Belgrade, 11 April 2012 – In a strong demonstration of commitment to promote further regional cooperation aimed at strengthening bridges between people and communities by promoting intercultural dialogue, representatives of countries of South Eastern Europe, international organizations, civil society organizations and youth came together under the banner of the UN Alliance of Civilizations to exchange views on how to develop further joint and cooperative action in the fields of education, youth and media aimed at building inclusive and tolerant societies. This 2nd Regional Conference was hosted by the Government of Serbia, following the first Regional Conference which has held in Sarajevo, in December 2009.
This event brought together a unique combination of partners: representatives of countries, international organizations (UNESCO, UNWTO, the International Organization for Migration, OHCHR, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Union and Regional Cooperation Council as well as some offices of UN Resident Coordinators in the region) and a wide range of civil society organizations. They have worked hand-in-hand, sharing experiences and expectations and devising ways of working together on a number of projects for the next two years. Further to an overall presentation of the new projects being prepared and an informed debate between a high level panel and the audience that took place in the morning, three workshops were organized in the afternoon allowing for smaller targeted discussions, providing partnership-building opportunities for participants with shared interests. One focused on the topic of “intercultural competence and skills”; another on “dealing with the past to build a better future – the role of teaching history”; the third focused on “engaging youth in change”.
The Belgrade Conference set the tone for enhanced regional cooperation combining the key areas of work of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and some of the most pressing needs that have to be addressed. Therefore, the 2nd Action Plan for Intercultural Dialogue and Cooperation for this region (2012-2014) will comprise the following thematic windows: reconciling diversity and social cohesion; education, notably teaching history, as a tool for conflict prevention and peace building; developing intercultural skills and competences to create a new generation of active citizens; combating stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices through media; gender equality and empowerment of women; bringing people together across divides: tourism, arts and sport. This Action Plan will focus on the need to increase education opportunities, providing young people with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate an increasingly intercultural world. It will draw on the ideas and energy of young people. This Action Plan will also build on the strength of media and the power it has to shape attitudes and increase people-to-people communication through online networks. Finally, it will address the challenges of migration and will strengthen the role of women in creating opportunities for cross-cultural cooperation.
This Belgrade Forum was also an opportunity for countries in the region to strengthen their commitment to developing added cooperation for Intercultural Dialogue, increase regional exchanges on good practices in promoting intercultural understanding, and promote the participation of a broad range of partners to enhance regional cooperation, including local governments, cities, civil society organizations, the corporate sector, universities, faith-based organizations, youth and the media.
Furthermore, on 10 April, representatives from twelve countries in the region, along with representatives of Malta, Spain and Turkey, met on Wednesday, April 11, in Belgrade to assess progress made since the Sarajevo Conference, discuss difficulties in advancing the UNAOC goals and agree on a range of concrete actions namely in the fields of education, media and youth aimed at fostering intercultural understanding in the region to be part of the 2nd Action Plan in preparation.
Ahead of the Belgrade Forum, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, President Jorge Sampaio, said: “Big problems in the world cannot be solved without engaging civil society at large, without an inclusive dialogue and participation involving all groups, in particular those that are harder to reach. This is a unique opportunity for the Alliance to lay the foundations of a new time for enhancing regional cooperation in the field of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue in this region”.