Speech of Dr. Walter Schwimmer, Co-founder of DOC Research Institute at the DOC Launch in Berlin July 1, 2016.
Those of us who got already 50, 60, 70 know that round number-birthdays, anniversaries, have always a special significance and fascination. That applies also to years that mark centuries, the more for a new millennium. Some people see that as the approaching of unknown and threats, as it was mainly the case after the 1st millennium, others connect it with hope and aspirations, a new beginning which was the overall feeling for the change from the 2nd to the 3rd millennium. So at the end of the 20th century, at the sunrise of the 21st century the world was full of plans, ideas, good intentions to improve not only the political and economic system, but the life of the whole mankind.
And there were good reasons for such positive feelings. European Union had brought in the 50 years since the famous speech of Robert Schuman peace to the continent after 2 terrible World Wars. And far away from Brexit the debate was not about leaving but joining the European Union. Already more than a dozen of states, mainly new democracies from Central and Eastern Europe nocked in the year 2000 at the door of the EU.
At a global level 189 heads of states and government signed the Millennium Declaration of the UN, constituted a joint commitment to the values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared
responsibility for the new millennium. Now the declaration was followed by he sustainable development goals of the UN.
The then Iranian President Mohamad Khatami brought the idea of dialogue of civilizations to the world public addressing the UN General Assembly. It was a particular courageous step as not everybody in his own country was in favour of his conciliatory initiative, hardliners among his successors put him even to a kind of house arrest. But the message was there and it was heard.
I myself had just taken office in the Council of Europe with already 40 member states, forming Europe an area of democracy, rule of law and human rights. And I made the intercultural and interreligious dialogue one of my priorities. It was obviously the initiative of President Khatami that inspired the founders of World Public Forum to bring this idea to civil society. 4 people stood at the beginning, a former Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumal Gujral, another Indian, the philanthropist and futurologist Jagdish Kapur, the Russian political scientist and former diplomat Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin and the Greek-American business man Nicholas Papanicolaou. The later three became the co-founders of World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations. Later on, and after Jagdish
Kapur passed away, Prof.Fred Dallmeyr, former Chancellor Gusenbauer and I became co-chairmen of WPFDC.
In 15 years we brought together like minded people from around the world from all continents, from more than 70 nations, from all major religions, who believe in dialogue. Our work was recognized with the observer status at UN ECOSOC, the membership in the Anna Lindh-Foundation network and with a Memorandum of Understanding and close cooperation with UNESCO, in particular for the project “Schools of Dialogue”.
We are not afraid of a clash of civilization. Civilizations do not clash. But there are other clashes we have to overcome – the clash of ignorance and with terrorism.
Terrorism has left a horrific bloody trace on all continents, in New York as well as in Brussels, London, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, I cannot list all the places which suffered. Terrorism showed its ugly face two days ago in Istanbul, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of innocent people, no matter to which religion they belong. We should not allow terrorists to hijack religion and therefore WPFDC encouraged the inter religious dialogue.
It is not only the inter religious space where dialogue is needed. Just recently the outcome of the British referendum on Brexit demonstrated what can happen when international and national leaders deny or ignore the dialogue with the people. One of the outstanding personalities of the 20th century, the peace Nobel Prize laureate Mother Theresa said: Peace and war start at home.
Modifying this quote, I would like to say dialogue must start at home too. Without a broad dialogue people are left alone with their scares and fears and become easily the prey of demagogues and populists from the extreme right and the extreme left. In 16 years the overall feelings have changed. Fears and scares have replaced in many countries and societies the hopes and aspirations of the year 2000. But the messages are still valid. Europe remains a project of peace and reconciliation. The greater Europe remains an area of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Khatami’s appeal for dialogue among civilizations is more needed than ever. And the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations became not only the place for discussions, very fruitful discussions, but a movement for a new philosophy of dialogue and a think tank of hundred of experts. In 13 Rhodes Forums, in about 100 regional conferences, workshops, seminars we collected expertise for the solution of contemporary problems and dealt with policy areas where problems and challenges can be overcome through dialogue:
- Conflict prevention and resolution
- Compromise as a prerequisite of peace and stability
- Geopolitical tensions
- Security with and without military alliances
- Social and economic inequality
- Overcoming ignorance and lack of education
- Sustainable development and environment protection
- Threats of barbarism and terrorism.
Building on the experience and achievements of 15 years World Public Forum we are now reaching for new frontiers. A research institute – DOC Research Institute in Berlin shall transform words into deeds and provide decision makers at national and international level, in politics and in business, with tools how to meet challenges in a fruitful dialogue. I ask you to support this endeavor and I wish DOC Research Institute full success, in German I would say
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