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A princely plea for peace

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090501_06.jpg

His Serene Highness Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein brings an event series to Cambodia aimed at building a culture of peace

Photo by:

Christopher Shay

HSH Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein stands in his room in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

 Bridges – dialogues Towards peace

His Serene Highness Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein is in Cambodia this week, meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen, among others. The Prince is visiting the Kingdom to publicise the “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” event series, which will bring at least seven Nobel laureates and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy to Cambodia from November 2009 to April 2010 in an attempt to spark dialogues and build relationships

between the laureates and artists and Cambodian institutions. Prince Alfred is the chairman of the advisory board of the International Peace Foundation, the organisation that initiated the Bridges program that has previously brought speakers to Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics, economics, medicine and peace will visit Cambodia in 2009 and 2010. Prince Alfred is always interested in receiving feedback at wafz@anw.at.

What are the major threats to peace in the region?

Currently, we face the most severe economic crisis in the last 100 years because it is the first crisis that is really global in its nature. The engine of global progress - namely the banking system and the international finance system - is on the brink of collapse.

This has now spilled into the so-called real economy. Now, we are already in the beginning of an economic crisis.

As we go through the history of the world, the third phase of this type of broad depression after the economic crisis is a political crisis. Before the Second World War, for instance, there was a depression and this brought about demagogues in different countries, and ultimately, it led to war.

What we hope very much is that this time - and I'm sure we're just at the beginning of the economic crisis - we can at least avoid a political breakdown.

How will the "Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace" program help the world avoid a phase 3 political breakdown?

We can only make a modest contribution, of course. Between nations, cultures and civilisations, if you don't talk to each other, then you are bound to fall into propaganda. It becomes easy for demagogues to point the finger at someone as a scapegoat.

In my view, The future of humanity will be decided in southeast asia and the development here.

The first step is to meet, the second is to speak and the third is to listen to each other and gain an understanding.

Then out of this deeper understanding, empathy arises. The last step is to cooperate with each other. If you cooperate, you can build a community. At a global level, this is the goal.

The Bridges event program that you're bringing to Cambodia - how will it get people talking to each other?

All the speakers [who] are coming have never been here before. Of course, we always try to simplify our life and our thinking.

If someone mentions the word Cambodia, you think of the Khmer Rouge, you think about atrocities, you think about genocide, you think about poverty, you think, maybe, now about the UN tribunal.

That's Cambodia for the rest of the world because the mass media are not portraying an accurate picture. As they say in journalism, only bad news is good news.

The eminent personalities - Nobel laureates, artists - will come to Cambodia and they will have these kinds of concepts in their minds. They will come here and see and work together with the academic institutions. They will give lectures - they will meet the politicians, the King, the prime minister, and they will have lots of opportunities to talk with students. When they go home, their image of Cambodia will be transformed. They will go home and tell people a different story about Cambodia.

You spoke with Hun Sen [Tuesday] for more than an hour, what did the two of you talk about?

We learned a lot. Our approach is that we don't go with an attitude into a country and think we can teach something there. I like to listen to Cambodians and their stories.

Meeting with the prime minister was a wonderful lesson that I could get at no university because he's somebody who is part of the history of this country. I asked him to let us understand how the reconciliation process here worked.

Power and arrogance most of the time go along with each other. We speak about the arrogance of power. We in the West, particularly the stronger states, feel that we are on top of everything, on top of knowledge and education.

We sometimes have the inclination to look down on small nations. Because we feel that they are still developing, we wonder what we can learn from such a community. We have to bring them civilisation. It's the old idea of the missionaries that we have to bring them something.

This is the absolute wrong attitude. Countries like Cambodia should be studied carefully, because the people here have gone through all this pain and suffering.

During the economic crisis, a lot of unrest will come to a lot of countries. I'm afraid that people will become very angry and that there will be a lot of finger-pointing.

It's good to have models and see how even under the worst circumstances there are ways to reconcile and prevent major conflicts.

What lessons in particular do you think Cambodia can offer the West?

We do not have many models of reconciliation. Sometimes there are trade-offs between legal justice and forgiveness. These are not the same things. I think it's more important to find forgiveness. Of course, certain justice should be done too, but forgiveness is the real thing. If you have justice, only "cold" justice, this might reopen wounds.

It's like war and peace. The idea is always that you can have a war that brings peace. But we have to understand that you can have victory with war, but you can never bring peace.

Peace you can only achieve through forgiveness, understanding, empathy, dialogue. This is, I think, is one lesson that the world can learn from Cambodia.

Why did you choose Southeast Asia for your program?

In my view, the future of humanity will be decided in Southeast Asia and the development here. The major conflict that is on the horizon would be the conflict between the United States and China.

If you put yourself in the position of the elites in the United States, you have reached a position in the United States as a superpower.

All the predictions say that China will become a greater economic power than the United States. Ultimately, China will probably also become a greater military power.

If you put yourself now in the position of the decision makers in the United States, how would you react? Would you just welcome some other power or powers surpassing you in  military and economic might, or do you use geopolitical strategy so that these powers do not surpass you?

All the other nations in Southeast Asia are deeply concerned to see if peaceful cooperation will take place between China and the United States, or if it will enter into a military confrontation, either directly or indirectly.

Our modest contribution is against this background. We hope that through dialogue we can encourage cooperation.

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