Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe

Conclusions by the President of the Conference of INGOs, Jean-Marie Heydt, at the NGO Forum “New multicultural challenges: how can NGOs play their part?” Istanbul, 24-25 March 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

We have just been through two remarkable days during which we were given the opportunity to deal intensively with the new multicultural challenges and especially with the role and responsibilities which devolve on us as an organised civil society.

We have come with our field proficiencies, our experiences and our cultures from over 31 European countries, joined by representatives of NGOs in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.

The participants have enabled us to share the wealth of their experience through the diversity of cultures. And the existence of this diversity of cultures defies the recent theories of certain individuals, certain political leaders too, who herald the end of multiculturalism by advocating standardisation of systems, preaching a monocultural environment, indeed even an ideology of monolingualism! But we all know how surely diversity is an asset, subject to its constructive management.

We have heard and we have ascertained that multiculturalism is very much alive. And, thanks to the introductory remarks offered by our two members of the Group of Eminent Persons, Ms Ayşe Kadioğlu and Ms Sonia Licht, we were able to appreciate the great labour, the wide area of work, which awaited us. Indeed, as an organised civil society we must henceforth prepare favourable ground for the multicultural factor. We must breathe new life into multiculturalism, which has as its foundation the conceptual basics which are indivisibility of rights and universality of human rights. In October 2010 the Conference of INGOs already discussed these questions in Oslo at a Forum. We are therefore definitely placed in a continuum of our proceedings and actions.

The dual goal which we set ourselves for the present Forum was:

• Give a civil society dimension to the implementation of the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue in the face of the new multicultural challenges raised for European societies.

• Highlight best practice deriving from NGO work in the field of intercultural dialogue in order to create and launch a Toolkit for the practice of the intercultural dialogue which will need to address these new challenges. It will be practical and tangible to aid implementation of the White Paper and, more comprehensively, intercultural dialogue. It is our responsibility to stimulate the use of suitable dialogue-based methodologies in order to meet the challenges of our pluralist societies in a democratic and human fashion.

The goal was ambitious but I believe I can assert that it is achieved this morning, judging by the work performed!

That we were fortunate enough to be able to carry out our work was thanks to your early realisation, Minister, that there can only be success in a project, a process, if partnership is real. Turkey accordingly decided, from the outset of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, to take every step to make this Forum possible. I wanted to thank you for it most sincerely on behalf of the Conference of INGOs and all participants.

You know better than I that multiculturalism is continually queried, called into question, especially through the prism of Islamophobia, but that multiculturalism nonetheless generates the ingredients of “living together”. And with good reason; the very history of the city of Istanbul, where we find ourselves, is the living proof that speaks volumes through the ages, far more than all the multicultural theories.

Allow me however to say how much all these transformations, all these historical as well as current tendencies, stem from the people.

Very early on, you apprehended the importance of partnership, as exemplified by the modernity of your country’s approach. You have understood that it is no longer possible to build unless organised civil society is genuinely, tangibly associated in the process, and this avenue offers European unification a second wind.

The period in which we live is evolving very fast and it is urgent for us to make proposals.

I am thinking especially of the transformations occurring in the Southern Mediterranean countries. With our colleagues from those countries here present, we embark on a process of support and assistance to enable them to build an organised civil society at home, in their own context, with their own cultural references. That is why we envisage convening for the autumn a major civil debate with a large number of NGOs on transition in the “neighbourhood” countries.

Alongside the political, institutional, technical and legal forces (meaning the Venice Commission in particular), organised civil society must have the ability to be associated with this assistive approach. This initiative will have arisen and begun developing during your presence on the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and I also wished to thank you for it.

Finally, I shall conclude my remarks by asserting that yes, we believe in the feasibility of living together with our diversities in our multicultural societies.

- living together with acceptance of the Other’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion;
- living together, discovering the Identity of the Other thanks to intercultural education ;
- living together, readying young people to carry on the endeavour and fostering their social inclusion, particularly for those of migrant origin.

This is a real challenge which we have begun to take up, which we shall pursue in the weeks and months ahead.

With that I conclude our proceedings at this Forum and thank you for your attention.