III.  The Conference

Inspired by this question and taking note of the numerous attempts at reconciliation worldwide, the State of the World Forum and the Anti-Defamation League plan a special conference which will draw thinkers and leaders, victims and victimizers to come together for several days of deliberations. The principle focus of the conference will be on the Holocaust and those other experiences of genocide and great criminality which raise the deeper universal questions of justice and mercy, forgiveness and atonement, reconstruction and reconciliation in a world in which there is no greater challenge than to learn to coexist with neighbors and strangers, whether individually or collectively, and engage in the serious task of building community.

In 2000 , at the Imperial Palace in Vienna, keynote and plenary discussions will focus on the challenges of reconciliation in the aftermath of great crimes, drawing from examples including:

"We Remember:  A Reflection on the Shoah"
On March 16, 1998, the Vatican issued a document described as “an act of repentance” for the failure of Catholics to deter the mass killing of Jews during World War II.  The delay in producing the document, which was under preparation for 11 years, indicates the deep divisions in the Vatican over the extent to which the Church, its leaders and teachings contributed to the reign of vicious anti-semitism and genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.  Many felt the Vatican did not go far enough in acknowledging greater responsibility for the moral climate that allowed for Nazi domination over much of Catholic Europe.  This raises the larger issue of the role of religion in conflict and  reconciliation.

The Reparation of Swiss Banks
International attention to the fate of Nazi-looted assets has intensified since reports released in 1997 stated that Switzerland had been the primary trafficker of Nazi-looted gold during the war.  Switzerland has since reviewed its wartime role and established funds for survivors. The Swiss Parliament lifted bank and other professional secrecy laws, opened all government records for five years, and established an Independent Commission of Experts to investigate the fate of assets looted by Nazi Germany.  Prior to this, Jewish organizations and the Swiss Bankers Association had established an independent council, called the Volcker Commission, to audit all searches made by Swiss banks on dormant accounts.  The episode raises anew the question of the extensiveness of the complicity with the Nazis and the extent to which the world should go, some 50 years later, to ensure complete disclosure and justice. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and the War Crimes Tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia
The people of South Africa are pursuing a means toward reconciliation and forgiveness that is remarkably and uniquely different from the people of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.  Can justice be served when there is no penalty for great crimes committed? Can victims truly forgive and learn to build communities with their unpunished, and often remorseless victimizers?

Northern Ireland Peace Agreement
Despite the unification of Europe, there remain segments of society where the value of coexistence over conflict has not yet been realized.  Northern Ireland is one such region where peace has not firmly taken hold.  After many years of 'troubles', the divided communities are involved in a peace process that has wide-spread support from both sides.   Can people work toward reconciliation and accept history’s burden without asking and granting forgiveness?  What role can conflict resolution and negotiation play in eroding traditional modes of behavior and thought steeped in centuries of division and hatred?

The end of French colonialism, followed by the spread of Communism and the ensuing conflict with the U.S. left Cambodia extremely unstable after U.S. troops pulled out of the region in 1970.  The devastating civil conflicts that ensued left more than a million people dead, and the remaining population permanently scarred in ways not fully known.  To date, no one has been held accountable or tried for those atrocities; the brutal past still remains a current reality.  What would justice contribute to reconciliation for the people of this region?  Is there a correlation between the absence of reconciliation efforts and continued civil conflicts?  

The U.S. Posture Towards Slavery
President Clinton’s 12-day tour of Africa in March, 1998 served to highlight the issue of slavery and beckons the question of a formal apology by the U.S. Government.   Prior to his trip, the President stated that he was considering issuing a national apology for slavery, and while in Africa remarked that Europeans and Americans “. . . received the fruits of the slave trade.  And we were wrong in that . . .”  Why is it so difficult for leaders and nations to apologize for great evils committed in the past?  Can forgiveness occur or be complete without an apology?

Plenary and keynote addresses will focus on topics such as:

    Forgiveness in History
    Religion and the Holocaust
    Reparations and Compensation
    Forgotten Genocide
    Children and War
    War Crimes Tribunals
    Preventing Genocide

In addition to the plenaries and keynote addresses, there will be a series of round-table sessions to allow participants to meet in small groups and engage in thoughtful

dialogue on specific themes, including:

    The process of demonization
    The ethics of remembering
    Models of reconciliation:  East Timor, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Guatemala
    The nature and limits of forgiveness
    Racism and violence
    Children and war
    Preventing genocide
    Coexistence and community building
    Swiss Bank/Vatican Issues

These issues will be taken up by the speakers to whom we have extended invitations listed in the following section.