The Nation, Sunday Style - Sunday, May 30, 2004
'Peace starts with exchanging views over coffee cups and cookies,' says Chairman of the advisory board of the International Peace Foundation HSH Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein.
Prince Alfred gave a recent interview after attending Jessye Norman's concert at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok, marking the end of the first series of events in the 'Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace'.
The dialogues were organised by the International Peace Foundation, a non-political independent Vienna-based foundation under the patronage of 21 Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The foundation cooperates with Thai leaders from all parts of society - from Chulalongkorn, Thammasat and Chiang Mai universities to grassroots movements - in order to establish creative solutions for conflict amid growing threats of war and international terrorism.
'Like everybody, I want to enjoy the beauty of life. But as a political being, I feel that people must change the world to be more just, with less poverty, and non-violent,' said the prince, elaborating on the reasons behind his involvement in the peace foundation.
From his experience, as affirmed in philosophy throughout the centuries, there is a deep desire in human beings to live in harmony - a situation in which everybody is respected. Everybody wants to receive and give love, he believes.
'In today's world, the deep desire to find peace is not easy to achieve,' he said. 'Everyone at some stage in life should reflect on how to bring harmony, to make the world a better place. The end of our life is not to eat as much as possible. If you put yourself at the moment of death and reflect on what you have done, it's not to buy a new pair of tennis shoes, a new Gucci bag or a new sports car. It's possible that you'd be sorry: 'Oh, I should have done more for our children.'
Peace is difficult to define but it is largely related to human rights, he said.
'Peace is a set of circumstances in which each and every individual has a right to live his/her life the way they wish, regardless of race, sex, or religion. Therefore, in my perception, peace exists only in the states where all the above rights are respected.'
The prince, who has a Master's degree in computer science and economics, considers every kind of knowledge helpful for changing the world. 'If we are to change the world we need to provide knowledge and how to apply that knowledge to the service of peace.'
This first of May, marking the latest expansion of the European Union with 10 new nations - eight from the former Soviet bloc - was a one good step leading the world toward becoming a more harmonious place, the prince said.
But peace is not entirely wrapped up in politics. 'You don't have to be a politician to bring peace to the world,' the prince maintained, believing that peace begins with oneself.
'To achieve peace is constant work; at any moment we have the chance to choose either violence or peace. It's all up to you: either you want to start an argument with your partner, or to stay composed.'
It sounds simple and idealistic, yet he believes in the human potential to be creative.
In his view, to achieve peace, one has to have 'awareness', to use the Buddhist term, in whatever you do.
'You cannot be peaceful if your action is not peaceful,' he said. 'To kill to bring peace only creates more violence.'
Together with his wife, Prince Alfred has contributed to the success of the past 100 events of the first Bridges series by meeting with sponsors and other organisations around the world to encourage cooperation with the foundation.
Recent peace dialogues held in Thailand included Rev Jesse L Jackson, president and founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, on 'The US after the War on Iraq'; Nobel Laureate for Literature Sir Vidia S Naipaul on 'Muslim Faith in Non-Arab Countries'; and founder of The Body Shop Dame Anita Roddick on 'Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Trade'.
The prince hopes that Thai institutions will make the best use of all the people invited, keeping contact with them and making their own future programmes. What Thai people can do, he suggested, is to gather politicians and peace activists from both inside and outside the country for events like lunches and meetings.
The second series of peace dialogues in Thailand organised by the International Peace Foundation will run from this coming November to April2005.
Guest speakers will be songwriter and musician Joan Armatrading from London and Nobel Laureates for Chemistry Prof Mario J Molina from Cambridge and Prof Yuan T Lee from Taipei.