Intercultural Cities recently hosted a seminar within the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue in Baku

 

7-9 April 2011

 

The Forum is the first of its kind and was the initiative of the Government of Azerbaijan supported by the Council of Europe, the North-South Centre, UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, and Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It was part of the "Baku process" which Azerbaijan launched in recognition of its position as a historic geographic and cultural crossroads of civilizations.

 

It was attended by several hundred people representing over 70 nations, who were welcomed by Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan.

 

The programme included sessions on:

the feasibility of setting up goals and indicators of intercultural dialogue;

the role of heritage and creativity in facilitating cultural encounter and combating fundamentalism;

women as key agents of intercultural dialogue;

dialogue among and between the world’s religions;

the impact of social media and journalism;

 

I chaired the Intercultural Cities session included presentations by

Manuela Júdice – City Council of Lisbon, Portugal who described the city’s Todos Festival.

Maria Rosa Marquez Cabrera – Minister for Rural Development and Equality, Mexico City, Mexico who reported on the city’s recently approved Law of Interculturality, Care for Migrants and Human Mobility.

Alexander A. Ushakov - Chairman of the City Council of Izhevsk, Russia who talked about the city’s House of Friendship.

Olena. Dubinina– Vice-Mayor of the City of Melitopol, Ukraine who emphasised the value of sharing knowledge within the ICC network, giving the example of an international collaboration to develop an intercultural park in her city.

Włodzimierz Wysocki – Deputy Mayor of the City of Lublin, Poland who discussed the value of students as catalysts of intercultural dialogue. The session attracted a large audience including mayors from many cities in Azerbaijan. It seems there may be interest in establishing an Azeri national network of intercultural cities in the future.

 

Other highlights, which stood out for me, were a very spirited final session presenting concrete examples of dialogue involving younger people. We heard about Akili Dada, set up to empower the next generation of female African leaders. The Chanan Development Association which also focuses on young women as agents of peace-making and social change, this time in Pakistan ; the Te’a Project of New York which employs interactive, documentary style theatre to tackle conflict.

 

I was also gratified to hear from Basma El Husseiny about the exciting possibilities for cultural policy after the Arab Spring; and to learn about the work of a remarkable writer and photographer Leila Gandhi, who reminded us that we shouldn’t really need a forum to tell us how to conduct intercultural dialogue, because love and sympathy are natural human characteristics.

 

Although actual dialogue was not a part of the programme which consisted of series of speeches, the organisers put on a spectacular and well-organised event which also allowed opportunity for delegates to see this remarkable country on the Caspian Sea which is making the transition from Soviet Republic to independent oil-producer. It is a predominantly Muslim nation with a secular state, and seems to maintain good international relations with everyone but its Armenian neighbours who were, unfortunately, absent from the Forum. If, as has been suggested, the Azeris are to host future events of this kind, their evident satisfaction with the way in which this one ran will give them the confidence to allow a little more youthful spontaneity to creep into the format and the content.

 

Phil Wood