New UN University

“A new United Nations University to be opened in Barcelona in 2012 will strive to bridge the knowledge gap between different civilizations and develop postgraduate courses focused on cross-cultural dialogue in areas such as education, youth, media and migration. A select group of experts in cross-cultural communication from Europe, North America, North Africa, the Arab world and Asia, along with the United Nations University (UNU) staff gathered in the Spanish city June 1-3, 2011 to identify areas of research, postgraduate teaching and knowledge transfer to be undertaken by the new institution.

To be known as the International Institute on the Alliance of Civilizations (IIAOC) the new institution will be located at the Sant Pau historic site in Barcelona. It will be funded by the Spanish Government and the state government of Catalonia with the Ministry of Education guaranteeing funding of 2 million Euros a year from 2013 onwards for an initial period of four years. An international search for its first director is underway, who is expected to be appointed by the end of 2011. IIAOC will contribute to reinforcement of peace by reflecting upon a future of tolerance, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures…

“Intercultural dialogue is not easily achieved and it involves cultivating our human and ethical potential,” noted Fred Dallmayr from the University of Notre Dame in the USA. He said the ancients called it a culture of virtues which includes temperance, wisdom and justice. “In today’s culture we need to have another virtue, the openness to different ideas, different voices, different languages and the virtues of what Indians call — karuna — compassion. These are virtues we have to study, cultivate and train ourselves to practice,” he said.

Prof Ramin Jahanbegloo, political scientist from the University of Toronto, argued that what is being built is an institution which is not clash oriented but dialogue oriented. “The question is not about who are the dialogue partners, but at what point the dialogue partners start to talk and work together on issues that often cause debate,” he argued.”

For further information, see the original posting in IDN-InDepthNews/06.06.2011

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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