UN-backed forum for cultural understanding will focus on specific clashes

26 March 2009 – Announcing the second Forum of the United Nations campaign for understanding between cultures, known as the Alliance of Civilizations, its director said today that its purpose is to help reconcile specific communities, not to resolve political conflicts or divisive issues.

The overall aim is “to help reduce tensions across cultural divides that threaten to inflame existing political conflicts or trigger new ones,” Marc Scheuer told correspondents, as he previewed the Forum, which is scheduled to take place on 6 and 7 April in Istanbul, Turkey.

“The Forum will be about that dialogue that delivers, focusing on concrete situations and trying to change the situation on the ground,” he added.

In that effort, he said this second Forum – the first was held last year in Madrid – will bring together religious leaders, governments, philanthropists, representatives of corporations and the media, academics and activists.

There will be a special focus on youth, including a pre-forum event that will bring together young people to generate messages that they can pass along to political leaders and other members of the gathering.

New programmes this year include a cluster of initiatives that will address the mistrust that has arisen in what he called the “post-Gaza situation,” following the recent conflict. In addition, a new fellowship programme has been design to enable emerging leaders from developing States to see the world through differing cultural lenses.

Best practices for inter-group understanding will be shared, and the Forum will enable international organizations, local associations and religious institutions to work together on specific situations.

“So with a very small team and very limited means, we hope to have a considerable leverage effect, bring together partners on that single subject,” he said.

The Forum will also review some of the programmes launched in Madrid, such as a jobs project in the Middle East, which benefited from a grant of some $100 million; a $10 million fund to promote entertainment media that fights stereotypes; and a youth solidarity fund that gets young people from different communities to work together.

The rapid-response media project, also launched in Madrid, will be extensively expanded, he said. It offers to world media a range of experts who “know what they are talking about” in the cultural arena, when specific conflicts arise.

Many participants in the Forum will be part of the Alliance of Civilization’s “Group of Friends,” which now numbers around 100, with some 85 Member States of the UN and about 15 international organizations that range from the European Union (EU) to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), he said.

Attending will be Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of the two countries that sponsor the Alliance, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, along with the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio, and other high-ranking political leaders.

United States President Barack Obama is also expected to participate, Mr. Scheuer said. “It should be a very important feature, because it will be the first participation of the new president in any major UN or UN-related meeting,” he commented.


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