Vladimir Yakunin, co-founder of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, spoke about the objectives of the Rhodes Forum, approaches to conflict resolution, and his own attitude towards the blockchain.
– This is already the 15th Rhodes Forum. What results have been achieved? How does expert work contribute to solving political, economic, and social issues?
– In a scientific environment, it is believed that if a conference is held three times in a row, then it really is significant. Discussions that are part of the international public forum this year will be held for the 15th time. The platform was created as a circle of experts – scientists, politicians, and businessmen – that are united in the belief that public institutions are capable of helping avoid the clash of civilizations that was predicted by American sociologist and political scientist Samuel Huntington.
Let’s remember that the Dialogue of Civilizations International Public Forum appeared as an answer and alternative to the model of ethno-cultural division of civilizations that was proposed by this scientist in 1996. Professor Huntington believed that a “clash of civilizations”, conflicts between groups of states united by common history, religion, and tradition, would replace international conflicts. He singled out nine major civilizations, as well as Islamic radicalism, which he considered a threat to the world community and attributed to the peculiarities of Islamic civilization. This concept had a distinct influence on how the US formed its approaches to solving world problems.
In 2001, at the suggestion of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, the UN General Assembly formed a global agenda for dialogue among civilizations. Then, in 2002, the “Dialogue of Civilizations” forum was founded, which was designed to follow the principles of equality among cultures and civilizations.
Last year, the forum was transformed into a permanent research institute with its headquarters in Berlin and offices in Moscow and Vienna. The same principle, or, as we also call it, the “dialogue index”, which serves as the foundation of our research methodology, makes it possible to determine the probability of escalation of existing latent conflicts towards a “hot” phase, within a given region. The results of our research are sent to the UN and the governments or parliaments of the relevant countries along with proposals on how the problem can be solved. This is the methodology of dialogue.
It’s worth noting that the “Dialogue of Civilizations” platform appeared even earlier than the UN’s “Alliance of Civilizations”. We work together. But the advantage of the Rhodes Forum is that we are a public organization. Project participants have always taken notice of the freedom and absence of pre-moderation of decisions. Also, as leading professors from various scientific centres take part in the forum’s work, the ideas of dialogue are introduced into the educational process, and the resolutions are sent to various institutions, including think tanks and transnational organizations.
– What are the expectations for this year’s forum?
– The 2017 forum largely focuses on the same universal problems, including global inequality and the threat of terrorism. However, we want to look at these problems from a different angle – through the eyes of non-Western countries, for example, China, but also rather promising centres of power, which are primarily India, Africa, and Latin America. Therefore, both former and acting leaders of countries from these regions have been invited to speak.
In addition, this year we made the decision to launch the “Leaders’ Club”, which is an informal summit of former state and government leaders.
The goal of the club is to develop recommendations for creating public forums in a number of conflict zones, as well as on several of the most sensitive international issues.
We propose a public forum format that involves the participation of people that aren’t official figures, but have real experience in management and political influence, as one of the mechanisms for establishing a dialogue.
The need for such a format is quite noticeable, for example, in Russia-US relations. Diplomatic relations have deteriorated so much that there is a risk of the crisis migrating to the zone of social and interpersonal contacts. The formation of a Russian-American public forum can help solve the problem, as was decided, for example, by the heads of Russia and France. It should be a public organization, but one that has consultative status with the heads of state.
The “Leaders’ Club” will prepare relevant recommendations for the UN and other interested international and state institutions.
– As far as I understand, the attitude towards the forum in the West is ambiguous. Do you have the goal of attracting active politicians as dialogue participants?
– This ambiguous attitude sometimes stems from the fact that the forum does not presume the presence of any one ideological position, such as a single view on the relations between Russia and the West. We have various points of view, including those that are pro-Western and those that are critical of the West. The only criterion is the ability of the interlocutor to participate in a dialogue. This Rhodes Forum in particular is attracting numerous new faces with big reputations. There’s no mandatory ideology needed for entry.
This is an expert platform, so it is important to listen to any and all opinions. We really do try to attract active politicians in order to bridge the gap between the expert community and decision makers. Nevertheless, our forum is, above all, a platform for communication, and the criterion for participation is not an official position, but the service of any delegate to the global community, service in developing a dialogue, and the promotion of modern humanistic values in real politics. For example, the laureates of the “Dialogue of Civilizations” prize are the president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, ex-chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer, president of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman, former president of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
– Are you focusing on the new generation, and is the agenda of the public forum interesting to them?
– One of the challenges of our forums is that dialogue among generations is no less complicated, and perhaps even more crucial, than organizing a dialogue among different cultures. We believe that the propagation of foundational values, the holders of which in our country are the academic Likhachev or the writer Daniil Granin, Ernest Hemingway in the US, or James Aldridge in Great Britain, the relaying of them to a young, more educated generation, and their acceptance without negation, is a very important task.
The processes that we are seeing now, for example, the demolition of monuments, represent not simply an emotional urge.
The fight with historical artefacts is actually a fight with memory. This is a very dangerous trend. Together with MSU, we initiated an educational programme called PolitIQ. Every year, as part of this programme, a small group of students is formed. We sponsor their internships in the top foreign political science institutes, but we believe that young political scientists will also come to us on a regular basis to exchange experience.
– Digitalization, it seems, is blurring the borders between countries and is contributing to the rapid economic development of individual economies. How will the spread of technologies like the blockchain, for example, impact the international community and what risks does it carry?
– It’s one thing if digital technology is a tool to provide increased efficiency in managing the economy. What is another thing, however, is that it is difficult to predict whether – if we carry through with this digitalization – all economic indicators will immediately rise. Worldwide, the proportion leans heavily in favour of the service sector, and this sphere is quite logically subject to rapid digitalization. But there is also a real sector where serious changes are needed. When assessing the economic development of any country, it is important to focus on the development of society and the development of man, including increasing his education, wellbeing, and satisfaction with life.
A purely statistical percentage rise in GDP hardly impresses anyone anymore because it sometimes does not really reflect the processes occurring in society.
We are closely monitoring the development of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology. In fact, we are already implementing new technologies in our work. For example, the participation fee for the Rhodes forum can already be paid in bitcoins. The near future will show what will happen in this sphere and how this will relate to the world financial system and international relations.