Lecture by H.E. Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Bilkent University, Turkey | Feb 4, 2019
It is always great to be back to Turkey and I am especially glad to be here in this beautiful city of Ankara in my new capacity as High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). So I would like to thank Dean Erinc Yeldanand members of the faculty for inviting me here today.
It was quite natural to choose Turkey as my first official visit since I took this new position. As you are all aware, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey.
As students of International Relations and Political Science, it is important to reflect on the context and the raison d’etre for the creation of “An Alliance of Civilizations” back in 2005. I am proud to have been one of the founders of the Alliance when I conceptualized the idea in 2004 with Former President of the Spanish Government Jose Luis Zapatero while we were on a flight to New York to participate in the xx session of the UN General Assembly. That was a time marked by high political tension and the risk of pitting the West against the Muslim world after the 9/11 attacks and the series of terrorist attacks that followed in Bali, Madrid and London. These heinous attacks brought to mind the theory of the “clash of civilizations” predicted almost a decade earlier by Samuel Huntington and stirring a global debate. So In his first speech before the UN General Assembly on 21 September 2004, President Zapatero proposed “an Alliance of civilizations between the Western and the Arab and Muslim Worlds” so as to prevent hate and incomprehension from building a new wall. It was an initiative designed to awaken global awareness to the urgent need to overcome socio-cultural barriers and build bridges of understanding through a meaningful dialogue among diverse communities based on respect of the “other”. Following his speech, the idea was discussed with the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who agreed to form a high-level group of eminent figures to explore the initiative. Soon after, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined President Zapatero as co-sponsor of the Alliance of Civilizations. In July 2005, Mr. Annan formally launched the Alliance of Civilizations as his special political initiative designed to heed the call for a joint effort by the international community to build bridges, overcome prejudices and prevent polarization.
Beyond its immediate purpose, the Alliance was intended to equip the UN with a soft-power political tool of preventive diplomacy to support the UN agenda on conflict prevention particularly in situations of identity-based conflicts. The high-level group identified in their report 4 major focus areas of work for the Alliance : Youth, Education, Media and Migration.
So almost 14 years onwards … where are we now? How did we fit? And what is the way forward?
I must acknowledge that there is no easy answer to these questions. But I have a clear vision of how to make this initiative relevant, impactful and rooted within the UN body. Strengthening the Alliance is essential through a multi-thronged approach involving substantive, organizational and institutional components. I am discussing with the co-sponsors an Action Plan that will be submitted to the Secretary General and the Group of Friends of the Alliance in the next few months. The plan aims at pumping-in new blood into the Alliance through implementing new projects that engages new actors such as municipalities, women, athletes, goodwill ambassadors and young religious leaders. Most of all we will expand the space for dialogue for young women and men like you emanating from a long-standing conviction that you are the leaders of today not only tomorrow. In this context, your empowerment begins with quality education that nurtures the mind and soul. One that induces critical thinking, a culture of peace and the values of tolerance and respect of the other. I quote here the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said : “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”.
Let me remind you that in the last few years, the Alliance has made significant progress in several key areas of work, namely in the context of preventing hate speech, expanding the space for interlocutors of intercultural and interfaith dialogue, empowering youth and strengthening peace education for young people. I commend the efforts of my predecessors, President Jorge Sampaio and Amb. Nassir Al-Nasser as they laid building blocks that I will continue to strengthen and improve.
Yet a lot of our work remain undone. The delicate mosaic of our civilizations remains under threat. We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual world where multilateralism should prevail. Paradoxically multilateralism is being questioned at a time when we need it most. To regain people’s trust, we need to have effective multilateralism.
As a true advocate in the value of multilateralism, I believe that we need new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organizations, a networked multilateralism, with the UN at its centre, but with closer links with civil society and other stakeholders, making it an inclusive multilateralism. Networking and being inclusive is essential for the reform of our multilateral system.
In all corners of the world, inciters of hate take pride in driving a wedge between different ethnic groups and civilizations. For them, diverse culture is a source of division, instead of a basis for dialogue and richness.
I would like to quote here Albert Camus, one of my favourite authors of all time who said : “Without Culture and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle”
These challenges require our collective resolve. The battle for ideas, for our shared values, never ends.
The truth is – today more than ever – diversity is the reality that informs human life. Diversity means embracing pluralism in nations and cities, tribes and villages, in ethnicities and identities, in beliefs, faiths and traditions. The question is therefore is how to manage diversity and turn it into an incubator of progress, peace and security – locally, nationally and internationally?
It all starts with the conviction of diversity of pluralism. We are not uniform. This brings to mind a fantastic book “Killing Identities “ by the franco-lebanese writer Amin Maaloof. It is enriching to have several identities. I am proud to be born in Madrid, I am a Madrileno, , I am a Spaniard, I am a Mediterranean, I am a Middle Eastern , I am a North African and I am a global citizen. There is a great Spanish word that sums it all up : convevencia or living together . There is no alternative to living together in inclusive, just and peaceful societies. This goal 16 of the 2020 agenda of sustainable development and that is the raison d’etre of the Alliance.
I will leave it there as I would like to listen to your comments and take your questions.