Hillary joins the Prague cafe set

HILLARY CLINTON sipped liqueur in a Prague cafe with the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, as they discussed how to develop civil societies in the lands of central Europe that were for decades one-party Marxist totalitarian states.

Prague, which considers itself the region's intellectual capital, has a long tradition of local thinkers mapping out the future of the world in its atmospheric coffee houses.

It was in the city's famed cafes, such as the Slavia, that former dissidents such as Mr Havel thrashed out their plans for the eventual return to democracy, a cigarette in one hand and a cup of strong black coffee in the other, while the secret police eavesdropped from a neighbouring table.

Now capitalist values have displaced Communist ones across central Europe, but the transition between systems sometimes exacts a high social cost. The question of how to develop a truly civil society, with Western-style checks and balances between liberty and the rule of law, and social and economic justice, still occupies the region's great thinkers and writers, such as President Havel.

"No one has worked harder to nurture civil society," Mrs Clinton said of President Havel, who is a favoured visitor at the White House.

Speaking at a Forum 2000 conference, Mrs Clinton called for the development of a true civil society, where economic resources were invested in people first. "We have to create conditions in which democratic governments become even more the norm, so that all citizens are given a stake in their future, in which free markets benefit all people and not just a privileged few, and in which a vibrant civil society fosters free and active citizens."