Rhodes Forum Summary

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The topics discussed during the two days of the 14th World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations on the Greek island of Rhodes, the Rhodes Forum, were wide apart, as wide as the Chinese „One Road – One Belt“ Eurasian infrastructure initiative and the threat of new barbarism or social regression.

Even wider apart were the opinions of many of the experts. Take migration: Philippe Fargues, founding Director of the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute, exposed himself as strong proponent of migration even on a massive scale, such as currently witnessed across the Mediterranean, as a seed for development and compensation of demographic disbalances. Listening to the former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, it all sounded much different. He identifies mass migration as the curse of the 21st century, threatening European culture and identity to the point of extinction. The gap was almost symbolical for the intellectual mood at this year’s Rhodes Forum.

Although the event, organized annually since 2003, has the reputation to attract the more conservative brand of scientists, politicians and public figures, the 14th Forum showed to what extent the world is in the midst of a sea change, a broad transformation. The conventional divide between political camps on the left and the right is increasingly becoming obsolete, with „left“ positions being shared by rightist politicians and vice versa. From a European perspective, the two issues with the strongest potential to scatter political divides and alliances are migration and Islam.

One of the unifying elements characteristic for both experts and participants is the rejection of universal and unipolar world views and solutions. As put by the Forum’s founding father, the Russian Vladimir Yakunin, if there is a single diagnosis there always will be various therapies, just as nature provided for various types of trees and not for only one. This fits in with the Forum’s multicultural composition that the organizers are so proud of. Whatever the differences on particular political, economic or societal issues, the over 200 participants were united by the conviction that global differences can only be resolved through dialogue on level playing fields.

It doesn’t take much to understand that what is being rejected is the highbrow attitude of Western „progressiveness“, assuming a single trajectory of „development“ for all humanity and interpreting the state of other civilizations and cultures as just manifestations of their respective backwardness. It used to be the paradigm of European and Western science and intelligence for more than 200 years. But now, in the 21st century, the post-modern and globalized world witnesses the re-emergence of the old non-Western cultures. Western and non-Western voices alike have begun to challenge prevailing Western views, concepts and ideologies.

The Rhodes Forum finds itself at the forefront of this new multiplicity – though not unaware of the serious challenges and complications it will bring about. The motto of the 14th Rhodes Forum – „The Chaos of Multiplicity – an Urgent Call for Dialogue“ –pointed to the one and only solution, if not hope, for an ever more multilateral world: the dialogue of cultures and civilizations.

Thomas Fasbender