Koh Chang.

In July, he will embark on a mission of several months to start similar activities in Latin American countries including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico. “It will certainly not be the same project here in Thailand. Every continent, every country is different. And Thailand is unique,” the peacemaker said.