Vladimir Yakunin to the 13th Rhodes Forum

A Speech by Vladimir Yakunin, Founding President, WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations”, at the Opening Plenary Meeting of the 13th Rhodes Forum, October 9, 2015
Your Excellency!
Esteemed guests!
Ladies and gentlemen!

On behalf of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations,” allow me to welcome you to the 13th Annual session of the Rhodes Forum!

Also allow me, on your behalf, to express our support and gratitude to the people of Greece who are currently facing serious challenges, in the name of the Management and staff of Aldemar Hotel and the very many friends of the Forum, who in the course of all these years have been giving us their invaluable support in organizing our activity here on the remarkable Island of Rhodes.

Right from the moment it came into being, the World Public Forum took a stand of supporting and upholding a contemporary pluralistic vision of the world. The WPF strongly called for a natural development of the multitude of different civilizations that had formed historically on the basis of mutual supplementation of diversified but responsible approaches that could lead to a viable coexistence of different nations and peoples. The WPF left no stone unturned in the matter of upgrading methodologies and practical means to promote a dialogue among civilizations. It is precisely such a stand that can bring us closer to understanding not an engaged, not an ideologized, but an all-inclusive “picture of the world” without which, in our opinion, the further advancement of mankind will hardly be possible.

The assumption that a clash of civilizations was inevitable was tabled at discussions about the development of the world community at the end of the previous century. During the past 25 years this assumption has been strongly played up and magnified by its powerful backers into a no-other-alternative idea concerning a clash among civilizations. This idea about a conflict between different cultures, ethnic groups and nations on the geopolitical arena is being geared up by such backers as the absolute truth, as the foremost determining factor behind the global transformations taking place in the world today. However, I must note with a feeling of regret that the political system in the West today is utilizing the lowering of the possibility of conflicts and armed confrontations in different regions of the world as a pretext for developing its own peace-making initiatives and road maps in respect to any states or civilizations, proceeding from the principles and tasks of ensuring its own military and economic supremacy. This holds true in respect to increasing and intensifying armed conflicts in hot spots of the planet - in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa, in countries of Latin America, and now, in Eastern Europe. And this also holds true in respect to all peoples and leaders that do not “fit into” the Americano-centric, “strong-muscle” model of the world. In real politics, the NATO-member countries tend to lean towards using the idea about the inevitability of conflicts prompted by religious, ethnic and national “fault lines” as a direct pretext for armed intervention in critically important for them regions of the planet – all of which strongly testifies to an obvious failure of such a policy. In any case, this is such a policy that we understand as “an art permitting” not waging outright war.

Huntington’s theory that so strongly shook the world community was actually based on drawing a parallel between “civilizations” and “cultural identities” in different regions of the world. Huntington described interaction between civilizations as emerging due to differences in cultural identities and political contradictions that in the end brought about military-political conflicts. Huntington’s thesis was immediately and unconditionally picked up by the majority of the political elite in “the triumphant West.” This theory was actively used in discussions about the world’s development at end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, although the author himself had never asserted that all the existing forms of interaction among civilizations on the world arena could be described only by way of ensuing conflicts. His ultimate objective was the following: with the help of an academically-formed theory to activate a discussion in order to formulate and adopt such political decisions that would, to a large extent, take into account the significance and importance of State and other institutions of interaction or cooperation.

However, in the interpretations of “the clash of civilizations” that have already gone through “the ideological meat-grinder,” we can already observe the West’s usurpation of the moral-political content of present-day international relations that has now transformed into outright militarism. Quite a number of Western experts, for instance, Lee Harris, an American author, considered that “the West, in general, was the fullest manifestation of civilization as such than any of the other civilizations.” And therefore, in view of such a conscientious over-exaggeration throughout history, it was precisely the West that became the target of attacks by barbarians. Moreover, the nature of barbarianism is such that it does not recognize any rational causes: terror and terrorism have no political goals or objectives, only if we do not take into account killing for the sake of killing. So, it turned out that the enemies of the West were not some historical-political category but “a gang of merciless people” that had embarked upon “a bloody and merciless cycle of violence and wars” yet back at the dawn of history. In this context, the civilizational mission of the West was to fight these enemies and to crush them. And if the news agencies claim they are saying the truth then the statement by British Prime Minister David Cameron at the October 4 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that it was now quite in the spirit of such logic in the West it was possible at the official level already to speak about the justification of using the nuclear weapon.

The logic of the above-mentioned interpretation of the process of inter-civilizational interaction remained within the framework of supporting peace-making initiatives that aimed to lower the level of violence, while “the clash of civilizations” was viewed as a process that transformed all the parties involved therein. These transformations prompted the need to impose priority guidelines on a global level in order to establish dominance over the barbarians. For example, within inter-civilizational space of interaction between the individual-society-state we witness the consolidation of such values as tolerance, individual freedom, governance based on consensus, rational cooperation – values that form the nucleus of contemporary western civilization.

In the ideological discourse about methods and mechanisms of interaction among civilizations, this nucleus of values remains unchanged – civilizations are defined as cultural monoliths or entities. However, if the basic values of western civilization are placed in doubt, then this is done exclusively for the purpose of restoring unanimity in their interpretations, i.e., to implement cultural-political unification so as to suppress the entire variety of cultural, historical and religious experience of each of the world’s civilizations. This explains the enmity of the West towards everything that is defined as a cultural, civilizational different way of thinking. What is more, the ideology of multiculturalism that has flopped in European with its figuratively-speaking primitive linear model of interaction among cultures still presupposes that the newcomers will swiftly adapt themselves to the European values, and the Europeans, in their turn, will adopt the lifestyles they need. It is our firm conviction that linear “multiculturalism” not only fails to strengthen European culture as an entity, but it becomes an instrument for transferring “the clash of civilizations” into western civilization that may lead to its self-destruction.

It was certainly no coincidence that thoughts and ideas about a possible dialogue among civilizations in a geopolitical platform first appeared in the East. Western civilization seemed to have excluded other civilizations possessing another nucleus of values from the platform of adopting responsible geopolitical decisions. The two-in-one task for “the dialogue of civilizations” that was supported and developed by the World Public Forum was aimed at the following: on the one hand, to determine and define the civilizational code and vector of development of each civilization, and on the other hand, to identify the basic common civilizational trends and predominant tendencies in global development, while placing the emphasis on equality of sides calling for inter-civilizational cooperation, and finding common approaches to resolving both global, as well as trans-civilization problems. In the latter case, we are talking about changes that are typical to all local civilizations existing today, each of which possesses different adaptive peculiarities that ensure protection of their identities and mechanisms of heritage continuity. Here, they had in mind not only positive changes, i.e., transformations connected with uncovering the civilization potential of different peoples and cultures, but destructive processes as well. In the ranks of the destructive processes, it is possible to single out factors either weakening a civilization’s identity, or those having a conflicting nature leading to inter-civilization clashes and those giving rise to inter-confessional strife. Today it is more timely than ever to identify conflict-generating factors since more and more often we are witnessing how centuries-old civilization differences are being used to attain goals that have nothing to do with the destinies of peoples and civilization peculiarities, but which have direct bearing on the redistribution of resources and the struggle to gain world markets.

It is important to take into account the civilizational peculiarities of individual countries as well as global trends common to all civilizations. This also pertains to the efforts for their coordination and harmonization since this allows to estimate the political, economic and social risks and threats that emanate from the uncoordinated global mega-trends for the development and local vectors in national strategies. What is even more important is to make use of the national approach to the process of strategic planning - both in medium- and long-range terms – since every political decision has its own value. Therefore, it is important so that any, even the most significant and fateful decision must not harm or damage the civilizational diversification and inter-civilization concord.

The objectives, means and instrumentaria of a dialogue of civilizations go far beyond the framework of scientific and research interests. This is because the maintenance of peace among countries and peoples depends on how efficiently and precisely is the work of the mechanisms geared to establishing mutual understanding, as well as promoting a trustworthy atmosphere among the parties in the dialogue – be they inter-state institutions, NGOs, transnational corporations or individual personalities. The conditions of an open, mutual respect and equitable dialogue are the chief factors that determine the efficacy of cooperation and partnership among civilizations. That is why the conflict of interpretations that is related to transforming the assumption of a conflict being the motive force behind world transformations into an idea about a no-alternative clash, thereby becoming a kind of handbook for the world powers as to how to act on the world arena, but it must not hinder the creative peace-making work in the sphere of international politics. All the more so since even without that, this platform resembles a minefield: on the geopolitical map of the world we have witnessed time and again that the leading role is played not by the conflict of interpretations, but rather by the conflict of interests of the main political players.

As a result of transforming an incorrectly understood idea about “a clash of civilizations” into practical strategies for shaping foreign policy at the level of existing states, the western world, and first of all, the USA, being steered to achieve the objectives and to solve the tasks of global financial oligarchs, have in recent years precipitated a global destabilization of the situation in the Islamic world. The optics of a dialogue of civilizations allow us to see not a civilizational fault - line passing through the counties of the Western area of the Middle East and North Africa, but rather an artificially created conflict, an unnatural conflict that has been foisted upon one of the most important regions of the world by another civilization. This is nothing but a persistent and aggressive implantation of a model of subservience to a singular “nucleus of values” upon those civilizations that differ in principle from the West. Yet, if the classical geopolitical schools try to single out in this region any responsible subjects striving to uphold their civilization identities, then the processes unfolding in the Islamic world today can be explained by existing theories. This is a global post-modern situation in which the interests of might, power and influence on the international arena are beginning to determine not simply the world agenda, but to dictate the conditions for establishing a singular platform of values for all states and civilizations. The armed conflicts in Iraq, Libya, the sharp and impulsive growth of activities by terrorist organizations such as ISIL are not the result of a natural historic process , but rather they are an artificial modeling of well-rehearsed action following the scenario of aggressive geopolitical projects being implemented according to clear-cut orders and pursuing specific objectives.

If the hypothesis about the transformation of interests of the global financial elite that has been tabled by our Forum is accepted into the practical policy of different states on a global geopolitical platform, then in the absence of adequately built mechanisms for promoting dialogue between all the interested parties - the current no-alternative way of the hegemonic path of development of the world community can only lead to a global catastrophe. More than five years ago Professor Immanuel Wallerstein while addressing a Rhodes Forum session compared the chaos of armed conflicts and international moods in economics and ecology to a blizzard on a glacier, and depicted mankind as a traveler in this blizzard. “Tread very cautiously, check each step that is taken – for we may fall into an unexpected crevice,” the American sociologist advised in such a situation. Today we can see all the crevices and destruction foisted upon the world community. What shall we do in such a situation after this global chaos? And are we so sure that this is not just another lull before even more catastrophic destruction?

From the point of view of the world after global chaos, post-modernism, depicted by the West as an alternative to “a clash of civilizations,” is an obvious loser to the paradigm of mutual cooperation among civilizations which fully takes into account the different values that form the foundations for building the structures of countries adhering to the norms and values of Islam, Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucian philosophy. It is now understandable why today, in spite of all its power and might, the West has been unable or did not want to do away with terrorist organizations such as the Taliban or ISIL. The actions of terrorist organizations fit into the shortcomings of the security architectures built in the West many decades ago. If it was the Taliban that began to publically demolish the artefacts of the world’s heritage then the ISIL is only repeating these actions today. But what is most unexpected is that all this fully corresponds to the post-modernist project since it only reproduces the same system of describing and understanding global statistical reality. From this point of view, the strategy of war that demolishes the valuable and actual foundations of local cultures and civilizations, has demonstrated its efficacy in implementing the West’s aggressive policy towards the East.

However, in conditions of a senseless vacuum, such a policy boomerangs against its creators, bringing back to them their own fruits – systemic destruction of the values at the foundations of their own cultures, traditions and religions. Having launched its new intervention on the basis of an idea, the West has now found itself in a situation in which its own destructive social technologies are back-lashing it from the East. And herein lies the root cause of the global disorder and chaos which has already arrived. The world has found itself in an unnatural situation when a war is being waged against everyone, and in which only the more cynical are surviving, but in reality, they are random actors in the world process.

At the 2nd Rhodes Forum that was held more than 10 years ago, we issued a warning that in the history of international relations, epochs of uncertainty were always accompanied by a growth of tensions, the use of force in arriving at decisions, as well as resorting to destructive political strategies. We were viewed as idealists in those times when uncertainty triggered amazement and hope to bring clarity to the newly-formed features of upcoming world transformations. However, the world was changing and the Forum also changed along with it. Today, we can speak about the future with confidence and certainty because in conditions after the global chaos, in conditions of the destructed and rampaged picture of the world, we can clearly see how globalization, under the aegis of a single world power, is posing a real threat to the very existence of a multitude of peoples with their own original cultures; and all this has given rise to strong opposition as a post-modernistic type, as a general movement of left-wing, right-wing and nationalist forces. And within this movement there is a possibility to rally the world’s forces to unite their efforts in economy, sociology, medicine, engineering and technology in order to offer a worthy and adequate response to the challenges of the times and to implement in practice the prospect of building a more just and humane world order.

In such circumstances, what can do and what must be done by a public forum? What can be the role of esteemed scientific experts and various public communities in conditions of such obvious mistakes made by the founders and practitioners of globalization that now affect not only world systems of creating various scientific disciplines, but even posing a threat to the very idea of a civilized world? As, for example, a not very large international non-governmental organization – how should it react to the negative consequences of mass migration that has been placed at the basis of a new model of a global world as one of the economic requirements for each one of us, and even for our children?

The World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” tabled answers to these questions in its First Rhodes Declaration, pointing out that “…for understanding short-term and medium-term objectives of world development, we must seek new models of knowledge required for civilizations to work out an adequate response to the challenges of the times. The essence of that answer was to protect and uphold the people’s freedoms to develop within the framework of their own culture, territory, available resources and requirements. What is needed here is an innovative civilization project embracing all aspects of a material, cultural and spiritual growth.”

We can remain a worthy and generally acknowledged platform for freely and democratically presentation of our critical opinions on the formation of a global world order, for proposing various local initiatives concerning “fixing” existing world systems, the sudden breakage of which threatens to plunge the whole world into the chaos of a new world war.

We may continue to publish our books – and here, I would say many books have been published – and we may even backdate our authorship of long-term forecasts concerning errors of neoliberal approaches to all aspects of human life – errors that were obvious to us when we were only founding our intellectual-public movement.

The leadership of the Forum proposes another way. As always, this proposal is accessible to us, and in large measure, has been elaborated thanks to our efforts to draft “a civilization map of the world.” I shall cite but one example in order to back up my thesis about the depth and seriousness o of such an approach to its application in the current world conditions. As was pointed out by Peter Katzenstein at the 6th Beijing Forum in 2013: Pluralism of civilizations in itself intensifies its macro-environment. In the given context, the term “macro-economic environment” does not mean an international market or international system in which different peoples exist, but it sooner describes “a global homeland” or global system as a means for human knowledge and practice. That which is conveyed by the global homeland concept is not a set of universal standards, but rather the understanding of a wide range of knowledge and concepts that are common to mankind, including dialectic views which can be in harmony despite their differences. Such a spacious understanding and the adoption of values shared by mankind has been concentrated for the wellbeing of all people, both in material and in spiritual dimensions.

Therefore, human rights and the “wellbeing” of all peoples can no longer be viewed as privileges that have been won or gained only for them - one or several civilizations, political organizations and ideologies. On the contrary, the code of human rights and clear-cut means by way of which human wellbeing is attained serves as a standard for all civilizations.”

By backing this manner of thinking, we propose to create, on the basis of the discussion platform of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations,” a new world think-tank. And the task of such a think-tank will be to elaborate a proposal, and then to try out a specific pilot project to promote a unified world (regional) development. A project that does not destruct the civilizational foundations of the peoples presence on the Earth, and the existing more-than-unfair system of redistribution of the Gross World Product, and one that ensures a new system of economy without wars and without unilateral domination. A project that is capable of checking the barbaric exploitation by the global oligarchs of the advantages of international development in the interests of preserving and funneling their revenues by forming “supra-national” special conditions and guarantees for themselves.

The Wall Street Consensus is unable to continue the forward development of human civilization and to ensure long-term guarantees for the existence of the human race for, with strange stubbornness, it is leading the world towards protracted, if not endless, regional conflicts, as being one of the “new realities.” The Public Forum is able to counter all this by a more profound and serious study of current and perspective regional and world processes, whereas the new think-tank , on the basis of 15 years of experience, can join the small number of those organizations that have realized the dead-end nature of the current model of globalization, and are now working out the scientific-practical foundations and are proposing another way – the way of Development, rather than a statistical assessment based in GDP growth parameters or on some other singly chosen parameter. To a certain extent, we have already made some progress in this direction. While working on the philosophical and economic basis of the Trans-Eurasian Belt of Development Project for many years, we leaned heavily on “the dialogue of civilizations” as the basic and natural process of world development. Another similar project of this type of development is the new “Silk Road,” as well as projects of trans-African railroads, projects of developing social spheres, science, education in similar projects in Latin America.

The contemporary concept of stable development that was recently proclaimed in the United nations can be implemented only by determining the initial conditions for such development, its specific numeric economic and social achievements in the fight against poverty, disease, ignorance, shortage of resources for whole nations and continents, as well as by determining the sources necessary for material and other resources for the whole of mankind. By coming to such a conclusion, we proceeded from our “civilization map of the world” as being the most adequate reflection of the present day intellectual structure capable of practically corresponding with the logic of a responsible pragmatic utilization of the potential for development over a great space of the Earth’s mainland.

On the basis of this methodology, we must establish a Scientific-Analytical Research Center; we must develop the network structure of the WPF itself. It is necessary to involve all the forces of civil societies in the processes of comprehending the present-day picture of the world, in its tectonic and extreme risks in order to find a peaceful way out of dead-end inter-civilization development.

It is necessary to put up a barrier in the way of inculcating in the public’s mind the images of “The Enemy” and Universal “Evil” which Abrahamic religions, and first of all, Islam, are attempting to portray!

I would like to conclude my presentation with the words of the ancient philosopher Lucretius who said” “man is mortal, but mankind is immortal” and only in comprehending the objective commonness of the whole diversity of civilizations and their equality in the face of Time is it possible to find an alternative to destruction and catastrophe.