“The World Is One, Whether You Like It or Not” – IPS Interview by Anna Shen with President Jorge Sampaio

“The World Is One, Whether You Like It or Not”
Anna Shen interviews JORGE SAMPAIO, U.N. High Representative for the Alliance of Civilisations and former President of Portugal

UNITED NATIONS, May 24, 2010 (IPS) – Since its inception in 2005, the Alliance of Civilisations (AoC) has worked to improve understanding and cooperation across nations, cultures and religions in order to counter the forces that fuel polarisation and extremism.

At the helm is seasoned statesman Jorge Sampaio, who served as president of Portugal from 1996 to 2006. As the AoC high representative, he brings an enormous wealth of experience to the table. During his time in office, Sampaio championed numerous international causes, including HIV/AIDS, human rights and the independence of East Timor. He also served as the U.N. Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis.

Next on his agenda is the upcoming AoC conference in Rio de Janeiro on May 27-29, which aims to build bridges across cultures and countries. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What is your hope for this year’s Forum?

A: My hope? Commitment, partnerships, and dialogue that delivers. A conference that produces a momentum that will last until the Forum in Doha next year.

I hope that this Third Forum will be a rare opportunity where world, political and corporate leaders, mayors, civil society, youth, journalists, foundations, international organisations and religious leaders from all around the world come together, all focused on the theme of contributing to “Bridging Cultures and Building Peace”.

In more concrete terms, the importance of this Forum is that it is the first outside the European area, thus stressing the global scope of the Alliance and its universal outreach. Also, it is the first time for participation from a number of new and important members, such as the U.S. There is relevant representation of African and Latin American regions, not to mention the steady presence of Asian countries.

Third, it is the first time that AoC partners will have the opportunity to take part in a very proactive way in the organisation of a whole working day, which is the Pre-Day Forum, with a parliamentary session organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Q: The Alliance aims to forge new partnerships. What is one of the most unique relationships you’ve seen under your tenure?

A: With no doubt whatsoever, the “Dialogue Café” project, which was announced in Istanbul last year and will be now inaugurated with its two first outlets, in Rio and Lisbon.

“Dialogue Café” is based on a true public-private partnership – between the Alliance of Civilisations, CISCO, the Anna Lindh Foundation, the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Municipality, the Museum of Fashion and Design (Portugal), Cândido Mendes University (Rio).

Dialogue Café is a non-profit initiative, which uses leading edge video conferencing technology to enable face-to-face conversations between diverse groups of people from around the world so that they can share experiences, learn from each other and work together to make the world a better place.

Dialogue Cafés are spaces for innovation and creativity – with a particular focus on cross-cultural dialogue, social innovation, civic participation and arts, creativity and culture. These cafés will be connected through a global exchange that links cafés across the world to enable informal conversations as well as more structured multi-city activities such as conferences, concerts and lectures.

Dialogue Café is for individuals and organisations with a social, environmental, educational or cultural mission – such as foundations, civil society organisations, community groups, universities, schools, social enterprises, public sector bodies and agencies. This project is based on a radical but simple idea that people have many things in common and given the opportunity, they will explore their common interests, sparking collaborations and stimulating ideas that address the major issues of today.

After Rio and Lisbon, the project is to extend the network to a significant number of places around the Mediterranean and to some other big cities around the world. The next stop will be Florence, but I hope that new Cafés will be open very soon in London, Amsterdam, Toronto, Doha, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Istanbul, New York, San Francisco and Seoul.

Q: As the world becomes smaller, how can different societies live together in harmony?

A: The world is one, whether you like it or not. So the only way to live together is inter-culturally.

Q: What is the best way to foster mutual respect and peace between cultures and countries?

A: I don’t think there are magic wands or formulas that can be applied to achieve these goals. We need to develop a multiplicity of activities and simultaneous action. We need to use all tools available, but also all our will.

Education is key. This includes education on human rights, on citizenship and respect for others, cultural diversity, intercultural understanding, as well as cultural and media literacy. In addition, we need education and dialogue on religions and beliefs.

Cooperation with the media is crucial. It is necessary to prevent the media and the Internet from being used to spread hatred, intolerance and misconception, while safeguarding freedom of opinion and expression.

We also have to address the world’s imbalances, cooperate for more justice, more rights, and more opportunities for all. Otherwise it is difficult to achieve an agenda for peace, security and development, an aspiration shared by all individuals.

Q: What is the most difficult obstacle to creating the conditions for long-term peace?

A: Reconciliation in the hearts and minds among former enemies.

Q: The U.S. recently became the 100th country to join the Alliance. How is this significant?

A: Having the United States on board is not a zero-sum game. What is at stake is to ensure that all the parties involved benefit sufficiently. I hope that the United States will bring into the community new perspectives, fresh thinking and additional will to turn the goals of the Alliance into results.

Q: How can more positive relationships with the Muslim world be forged?

A: By recognising that a prerequisite for fruitful dialogue is that both sides have problems. Denial and victimisation halt action.

Q: What global problem keeps you awake at night, and if you had one wish to put towards this problem, what would it be?

A: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My wish: to have Israelis and Palestinians talking about opportunities, sharing common hope for future generations and working together to build a better world for their children.

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