30 Years After the Fall of the Wall. We need a new road map. Interview with Jean-Christophe Bas, CEO and Executive Board Chairman of the Dialogue of Civilizations Institute in Berlin.
Head of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) is summing up the first half of the year as CEO. An interview about the vision and the strategy of the DOC, scepticism towards a newcomer think tank, its special relationship to Russia, the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2019 and the role of a dialogue towards shared narratives.
MR. BAS, SINCE SEPTEMBER 2018, YOU HAVE BEEN THE CEO OF THE DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATION RESEARCH INSTITUTE. HOW DID YOU COME TO THE DOC?
Very simply. I was invited to a Rhodes Forum.
WHEN DID IT HAPPEN?
In 2014, and then again, several times. I joined the DOC after working for 20 years as Head of Policy Dialogue and Strategy Development at the World Bank, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Council of Europe. I also served as the first Executive Director of the Aspen Institute in France.
DID YOU TALK TO THE DOC FOUNDERS?
I had a discussion with the Board. Later, I produced a strategy paper. It was my version for the Institute, in accordance with its history. A major element of that strategy was to build a platform where different perspectives can meet and exchange ideas through dialogue, in a non-confrontational and collaborative spirit, to shape together a fair, sustainable and peaceful world order. The second pillar was to stress a human and cultural dimension that should be at the heart of globalisation.
IF YOU DRAW A SUMMING-UP OF YOUR SIX MONTHS WITH THE DOC, WHAT WERE THE ACHIEVEMENTS, AND WHICH PROBLEMS DID YOU FACE?
We have successfully positioned the DOC as a new think tank based in Berlin but acting internationally as a unique platform between the developed and the rising world. We participate in the G20 process, and are establishing a relationship with intergovernmental organisations like the OECD, UNESCO, the EU and the Asian Development Bank.
WHICH KIND OF RELATIONSHIP?
For instance, we are doing research work that is commissioned by the UN.
TO DO RESEARCH, YOU NEED QUALIFIED RESEARCHERS…
We have an in-house team of established researchers coming from different parts of the world. We also work with researchers from different universities who are also doing work for and with the DOC. In Berlin, we have launched a series called “Meet in Mitte” where twice a month, a senior expert is addressing an urgent issue of the international agenda. More and more people attend our events – politicians, academics, students.
HOW DO YOU REACH YOUNG PEOPLE? We develop initiatives, such as our current essay contest “My Country, Our World in 2030” for young Europeans organized in the context of the May 2019 European elections. About 25 academic partners, including the Humboldt University in Berlin, are taking part. We also set up a student exchange programme.
WHEN “DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATIONS” WAS LAUNCHED IN 2016, SOME POLITICIANS AND GERMAN THINK TANKS WERE QUITE SUSPICIOUS OF ITS ACTIVITIES. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY OBSTACLES TO PROMOTE THE INSTITUTE IN BERLIN?
The DOC has regular activities and offices around the world, not only in Berlin, but also in Vienna and Moscow. We have representatives in Paris, Brussels and New Delhi. As for obstacles, I have actually observed some scepticism…
SCEPTICISM FROM WHICH SIDE?
From the „inner circle“ in Berlin, people who were sceptical about who we are and what we do. Let‘s be frank, I was aware of prejudices against the image of the DOC. But have been given a lot of freedom to develop the Institute, and have never had any pressure to promote any particular agenda.
LET US SPEAK ABOUT FINANCING. MAYBE IT WOULD HELP TO DEAL WITH PREJUDICES.
We have not received a single euro from any Government.
INCLUDING POLITICAL FUNDING FROM RUSSIA?
No state funding whatsoever – not from Russia, nor from any other state. We don‘t represent interests or visions of any single government. Most of funding comes from a few individual donors. Apart from that, we are working on the diversification of funding sources. There are two projects that are
funded by the UN, and among our corporate partners are a German retail company and partners in Geneva.
You know, to promote an agenda on behalf of a particular state or a partisan movement, would be technically impossible in our case. Our permanent team consists of people from around fifteen national backgrounds: Americans and Iranians, Israeli and Palestinians, Russians, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Chinese and Indians. Some members of the Board are former heads of states and governments, and hold top positions in major European institutions. We have a plenty of opposed opinions expressed on our platform. I could say that the DOC is in itself an incarnation of dialogue in its daily work.
THE DOC HAS A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP TO RUSSIA. IS IT MORE AN OBSTRUCTION OR A VALUE IN ORDER TO PURSUE YOUR STRATEGY?
Our connection with Russia is an asset! There are not so many international organisations that can engage with Russia in a similar way. But it is not only Russia, or Eurasia. We have also close relationships with China and Africa. The DOC can be a connector, or matchmaker to engage global stakeholders into dialogue. It’s uniquely well placed between the Western, or developed world, and Russia, China and others.
WHAT IS ON YOUR AGENDA THIS YEAR?
First of all, the coming Rhodes Forum. The Forum is actually our flagship event which started back in 2003. At this time, the world will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, DOC Forum will contribute to a new road map and a compass for a peaceful, fair and sustainable world and to look at where we stand today? Where is the world heading? The Rhodes Forum’s theme in 2019 „Global (dis)order: Towards dialogue-based worldviews” reflects this. The world today lacks a shared narrative to guide it through a period of severe turbulence. We want to address this key issue in the DOC’s spirit of constructive engagement and mutual respect.
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