UNITED NATIONS YEAR OF DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS, 2001 LAUNCHED WITH HEADQUARTERS ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION20000905
Only dialogue could bring about reconciliation and peace, the Director- General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) told the gathering of world leaders this morning, at a round table discussion to mark the launch of the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, 2001.
Cultural dialogue helped to sow the seeds of peace and must be predicated on universal acceptance and observance of basic human rights, Koichiro Matsuura said. Within a broad moral framework, dialogue allowed each culture to know that its voice would be heard and accepted. Dialogue meant exposing -- not blanketing over -- different ways of thinking.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that without dialogue, no peace could be lasting and no prosperity secure. That was the lesson of the United Nations in the past half century. Alongside an infinite diversity of cultures, there did exist one humanity. Diversity had to be used as an asset. The use of diversity as a threat was the seed of war.
The President of Iran, Mohammed Khatumi, whose country proposed the 1998 General Assembly resolution proclaiming the Year, told participants the emergence of a global culture, which did not overlook the requirements and nature of local culture, ought to be considered. With the absence of dialogue among thinkers, scholars and artists from various cultures and civilizations, the danger of cultural homelessness seemed imminent. Such homelessness would deprive people of solace both in their own culture and the vast horizon of global cultures. It was incumbent upon all to call governments and the people of the world to follow a new paradigm and to learn from past experience.
The master paradigm of international relations, based on the discourse of power, must be critically examined, he said. From an ethical perspective, a new paradigm required that the will to power be replaced instead by empathy and compassion. Without the will to empathy, there would be no hope for the prevalence of order in the world.
The President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, said that dialogue was not an abstract notion, but a fresh and badly needed approach to better understand each other, and to help build a more effective framework for cooperation. Prejudice
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towards other cultures was a major impediment to true globalization, he said. Dialogue began at home. Tolerance and decency must be enthroned. Nationalism was self-destructive. Dialogue was an imperative at both the national and international levels.
The question of the dialogue among civilizations could not be reduced to empty intellectual speculation, Alpha Omar Konare, the President of Mali said. Even as the round table was being held, individuals were being prosecuted and even exterminated due to a lack of tolerance. Leaders must reread their own histories, and revisit their collective histories.
Heads of State and government from Namibia, Algeria, Indonesia, Latvia, Qatar, Georgia and Mozambique also spoke, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Costa Rica and India.
A second round table discussion, featuring eminent thinkers from around the world, will take place today at 3:30 p.m.
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A round table discussion, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was held this morning at Headquarters to mark the launch of the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, 2001. The Government of Iran proposed the 1998 General Assembly resolution proclaiming the Year.
KOICHIRO MATSUURA, Director-General of UNESCO and moderator of the discussion, said that in todays world the need for dialogue was increasingly relevant and acute at both the international and national levels. It was, therefore, particularly fitting that the first meeting of the Dialogue was being held at such a symbolic time. The Dialogue would provide an opportunity not only to explore the past legacies of different cultures, but also to reflect on the future. He thanked all those who made the meeting possible. He was convinced that getting to know the cultures of others dispelled hatred and helped to build peace.
There was a need to learn to recognize other cultures, he continued. Civilizations endlessly changed as they redefined themselves in the light of new surroundings. Only dialogue could resolve strife. Only dialogue could bring about reconciliation and peace. Cultural dialogue helped to sow the seeds of peace. Dialogue must be predicated on universal acceptance and observance of basic human rights. Within a broad moral framework, each culture would know that its voice was heard and accepted. Dialogue meant exposing -- not blanketing over -- different ways of thinking.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, expressed his gratitude to President Mohammed Khatami for his initiative with the Dialogue Among Civilizations. The presence of so many heads of State was a tribute to his view of a world of tolerance. The United Nations was created in the belief that dialogue could triumph over discord. The people of the world were far more united by a common fate than divided by their differences.
He welcomed the proclamation of the United Nations Year of the Dialogue Among Civilizations. Without such dialogue, no peace could be lasting and no prosperity secure. That was the lesson of the United Nations in the past half century. Alongside an infinite diversity of cultures, there did exist one humanity.
He said the United Nations effort to advance a dialogue was lead by his personal envoy, Giandomenico Pico. He had convened a group of experts that would work together over the next year and a report by the group would be submitted to the General Assembly. He was confident that todays meeting would contribute to the report and the common dialogue of humanity. Diversity had to be used as an asset. The use of diversity as a threat was the seed of war.
He also hoped that the meeting would offer inspiration to the World Conference Against Racism that will be held in August 2001 in South Africa. He hoped that they could have a clear exchange today that reflected a true dialogue amongst civilizations.
MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, President of Iran, said that although the concept of a dialogue among civilizations had received great reception, the United Nations had only recently endorsed the proposal for such a dialogue. To understand the great reception that the dialogue had received, it was necessary to take into account the prevailing world situation. The political aspects of dialogue had already been touched upon in various settings. Today, he would begin with the nonpolitical, theoretical grounds for a dialogue among civilizations. One reason for the reception for a dialogue was the exceptional geographical location of Iran. Irans geographical location had placed it in the route of political hurricanes, as well as cultural exchanges and venues for international change.
Persian thought and culture owed immense debt to Islam, he said. Islam embodied universal wisdom. Each individual was potentially included in the purview of Islam. The emergence of a global culture, which did not overlook the requirements and nature of local culture, ought to be considered. To provide unity and harmony for global culture and prevent anarchy and chaos, all concerned parties should engage in a dialogue in which they could exchange knowledge in diverse areas of culture. However, with the absence of dialogue among thinkers, scholars and artists from various cultures and civilizations, the danger of cultural homelessness seemed imminent. Such homelessness would deprive people of solace both in their own culture and the vast horizon of global cultures.
The notion and proposal for a dialogue among civilizations provoked numerous theoretical questions, he said. In formulating its proposal, Iran presented an alternate paradigm for international relationships. It was incumbent upon all to call governments and the people of the world to follow the new paradigm and to learn from past experience. The master paradigm of international relations, based on the discourse of power, must be critically examined. From an ethical perspective, the paradigm required that the will to power be replaced instead by empathy and compassion. Without the will to empathy, there would be no hope for the prevalence of order in the world.
There were two ways for a dialogue among civilizations to be realized, he said. The interaction of cultures and civilizations resulting from a variety of factors was one mode. That mode of interaction was involuntary and optional and was driven by the vagaries of social events and geographical location. An alternative mode was deliberate dialogue among scholars, artists and philosophers. In that mode, dialogue was a deliberate act that did not rise and fall with geography. Without a discussion of the fundamentals, and by confining attention to superficial issues, dialogue would not go far and misunderstanding and confusion would prevail.
The travelling of ideas recurred in human history as naturally as the migration of birds, he continued. Translation and interpretation had always proved a prime venue for the travelling of ideas. Particular difficulty arose when one party to a dialogue attempted to communicate by using a secularist language in a sacred discourse. There was a general rejection of any spiritual dimension and faith in the unseen. The true essence of humanity was more inclusive than language. Western civilization should begin to listen to other narratives proposed by other cultural domains.
Another role of dialogue was to recognize and understand not only the cultures and civilizations of others, but their own, he said. Seeing required distance and perspective. In a dialogue among civilizations, great artists should get due recognition, together with theologians and philosophers, for artists did not see a field as merely a source of fuel, or a forest as an inanimate collection of timber to cut and use. Spiritual havens had been eradicated. To alleviate the crisis, the touch of artists and poets were needed. Poets and artists engaged in a dialogue within and through the language of spirituality. So far as present relationships between man and nature, the current era was a tragedy. Mysticism provided a graceful, profound universal language for dialogue. The unique role of governments should not be overlooked. Member States should endeavour to remove barriers in the way of dialogue and should abide by the fundamental principle of dialogue.
The escalating development of information technology would continue to penetrate deeper layers of life and would form common interactions between disparate cultural and geographical regions, he said. Scientists and artists provided the tools and formed the common language for dialogue. Dialogue would not be easy. Even more difficult was to open up vistas of inner existence to others. Believing in dialogue paved the way for hope - the hope of living in a world permeated by virtue and love, not merely the reign of economic indices and destructive weapons.
SAM NUJOMA, President of Namibia, said that the yearning for a dialogue among civilizations was not a novel aspiration. The struggle for rights and fundamental freedom had been with us from the beginning. However, resolution 53/22/1998 which proclaimed 2001 the Year of the Dialogue Among Civilizations was something important and new indeed. It was important to make an effort to work and live together, because all human beings deserved peace, security and sustainable development.
He said that since 1995, several initiatives had been taken to recommit the international community to peace, tolerance and solidarity in order to give young people of the world a chance for peace and justice. The international, political and economic process was evolving. Some felt disadvantaged by globalization and others were basking in the benefits. An understanding of the common bond of humanity would help to bridge the gaps in that regard.
A dialogue among civilizations must enable all to pursue the higher goals of peace and tolerance, he said. It was clear that the international community had the instruments to support those goals. The ideal of tolerance had to be brought home for future generations and for the benefit of all of us.
There had been good intentions in the past, he continued. Nevertheless, the number of armed conflicts was a great concern to Namibia. The statistics indicated that a large percentage of the worlds population was struggling to survive below the poverty line. Thirty million people were affected by HIV/AIDS. The highly indebted poor countries had been waiting to qualify for debt relief. While waiting, those countries had no choice but to detract money from social programmes, which impacted negatively on women and children. A dialogue must take place with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms.
He called for international cooperation and tolerance as the key to diversity and democracy, which was the cornerstone of harmony and peace among nations. Everyone worldwide had a role to play, not only at the United Nations but in countries, in villages, and in schools. He called for all human beings to join hands to enhance the dialogue among civilizations.
ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA, President of Algeria, said the unity by which people were measured was with each millennium. Over the past millennium, there had been constant interaction among the seven or eight major civilizations of the world. He hoped that would continu, so as to ensure that dialogue won out over conflict. Otherwise, conflict might have deadly consequences.
Today, nations had forged their independence, he said. The concept of the nation in the modern sense no longer implied a break from past civilizations. To the contrary, a nation must be embrace and restore this shared past.
The proclaiming of the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations was a welcome initiative, he said. The countries that were poor in resources, but rich in culture feared that some of the culture and ethical values to which they were most committed could suffer. The Dialogue Among Civilizations should be seen as a dialogue between the individual and the universal It could not be limited to States alone. Finally, it must be multifaceted. It must encompass various areas of life.
The dialogue could be seen as a therapy of choice, he continued. It should aim to abolish differences and promote the idea of a common cause; namely the destiny of mankind. It should not be a choice of me or us, which only alienated others. An understanding between individuals and others, as well as an understanding of history, tradition and progress, could lead towards defining a sub-stratem of shared values. That would truly be a shared dialogue. International ethics would prevail and inevitably, with it, the cause of peace, as well.
ABDURRAHMAN WAHID, President of Indonesia, said that he would not repeat the Islamic concepts of cultures because they had already been discussed. For a true dialogue among civilizations, one must be aware of the internal developments that took place in ones own society. Only through internal dialogue would dialogue among peoples of the earth be possible. In every country one could see the dialogue between modernization and traditionalism. Internal dialogue was needed for international dialogue. Dialogue without practical measures and results would be futile. In Indonesia, for example, democracy was starting to blossom. The fact remained, however, that dialogue had happened in an intense way and militants had emerged.
Embracing both modernism and traditionalism would bring an end to internal fighting, he said. In Indonesia local palaces had been doing that. With the emergence of the nation-state concept, the old forces of modernism and traditionalism rose to national levels. There were also dialogues between different manifestations of cultures, as well. Indonesia had suffered so much from a dialogue in enmity and confrontation. Peace was needed. Real dialogue would take place only with understanding.
OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, President of Nigeria, said that dialogue was not an abstract notion, but a fresh and badly needed approach to better understand each other, and to help build a more effective framework for cooperation. Dialogue was the essence of the United Nations. He welcomed the General Assembly decision to declare 2001 as the United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Nations, a decision which owed much to the President of Iran. He also saluted UNESCO and its Director General for organizing the event. Behind the mask of ethnic or religious conflict there had always been the inability of peoples to give due regard to the heritage of others. That disregard for the worth of others had been manifested with such brutality that it affronted the collective conscience of humankind.
Prejudice towards other cultures was a major impediment to true globalization, he said. Dialogue began at home. Democratic dispensation afforded dialogue and peaceful solutions to conflict. Each nation must embark on the urgent task of reconciliation and confidence-building. In many developing countries, reconciliation was indispensable for economic and social development.
Within many countries the temptation to resort to violence must be held in check, he said. The value of dialogue must be rediscovered. The world must return to the fundamental faith that all life was sacred. Nations must demonstrate good-neighbourliness and continue to preserve the sense of outreach. Islam and Christianity were based on peace. Each religion had love as cardinal in its creeds. Tolerance and decency must be enthroned. Nationalism was self- destructive. Today, Nigeria was striving to ensure that conduct and relationships were governed by the laws of the land and was seeking to settle differences humanely and peacefully. Rational and just behaviours guided behaviour at all levels of government. The highest premium was placed on peace. Life without peace was not worth contemplating. It was the foundation of all development and progress.
Dialogue was an imperative at both the national and international levels, he said. It was noteworthy that, earlier in the year, political leaders of African and European nations sat down to pursue a dialogue. Africas modern history had been essentially a story of the European impact on Africa. It was a story of how they were merged into different political units without rational justification. Partition had led to constant war and conflict. Before that, the slave trade was the epitome of mass inhumanity of man. Between 1884 and 1960 African affairs were genuinely regarded as an extension of political conflicts in Europe. Africans had had no control over their own resources. In the 1960s most African countries began to gain independence, but they also inherited a severe lack of resources. Colonialism made its exit before the end of the last century, but that process was still at work.
He said that there was all too often a tendency to indulge in the myth that the backwardness of Africa was divinely ordained. It was the product of a policy to degrade the continent for the benefit of Europe. That must be said. There were good reasons for the feeling among Africans that they had suffered disproportionately at the hands of foreigners. Other groups around the world had also suffered discrimination because of faith or culture. Africans were the only people, however, to suffer because of race. The scars of history and individual experiences were too deep and fresh to engage in a dialogue among civilizations without due recognition of racism. For some time to come, a degree of soul- searching was imperative for all dialogues between Africans and the world before the ghost of racism could be finally put to rest. No time was better than now for incorporating mutual hopes into a new agenda. Partnership must be based on a common concern for equity and the primary regard for uplifting underprivileged people everywhere. That was the true meaning of dialogue today.
VAIRA VIKE-FREIBERGA, President of Latvia, said that there were two basic concepts in question; that of civilization, and that of dialogue. Her definition of civilization was everything that made man different from an animal. Civilization was everything that made humankind truly human. Man might be a naked ape with the same instincts of destroying and survival found in the lowest animals of the planet. But, man was a creature with a brain, which allowed it to write a new programme for each new life and each new generation. In that regard, humans had the privilege of inheritance.
Knowledge of the past was a key to the definition of civilization, she continued. Civilization could not be equal or identical in every part of the world. Events of history had served the fate of each nation. Each nation had known moments of glory and humiliation.
Human beings shared the same aspirations for tomorrow, she said. It was a shared duty to listen to the other and to listen with an open mind and spirit. All had tried to distil and retain what they thought to be their most valuable contribution to the world.
At the dawn of a new millennium, there was a chance to reaffirm the necessity to listen to one another and to show respect for what the other had to offer, she said. The new millennium also provided an opportunity to use the tools of the United Nations to help define what was meant by humankind. If civilization was the accumulation of wisdoms past, it was also the opportunity to offer something new, without renouncing the past. It was important to recall that the international community was a part of the same brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind. It had to work together to find and distil that which was truly human.
SHEIK HAMAD BIN KAHLIFA AL-THANI, the Emir of Qatar, said that the choice of a dialogue among civilizations for the round table was extremely opportune, due to the importance of the subject in the post-cold war era. He was indebted to President Khatami for his initiative.
The Clash of the Civilizations by Samuel Huntington gave expression to the idea that conflict would widen between civilizations, he said. The author asserted that in a world that was becoming smaller, differences were intensifying. Tensions within States would escalate to violence and States from different regions would compete among themselves to gain influence. That hypothesis was replete with contradictions. Instead, the shrinking of distance could result in bringing people closer to one another. There was a common interest between nations, such as the television, which allowed people to view events simultaneously.
Huntingtons theory also ignored the fact that conflicts existed between peoples of the same cultures, he said. It was States that made up the structure of the world. It was presumed that because people differed in their cultures,that would create conflict between them. He rejected such an orientation. Differences between people were good for the welfare of all.
The subject of this round table should not be exclusionary, he said It should be open to all people regardless of their affiliations. The United Nations was an outstanding example of this dialogue among civilizations. The UNESCO played an essential role as well. He suggested a paradigm for dialogue that would have three levels of discussion. One would be purely scientific, another would look at the role of the media, and another would involve political leaders, with the aim of resolving conflict. Those discussions would not have to stay confined within the walls of UNESCO or the United Nations.
EDOUARD A. SHEVARDNADZE, President of Georgia, said that as mankind entered a new epoch, it was appropriate to talk about tolerance and a global dialogue. The problems being discussed were no less relevant today than 1,000 years ago. He appreciated the efforts of the Secretary-General and the efforts of the initiators and organizers of the discussion. When scholars predicted the clash of civilizations in the new millenium - along with the Internet and the final mapping of the human genome -- the question must be asked whether mankind could make the universal dream of peaceful coexistence come true. History had proven that there were no inferior cultures. A human being, by virtue of the ability to think and feel, was predisposed to ideas of goodness and justice inherent to all civilizations.
He said that he represented a small country with the grand traditions of multi-ethnicity, tolerance and wisdom. The Muslims of Georgia had always felt themselves equal citizens, as did the sons and daughters of Israel. That was not only a cultural tradition, but also a State tradition. It was a priority. At the same time, Georgia represented an example of mutual complimentarity of cultures that led not to decline, but to a flourishing of national cultures. Georgia managed to preserve its cultural identity and to add new shades to its culture. He proposed that the next meeting of the round table on Dialogue Among Civilizations be held in Tbilisi. It was a worthy place for organizing such an event and for housing the headquarters of a permanent structure to systemize and coordinate joint efforts.
Five years ago, at the Tbilisi international forum for a dialogue among nations, he stated that politics must be an instrument for interaction between nations, he continued. The past years had reinforced his conviction that a world architecture in line with geopolitics must be created to elaborate a system for the interaction of cultures. He hoped that the dialogue would become an important factor in the global process. Based on historical experience and culture, such dialogue could result in strong guarantees for peace in the new millennium.
ALPHA OMAR KONARE, President of Mali, said that the question of dialogue among civilizations asked the fundamental question of the value of man, who was the shaper of the universe. Man was great because he was both vulnerable and submissive. The problem of spirituality was also before the world leaders, as were respect for and preservation of life. All physical mutilation of human beings must be rejected. The question of the dialogue among civilizations could not be reduced to empty intellectual speculation. Even as the round table was being held, individuals were being prosecuted and even exterminated due to a lack of tolerance. Leaders must re-read their own histories, and revisit their collective histories. The common future could be envisaged only in the light of truth. The death of civilizations occurred with violence, both from within and without. Material poverty had in many cases reduced the human being, who needed a certain amount of dignity. Equality could not be replaced.
It was not only a question of the past, but of the present, he said. A real dialogue would be needed, as would a real commitment to those people drowning in a sea of suffering. Africans possessed a civilization and not just a heritage. Day after day, they laboured with their hands, sweat and blood to cultivate their land. Solidarity, a sense of consensus and fellowship was needed. Africans were marking out their destiny with determination. For them, a dialogue among civilizations meant respect and consideration for what they were and what they were doing. A dialogue among civilizations would be based on societies of freedom, where censorship would be abolished. It would be based on international relationships. In the last 50 years, the means of communication had increased. Communication was not necessarily dialogue. Children must be educated, not only in reading and writing, but also in human rights. Tourism and sport should also be promoted. At the dawn of the third millennium, the United Nations had laboured tirelessly to translate into reality the dreams of mankind.
JOAQUIM CHISSANO, President of Mozambique, said that the discussion, taking place on the eve of the Millennium Summit, could not be more appropriate. The twenty-first century had daunting challenges posed by globalization. It was imperative to seek an open and ongoing dialogue of the people of the world. Cultural diversity and the right to be different had to be accepted.
The meeting revived the ideal of mutual respect of the peoples of the world. The us versus them dichotomy was false. Humanity, by itself, was a civilization. What were called differences were, in fact, a part of one great humanity. Diversity constituted a precious asset of human civilization. It had to be used to face today's challenges.
One challenge was to place the idea of peace into the collective consciousness of the people, he said. The proclamation of the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations in 2001 constituted a revival of a debate among the people of the world. He understood the concept of peace as the dignity and the right of the human being. The culture of peace required the spirit of cooperation. That spirit could help revive the memory of what had been lost and help restore a countrys economic and cultural fabric. There could be no peace without development and no development without peace.
ROBERTO ROJAS LOPEZ, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, said that at the outset, the recognition that all human beings belonged to a single family was needed. All must unite to create a sustainable global society based on human rights and a culture of peace. In that way, mankind would be able to reverse economic destruction. Development, outside its human and cultural context, was only growth. Economic growth was essential because it provided the goods and services needed for a better quality of life. While the process of globalization was irreversible, it was not solely an economic phenomenon. Having ones own culture was a key element in making globalization an instrument of devlopment. It would only make sense if it promoted dignity.
The UNESCO defined a culture of peace as a multidisciplinary process, he said. Education for peace was an instrument through which a culture of peace was built and founded. Maintaining peace depended on the levels of interdependence and the level of understanding among individuals. True interdependence was no more an economic phenomenon than was globalization.
Tolerance and respect for diversity was another essential precondition, he said. Costa Rica had made tolerance a daily instrument. In 1980, the General Assembly had created the University for Peace. Costa Rica housed the headquarters of that university. The members of its council were recently elected in consolation with the Director General of UNESCO. The renewed council represented a new impetus for peace. Costa Rica supported the spirit of understanding, tolerance and coexistence. All States, nations and peoples must work together to make an effective new world order of intercultural relations
JASWANT SING, Foreign Minister of India, said that several facts had been elucidated during the discussion today. Indian thought had always held that deliverance was possible only through the release of ignorance. He was confident the Dialogue Among Civilizations would bring enhanced appreciation of different ways of life. He visualized the dialogue as a confluence of many streams. Those streams must merge, leaving humanity enriched to create a world free from want and violence.
The century that has just passed marked the end of imperialism, he said. Enriched by the industrial revolution, Europe had spread out its control over all parts of the globe and that age had been marked by an absence of dialogue. The new millennium marked an end to that construct and it was important that a new dialogue be initiated.
He said the dialogue would be judged by one touchstone -- compassion. It must inspire a universal fellowship that promoted a sense of mutual belonging. The world stood on the doorstep of the age of knowledge. Science and technology offered invaluable tools. Globalization should contribute towards a world that offered equal opportunity.
Cultures were not to be placed on the extinction list, he said. Maintenance and promotion of identities must also not become a doomed shield of ultra- nationalism and exclusionism. Exceptionalism was the basis for a clash of civilizations, instead of a dialogue among civilizations. There should be no attempt to standardize civilization. The enlarging of a common denominator of principles was important for the future of humanity.
The Indian philosophy respected all cultures and values and believed in peaceful coexistence, he added. Religion was personal and based on an individuals relationship with his or her God. Culture was shared. It was important to recognize the difference. He believed that the United Nations and UNESCO should work to ensure the principles of pluralism, solidarity and a sense of shared responsibility. The dialogue must bring out the uniting feature of our humanity. India would contribute in thought and action.
President KHATAMI thanked the participants of the round table and expressed his gratitude to the Secretary-General, the Director-General of UNESCO, and Mr. Picco. He was confident that in the afternoon session, the distinguished scholars, thinkers and writers would engage in fruitful discussions.
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