World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue – Report

On April 7-9, 2011, the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. I gave a presentation entitled: “Dialogue about Dialogue: Taking a (Meta)Communication Perspective on the Role of Women in Intercultural Dialogue.” All presentations will be posted to the Forum site in the near future, and published in a proceedings volume.

The World Forum was supported by the UN Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO, Council of Europe, North-South Center of the Council of Europe, ISESCO and Euronews. Building on several prior events, the Forum highlighted intercultural dialogue as one of the most pressing challenges that the global community faces today. The forum addressed conceptual, governmental, policy and practical aspects of intercultural dialogue, providing an opportunity for sharing good practices and making new connections. In addition, since the event was hosted by the President of Azerbaijan, we were all treated as guests of the state, and went everywhere with a security escort. Highlights were the formal entertainment and elaborate banquets on both Thursday and Friday evenings. Upon our arrival, we were given not only the usual conference program, small notebook and briefcase labeled with the conference information, but also dozens of brochures and a guidebook about Azerbaijan. When we returned from closing ceremonies, a gift package was waiting, with a small handmade carpet and hand-painted silk scarf (local craft specialties), a mug and local tea, as well as a bronze plaque noting our participation. In fact, there were so many presents that I mailed them back to the US rather than carry them around with me for the next several months.

The Forum was opened by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, His Excellency Mr. IIham Aliyev. The plenary panel on which I participated was “Women as Key Agents of Intercultural Dialogue.” This panel was co-chaired by Dr. Katérina Stenou (Director, Cultural Policy and Intercultural Dialogue, UNESCO, and member of this Center’s Advisory Board) and the First Lady of Azerbaijan, Ms. Mehriban Aliyeva (she is also President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador). Rapporteur for the panel was Ms. Pramila Patten (CEDAW expert). The other panelists were: Ms. Hijran Huseynova (Chairperson of the State Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs, Azerbaijan); Ms. S.Y.Orlova (Deputy chair of Council of Parliament of Russian Federation), Ms. Rachida Dati (Mayor of the 7th arrondissement of Paris), Ms. Concepcion Olavarrieta (Chair of the Mexican Node of  the Millennium Project), Ms. Mbarka Bouaida (Member of Parliament, Morocco), and Mr. Alexander Ageev, (General Director of Institute of Economic Strategies, Department of Humanitarian Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Federation). Respondents to the panel included several ministers of culture, as well as Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari (Director, The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status, Bar-Ilan University, Israel), Dr. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (publisher of Casava Republic Press, based in Abuja, Nigeria), and Ms. Natalia Molebatsi (performance poet and storyteller, based in South Africa).

The majority of the Forum’s participants were ministers of culture or other politicians (and I did meet a few, including Ms. Irina Cajal-Marin, Under Secretary of State for the Ministry of Culture in Romania, and Mr. Ali Elamin, Director of the Minister’s Office for Sudan). Others were CEOs of NGOs or non-profits (and among those I met were Ms. Wajiha Haris, President of Scheherazade, in Bucharest, Romania, Dr. Catherine Fieschi, Director of Counterpoint, just separated from the British Council, in London, Ms. Lila de Chaves, President of Heritage & Museums, in Athens, and Mr. Peter Gorgievski, CEO of Global Dialogue Foundation in Moonee Ponds, Australia). There were also a number of people connected to one of the international organizations co-sponsoring the event (I met several, including Mr. Hans d’Orville, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning of UNESCO in Paris, Dr. Liubava Moreva, Program Specialist for Culture in UNESCO’s Moscow office, and Ms. Neslihan Demirkol Sonmez, representing the Turkish National Commission for UNESCO; as well as Dr. Mir Asghar Husain, of the North-South Centre Think Tank for the Council of Europe). There were even a few other faculty present (I met Dr. Darla K. Deardorff, Executive Director of the Association  of International Education Administrators, based at Duke University in the US). And these are only some of those with whom I exchanged business cards – I am looking forward to continuing conversations with dozens of people as a result of the event.

Two other events occurred simultaneously with the Forum, an academic conference (“Traditions and prospects for intercultural dialogue in CIS countries: culture, education and communication”), as well as the first convention of the Global Youth Movement for the Alliance of Civilizations, and so I met some individuals from each of those events. For example, Ms. Emilia Katosang (Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Palau to the UN) and Ivaylo Stoimenov (a Bulgarian journalist) were both part of the GYM meeting; Prof. Samir Sleiman (cultural anthropologist in Lebanon, and Editor in Chief of Le Debat) presented at the academic conference. I also met several of the many international journalists covering the event, including Mr. Mohammad Malick, of The News, in Pakistan, and Mr. Ghassan Ali Osman, covering the event for Sudan. And, like most of the presenters, I was interviewed for Azerbaijani television. The audience was so large (600-1000, depending on whether participants of the 3 events overlapped at the same event or not), that two screens were used to ensure everyone could view the speakers. Look for images of Katérina Stenou on screen, and then being interviewed in the gallery included below.

Ms. Samaya Mammodova and Ms. Chinara Shakarova, two English majors studying in Baku, were assigned to help the dozen participants from the USA. Since I had a few hours free Saturday morning, after the conference concluded but before leaving for the airport, they took me on a personal tour of Icheri Shekhar (the old city in Baku). A few photos are below, for those who have not yet been to Baku themselves, along with photos of the conference.

My thanks to Katérina Stenou for my invitation to participate in this fascinating event. And thanks to Neslihan Demirkol Sonmez for 2 of the photos included below (the one of the dinner celebration, and 4 of us talking).

Euronews video coverage of the event is now available online. (I’m included, but as part of a conversational grouping, so look carefully!)

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz
Director, Center for Intercultural Dialogue

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European Youth Parliament

“The EU has long been encouraging an exchange of ideas across its borders, hoping to engage young people in European affairs. A prime example is the European Youth Parliament – a platform for intercultural dialogue on hot political issues in the EU. It met recently in Lillehammer in Norway and we caught up with some of the young members taking part in the debate.

There are three sessions of the European Youth Parliament per year bringing together around 270 young people for 10 days. In order to familiarise young people with political processes the Youth Parliament functions the same way as the European Parliament.”

For more information, see the original article posted on Euronews.