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Building bridges between cultures - UN's Jean-Christophe Bas

Building bridges between cultures - UN's Jean-Christophe Bas
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On 27-29 May a network of around 2,000 political and corporate leaders, and civil society activists, will gather in Rio de Janeiro for the third UN Alliance of Civilisation Forum to agree actions aimed at improving cross-cultural relationships. This is the first Forum held in Madrid in 2008. The UN Alliance of Civilizations was initiated by the Turkish and Spanish governments in 2005. The main objective is to build bridges between cultures and communities, to improve understanding and cooperation between nations and peoples in order to combat the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.

In the run-up to the Rio Forum, Claudio Rocco from euronews interviewed Jean-Christophe Bas, who works as Head of Strategy and Development for the Alliance of Civilisation in the United Nation in New York. He is advisor to Jorge Sampaio, a former Portuguese President, who is the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations.

Claudio Rocco, euronews: “What do you hope to achieve at the next summet in Rio?”

Jean-Christophe Bas: “I think that today there is a consensus, whether one is from the north, south east or west of the planet, we agree that questions of identity, culture, and diversity are at the central, even when talking of stability and peace.
And I think that’s an important part of this summit, to make the international community integrate this diversity, this dialogue between cultures.”

Claudio Rocco: “So in concrete terms, what decisions do you hope to take at the summit?”

Jean-Christophe Bas: “Problems of identity, problems of diversity have to be resolved at street level, local level, in communities. And that’s why during the summit in Rio, we want to spotlight some people who have undertaken extraordinary work in this area, but who don’t have access to the media and to publicity.”

Claudio Rocco: “So which organisation are you talking about?”

Jean-Christophe Bas: “I’m referring to a whole series of NGOs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even just local people who have found ways to bring together people from different cultures, people with different origins and identities who have found concrete solutions.”

In a way this “Dialogue between Civilisations” promoted by the Alliance was a reaction against President Bush’s foreign policy which was based on military strength. That policy has now been replaced by Obama’s policy of dialogue. His speech in Cairo last June was a good example of this change.

Jean-Christophe Bas: “I think every President has their own style. President Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, and he has African roots, so he already embodies a kind of “Alliance of Civilisations”. And I think that today in the US there is a momentum towards the US re-engaging with the international community, and making a commitment to working with the rest of the world exactly to find solutions to the challenges which we all face.”

Claudio Rocco: “The problem of polarisation, of friction between civilisations in Europe, it a very sensitive issue, because of migration. You deal with this issue in your book “Europe à la carte”.
How do you see this problem?”

Jean-Christophe Bas: “Migration is one of the big stories of the 21st century and will profoundly change our societies and our identities. And a change of identity is always painful, and causes fear, above all in Europe, which, 25 years ago, represented nearly 25% of the world’s population, but which now represents a mere 12%. So there’s a sort of fear – “Will we be equal to the challenges facing a globalised world?” I think that in fact today there are real fears and that the solution is a better understanding of diversity. We must try to include or re-include immigrant populations so as to make them the intermediaries of a new dialogue between cultures, between their host countries and their countries of origin. In fact, that’s really the central challenge in Europe right now.”

Claudio Rocco: “Merci!”