UN HIGH REPRESENTATIVE
Updating Meeting on the Alliance of Civilizations
Address to the Diplomatic Corps in Lisbon
Museu do Oriente (Pequim Room)
January 25, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen
First of all, let me extend my warmest thanks to all of you for being here today – allow me also to take this opportunity to express my best wishes for 2010 as the beginning of a new year should in principle bring renewed hope for a better time.
As last year, I decided to convene this meeting to update you on the Alliance of Civilizations issues.
In doing so my purpose is threefold:
o to keep you informed on the advances made by the Alliance in 2009;
o to give you an overview of the challenges ahead in 2010 and ask for your suggestions;
o to encourage those who are not yet familiar with the Alliance’s project to come on board;
Globally speaking 2009 was another year of endurance, marked by great violence, instability and permanent tensions throughout the world.
Several regions in various parts of the world – such as Gaza, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Great Lakes, Sri Lanka to name just a few – were ravaged by war, and many people around the world were hit by the economic crisis and unemployment, and faced increasing difficulties to ensure a life in dignity and safety.
It is fair to recognize that there are not that many fond memories to keep from 2009, apart the election of President Obama which brought new hope and generated high expectations worldwide.
Let me wish that 2010 and the new decade now inaugurated will be a time when we will see these high expectations turn into achievements!
Turning back to the Alliance’s UN initiative, I must say that 2009 was a year of smooth progress in various areas, a year when the Alliance grew in membership (it now has more than one hundred members), became firmly anchored in the international agenda and developed through its projects at local, national or regional level.
At the UN level, let me recall that in November the General Assembly adopted by consensus the first resolution on the Alliance of Civilizations under the item “A culture of peace”. Initially proposed by the two co-sponsors, the resolution was sponsored by 96 countries. This is good news.
The second Implementation Plan (IP) was submitted by the High Representative to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 16 June. It covers the period from June 2009 to June 2011.
This 2nd IP is focused on delivering the commitments made until now by advancing the ongoing projects and initiatives and creating the necessary conditions to turn these commitments into achievements.
Basically, it is based on the assumption that the political commitment towards the Alliance, notably expressed by Governments at the Istanbul Forum in April 2009, as well as the will showed by partners to be engaged in concrete projects, have to materialize and be translated into results during the next two years.
So the second Implementation Plan of the Alliance is a true Consolidation Plan aimed at strengthening the credibility of the Alliance and its ability to deliver, without undermining the chances for further progress in achieving the Alliance’s goals whenever possible.
For 2009-2011 the High Representative identified six critical areas for priority action:
a. Promoting an informed debate on National Plans and Regional Strategies and their implementation;
b. Consolidating the global scope of the Alliance and its universal perspective by deepening its regional footing in South America, Africa and Asia, notwithstanding the special attention to be given to the relations between Western and Muslim societies.
c. Pressing forward the implementation of commitments stemming from the Istanbul Forum and making further progress in the Madrid outcomes.
d. Addressing organizational and financial issues to make the AoC a sustainable initiative, both in terms of working structures and Trust Fund.
e. Developing outreach through a more effective communication policy.
f. Strengthening the role of Alliance a tool of soft power acting at preventive level and enhancing its role within a global partnership for peace.
To achieve these goals, committed and coordinated action across all sectors – governments, international and regional organizations, civil society and the private sector – is absolutely key through increased cooperation and partnerships.
So this second implementation Plan aims at strengthening the effective participation of governments and all stakeholders by improving cooperation and partnerships amongst them all, particularly within the framework of the ongoing projects and commitments made at the Madrid and Istanbul Forums, as reported in the Second Annual Report of the Alliance.
Let me repeat here, as I do everywhere, that as a global matchmaker, the added-value of the Alliance relies upon its ability to create synergies between the various stakeholders and in its capacity to create a dynamic platform for innovative cooperation.
The added value of the Alliance is its ability to build a multi-stake-holders platform with governments, different international organizations and the various players from civil society in order to implement joint initiatives and to give wider political and strategic coherence to the plethora of ongoing projects and programs.
This is why the main task of the Alliance for the coming two years will be to increase its networks’ participation by developing cooperation and partnerships with all stakeholders and to engage them in concrete projects.
The point where the Alliance can really make a difference is precisely in its results-oriented approach twinned with its mission as a global matchmaker and as a catalyst for joint action.
In this regard, let me stress the leading role that Governments can play in developing and implementing National Plans and Regional Strategies for Intercultural Dialogue. Moreover, international and regional institutions, particularly the UN system, have a key role in sharing knowledge and expertise and making available necessary resources to help shape appropriate tools and guidelines for policies of good governance of cultural diversity and for evaluation of progress.
Looking now at 2010, my priorities will be: firstly, to push for governments to pay increased attention to the widening rifts between communities within their national societies and to assist them in taking appropriate action; secondly, to scale up efforts to develop cooperation at regional level in order to properly address common challenges and problems; thirdly to further engage people – organizations and communities, but also individuals at grass roots level.
Regarding the first point, a simple reading of newspapers headings around the world clearly indicates that “cultural diversity” issues are on the table.
And this applies to all continents, from Europe to Asia, from the Americas to Africa.
I don’t want to seem pessimistic! But if you pay enough attention you cannot but realize that the increasing diversity of our societies – be it ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural – is generating growing anxiety among populations, driving communities apart and putting democracies under mounting pressure.
Indeed, all around the world there are also many cases of cross-fertilization between cultures and religions, as well as success stories of people interacting in mutual respect and harmony.
However, over the past years economic, social, cultural and religious fault-lines that divide our societies have fuelled growing tensions among communities and have encouraged the misguided view that cultures are set on an unavoidable collision course leading to a clash of civilizations.
It is no longer possible to ignore that to bridge divides, overcome conflicts and promote better understanding among peoples we need to engage in dialogue. To counter stereotypes and misconceptions that deepen patterns of hostility and mistrust, we need to address the sources of tensions that contribute to driving communities apart.
In my view, it is crystal clear that tensions flare up when individuals or groups feel that their values and identity are under threat. Recent waves of migration, particularly in Europe, have often led to feelings of resentment and hostility against migrants. The success of many far right, anti-immigration parties in various elections in European countries as well as in the European Parliament elections last June are a clear sign of a growing malaise.
Tensions also arise when the rights of minorities and their place in society are at stake. Almost all societies in the world are confronted with the challenge of balancing the rights of cultural communities and the need to maintain social cohesion.
In times of intercultural tensions, it is important not only to uphold the rights of minorities who are often victims of harassment and discrimination. It is also crucial to make the case for migration and remind ourselves of all the benefits it brings to our societies.
But, in my view, first and foremost, it is absolutely key to invest in education for diversity, for cultural literacy and to massively engage in developing intercultural competences and skills not only among youth but also as a life-long learning process on how to live together.
As you know, the Alliance of Civilizations’ United Nations initiative is aimed at addressing widening rifts within and among societies, in particular the so-called West-Islam divides, by helping to mobilize concerted action toward policies for democratic governance of cultural diversity based on a paradigm of mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious backgrounds.
All findings unanimously show an increasing polarization in the way Westerns and Muslims view each other. Moreover, the so-called divide, opposing two fictional monolithic blocs, Islam and the West, fuels further stereotypes and polarization, and gives rise to extremism.
However, it is important to stress that the vast majority of peoples reject extremism in any society and support respect for religious and cultural diversity. Both Muslims and non-Muslims are concerned with the challenges of security, stability and peace. Millions of Muslim families worry about losing their young to religious and political extremism. In order to tackle this problem, new strategies to promote inter-faith dialogue as part of governance of cultural diversity, based on universal human rights, should be developed.
There is an urgent need for a long-term strategic approach to democratic governance of cultural diversity as well as for innovative policies at all levels. We can no longer afford to hide the various symptoms of a looming crisis within and among almost all societies that jeopardises the fundamental values and principles of respect for human rights and freedoms, of tolerance and dialogue.
This is the message I want to make clear. Because to achieve its mission, the Alliance relies on its members’ action.
To achieve its goals and implement them at local level where problems arise and have to be sorted out, the Alliance of Civilizations has called upon its members to develop National Plans and Regional Strategies for Inter-cultural dialogue covering its four main areas of action, i.e., education, youth, media and migration – this is why National Plans and Regional Strategies are key priorities of the Alliance of 2010.
These National Plans and Regional Strategies are underpinned by a long-term vision and an acute sense of urgency. Urgency because inaction can only aggravate the malaise whereas small changes in circumstances can produce big shifts in behaviour. This is exactly what we need: to generate a mind shift among divided communities.
National Plans are an invitation to countries to generate an internal process of ownership of the Alliance of Civilizations’ goals and aims. National Plans are intended to create concrete opportunities for countries to exchange experiences and lessons learned regarding the common challenge they face in dealing with increasing cultural diversity, new identity problems and conflicts within their own societies and among them. National Plans aim at helping countries to cope with this challenge and generate a new awareness at all levels of society.
Indeed this is a long-term, gradual exercise to be carried out by countries at different paces, using different roads.
Some countries are more advanced than others. They may want to go faster and build common roads. Other countries will take more time to be convinced of the need to manage the path of intercultural dialogue.
Some other countries want to draft National Plans on the basis of a top-down approach, others prefer a bottom-up process whereas another group seeks a combination of both, considering that cities and local governments play a central role in preventing and eliminating conflicts, as do other players such as for instance religious leaders and faith led associations.
Regarding now Regional Strategies, I am happy to remind you that the South East European AoC Regional Strategy was adopted at the Sarajevo Conference held on 14 December, 2009.
In a unique demonstration of commitment at the highest level to promote further neighbourly relations and to enhance regional cooperation aimed at strengthening bridges between people and communities by promoting intercultural dialogue, countries of South Eastern Europe held a conference under the banner of the AoC and agreed on a Regional Strategy on Intercultural Dialogue.
Ministers of Foreign Affairs from fourteen countries in the region, along with representatives of Spain and Turkey, as co-sponsors, Switzerland, Sweden (as EU Presidency) and Brazil (that will host the next annual Forum) as well and representatives of UNESCO, IOM, OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the Regional Cooperation Council and the High Representative for the Bosnia and Herzegovina Office participated in the Conference.
They adopted a Declaration endorsing the principles, objectives and recommendations of the Regional Strategy for the South-Eastern Europe submitted at that occasion.
This Regional Strategy, presented and endorsed at that occasion, stresses the importance of addressing diversity issues, be they ethnic, religious and cultural, and aims to help overcome divisions and conflicts in the region. It emphasizes the need to prioritize regional action in the fields of education and youth, bearing in mind that media also plays a key role in building pluralistic, inclusive and cohesive societies and that migration, namely the integration of migrants, is an important area of action.
This Regional Strategy – the first ever adopted in the framework of the Alliance – is built on the pre-existing work carried out by countries, international and regional organizations and by other relevant players from civil society.
An Action Plan for 2010-2012 is now expected to be finalized and agreed in order to be presented at the 3rd Forum of the Alliance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Let me just add in this regard that the Sarajevo Conference was preceded by a ministerial, high-level working dinner the previous evening with the special participation of the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mme Calmy Rey, co-hosted by Turkey and Spain, as co-sponsors of the Alliance, and the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.
During dinner, Ministers had a very fruitful exchange of views on the Swiss popular initiative against the construction of new minarets. They all agreed on the importance of having a full and accurate understanding of the causes and the impact of the vote, and on the need to address with appropriate action the broader issue of widening rifts among communities and societies. They decided to make a follow up, namely in the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations.
I would not like to finish without briefly mentioning the challenges ahead.
The main priorities for the first half of 2010 are: to advance regional strategies in particular the AoC Regional Strategy for the Mediterranean; to assist countries, upon their request, in preparing and/or implementing National Plans; to develop and/or consolidate ongoing AoC projects; to consolidate the AoC as a global match-maker, broker and convener; to prepare the 3rd Forum of the Alliance, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, on 28-29 May 2010.
Indeed, until the Rio Forum, the preparation of the AoC Regional Strategy for the Mediterranean is one of the most challenging tasks ahead.
Following the Sarajevo “path”, at the 1st preparatory meeting hosted by the Egyptian Government in Alexandria (15-16 January), the Alliance suggested that Ministers issue a Declaration endorsing the Strategy, leaving for later – after the Rio Forum – the adoption of an Action Plan implementing the Strategy. The Alliance suggested drafting both documents on the basis of the Sarajevo model, notwithstanding the necessary changes and adaptations to be made.
During the 1st preparatory meeting delegations raised a number of issues that have to be sorted out in order to ensure the success of the March Conference.
Let us hope that we will find the appropriate ways to let the Alliance achieve its goals and avoid well-known dead-ends.
A second preparatory meeting will be held in Lisbon on 19 and 20 February which will focus on the discussion of the drafts circulated in the meantime.
There are other Regional Strategies in the pipeline but I do not think that we will be able to make real progress before the Rio Forum, so we will only be able to deal with them in the second half of 2010.
Let me just finish with some words on the 3rd Forum of the Alliance. I am very grateful to the Brazilian authorities for having accepted to host it in Rio because it offers a unique opportunity for the Alliance to look beyond the ‘Muslim-Western world focus’ and to address the issue of cultural diversity in a wider perspective.
The overarching theme of the Forum will be ‘The Alliance of Civilizations: Cultural Diversity as the Path to Peace’. A Ministerial meeting of the GoF will take place on the first day; a Youth event, various ‘tea sessions’ (equivalent to the Istanbul Forum breakfasts), a Focal Points meeting, as well as regular working sessions and plenary meetings will be organized both during core dates (May 28-29) and the day before the official opening (May 27). The working sessions will be clustered around the main topics of education, media and migration, which sometimes are combined with other cross-cutting issues such as urban change, employment, gender, history, politics, religions, conflict resolution and human rights.
Given that 2010 is the year of the Rapprochement of Cultures, the Alliance expects that the Forum, in particular the special session offered to UNESCO, will be a good opportunity to raise public awareness to the importance of preserving cultural diversity and promoting intercultural dialogue.