On 28 June 2017 the DOC Research Institute celebrated its first year of operations in Berlin, and the Chairman of the DOC Supervisory Board, Dr Vladimir Yakunin, shared the following remarks regarding cultural heritage with those gathered to celebrate the occasion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all here today to commemorate the first-year anniversary of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute.
I should confess, that when we launched in Berlin almost one year ago today, we encountered a degree of apprehension in the professional community, with some expressing the concern that we were pursuing a political agenda. They were wrong to think this, as I believe we have clearly demonstrated over the last year. In this time, we have assembled a world-class and diverse leadership team, representing different nationalities, ethnicities, and backgrounds; representing different generations as well as different schools of thought and philosophy.
In fact, it was 20 years ago when Professor Huntington introduced a theory called the Clash of Civilizations, which predicted the imminence of military conflicts in various parts of the world in a struggle for ideological influence and economic power. As a responsive theory, Khatami introduced the concept of ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ at the United Nations, which laid the ground for what would eventually become the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute today.
The truth is that we at the DOC have no agenda other than a shared belief that as economic crises, crises of values, and other conflicts rage around the world, the need for greater mutual understanding, international cooperation, and development grows ever-more urgent.
Ongoing conflicts and emerging threats present the international community with a web of separate but interlinked problems. Dialogue remains our best hope for resolution, and it’s essential to continue to engage conflicting parties and urge them to work towards peaceful resolutions. As the Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, said, “War is what happens when language fails.”
We live in a time of escalating global conflict and strife. A time when countries and civilizations around the world struggle even to hear each other, let alone understand each other. Actors are committed to aggressively preserving and promoting their own interests and values, while resolutely disregarding those of others. They lose sight of the fact that preservation of one’s own values does not require contempt for the values of others.
Leo Tolstoy once said that “everyone thinks of changing the world, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” I see truth in his words today. All too often countries think about what we believe needs to be changed elsewhere, at the expense of focusing on our own situations at home. This leads to global tension, global conflict, global misunderstanding. It leads to a needless clash of values, a needless clash of civilizations.
This brings me on to the topic for today’s discussion – culture and the protection of cultural heritage. We are honoured to have with us today some truly remarkable cultural dignitaries from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia for a discussion on protecting cultural heritage. I will introduce all of them in a moment, but for now a few words on why we decided that culture was the perfect theme for today.
Clearly, we need to find a way to break the ideological deadlock that we see around the world today, and this is what we have set out to contribute to at the DOC Research Institute. I am under no illusions about the monumental complexity of this task. This is not a task of one year, or even of many years. Yet through culture, the world can unite, even today. Every day through culture, the world discovers common values, common beauty.
Close to my home in St Petersburg, when I walk around the Hermitage museum, admiring the works of Chagall, Matisse, Malevich, Picasso, and many others, I look around and I can see people from America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa looking at the works and deriving the same pleasure as me. And of course I could observe the same in the Berlin State Museum of Middle-Eastern Art, or the British Museum in London, and so on.
Outside of culture we might be in profound disagreement over any number of issues; we might even be at war. But in culture, we are always united. And it’s at times like this when there is so much that continues to divide us, that it becomes that much more important to remind ourselves of what brings us together.
Hence I cannot think of a more crucial topic for today than the protection of culture and cultural heritage.
It is a great honour for me to welcome our esteemed guests who will take part in our panel. We are delighted to have with us the Iraqi Ambassador at UNESCO, Professor Mahmood Al-Mullakhalaf; Professor of Global Art History at the University of Heidelberg’s ‘Asia and Europe’ research cluster, Monica Juneja; the Director of the Berlin State Museum of Middle-Eastern Art, Professor Markus Hilgert; the Director of the Musical Olympus Foundation, Irina Nikitina; and the Director of Culture and Development at the British Council, Stephen Stenning. And leading the discussion will be Martina Fuchs, who as of next week will take up the role of Anchor for CNN Money. Last but very much not least, I am very pleased to say that Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, the head of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, has sent us a video recording with his remarks.
In fact, the venue for our event today, the Humboldt Box, is a symbolic one. It stands across from the Berlin City Palace, a building with great history and heritage. Built initially in the fifteenth century, it was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War Two, and then demolished by the GDR government. However, it has now been restored, much of its original glory again visible for the people of Berlin. It’s a fine example of protecting cultural heritage just across from us.
To conclude, let me once again thank you sincerely for being with us, and for your valuable support. At the DOC Research Institute, we have set ourselves some very ambitious objectives, contributing to peace and understanding between different nations and cultures. I cannot help but remember the words of JC Kapur, the late Indian visionary, co-founder of the World Public Forum and a dear friend: “The coming demise of a violent and destructive system is a time to celebrate and to let new dreams and visions flower, making life gentler and more meaningful for all.”