5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue - Official Opening Ceremony

Baku , 

As delivered

Your Excellencies, President Aliyev, Vice-President Aliyeva, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to speak at this World Forum.

I congratulate the authorities of Azerbaijan not only for the organisation of this event but for the Baku Process as a whole.

For over a decade now this has provided unrivalled opportunities for experts in the field of intercultural dialogue to share their practice, experience and understanding.

In doing so, the Council of Europe’s intercultural dialogue agenda and initiatives have been given further reach – and for this we are grateful.

Grateful, because this approach is so very necessary in the complex, modern world in which we live.

Back in 2008, our Organisation published a White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, Living Together as Equals in Dignity.

The paper developed and summarised our understanding of this concept as a premise for the good governance and management of cultural diversity.

It is a reflection of the values on which the Council of Europe is built – with inclusive societies based on equal rights and dignity for all.

This is about the way we live, the way we learn and the way we work: it’s about how we progress – together.

Our Organisation has provided the guidance and support that have helped our member states to put this approach into practice.

Most of our recent and ongoing activities can be found in our Action Plan on Building Inclusive Societies.

These include our Competences for Democratic Culture and Intercultural Dialogue which educate and equip our young people for the future;

Our Intercultural Cities programme that sets a gold standard for inclusion at the local and regional levels, and the activities of our North-South Centre in promoting global citizenship among youth;

And our Cultural Routes network which brings together Europe’s people and places, sharing our history and heritage through cross-border exchanges.

These are underpinned by up-to-date legal standards for the management of cultural diversity and the achievement of societies free from discrimination.

Judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, decisions from the European Committee of Social Rights, our individual conventions, and our monitoring body, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance: all of these play their part.

Of course the promotion of intercultural dialogue is not an event – rather, it is a never-ending challenge.

So too is the moral duty of turning that dialogue into action: the precise subject matter of this important Forum.

It requires us to dispel ignorance about “the other” by means of education and openness.

It requires us to ease the anxiety people so often feel by coming together in a spirit of tolerance, equality and mutual assurance.

And it requires the development of government structures and policies that pave the way to a sustainable future together:

Inter-religious dialogue, quality education, social inclusion – and the protection of minority rights.

Ultimately, progress will be made on the basis of political will.

In Europe today we see the resurgence of extreme nationalism and populism, which so often seek to undermine minority rights, intercultural dialogue, and multilateral co-operation.

It is incumbent on all of us to counter these calls by stating the facts, and standing up for our beliefs:

A peaceful future in which dialogue forms the basis of co-operation, dignity and mutually-assured progress.

This is the prize we seek – and this Forum, the Baku Process, and your contributions here and at home, are vital for winning it.