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Culturelink review, no.40/August 2003 - contents - imprint - archive

International Conference on Dialogue Among Civilizations: The Key to a Safe Future

Report from Warsaw

The conference on Dialogue Among Civilizations: The Key to a Safe Future, held in Warsaw, Poland, 23-26 April 2003, was organized by the Polish Asia Pacific Council Association, the Polish National Commission for UNESCO, the Center of East Asian Studies of the Institute for Political Studies, the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Center for East and Pacific Studies of Trier University.

This was the third world conference organized on the theme of dialogue among the civilizations in Poland, with the record number of over six hundred prominent participants from different parts of the world. The conference was opened by its patron, the Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who stressed the importance of meetings such as this, serving as fora for the exchange of ideas on how to improve the dialogue among people all over the world.

The conference dealt with the perception of the current issue of globalization as a threat - as Americanization. In this connection, Giandomenico Picco stressed the importance of equality in vulnerability and noted that dialogue was the key instrument in this relationship. Further on, the significance of education for dialogue and the ways of achieving dialogue were examined. For dialogue among civilizations, people of different continents must be in contact, and the establishment of such contact is a challenging task.

Ahmad Jalali stressed the need for an epistemological investigation into the actual meaning of the term 'dialogue', since it is sometimes mistaken for negotiation. The debate continued in a more dynamic way as Prince Turki Al-Faisal analyzed the problems that occurred during the war in Iraq and questioned the credibility of the UN institutions in the light of their inability to stop the outbreak of war in Iraq.

During the following three days, over six hundred participants were engaged in a range of discussions in the twenty-two workshops meeting in parallel sessions. The main topics included issues in political science (the major subjects were 'Traditions and Models of Power - Contemporary Political Dilemmas', and 'In Search for a New Culture of Dialogue: The Role of International and World Organizations, Peace 'Mission and Social Diplomacy'); sociology and psychology (the topics included 'The Individual in Contemporary Civilizations and Cultures', and 'Community in Contemporary Civilizations and Cultures'); philosophy and religion ('Inter-civilization Dialogue and the Idea of Universalism'); economy and development ('Globalization and Inter-cultural Dialogue - Synergy or Contradiction?' and 'The Economy of Growth - A Paradigm Under Trial'); communication and education (the problems discussed were 'Educations for Dialogue: Schools and the Problem of Mutual Understanding' and 'Information in Times of Dialogue: Images of the World Created by Media'); and the session on communication through arts (whose subjects included 'The Arts in Dialogue: the Symbols and Myths' and 'The Arts and Non-verbal Communication: Toward Deeper Understanding'). During these sessions (as well as during the closing session), various issues were raised - from practical ones on the need to stage similar events, to the importance of dealing with issues of purely theoretical nature and in-depth discussion of the relevant terminology. Furthermore, the question of language and translation features prominently in dialogue among civilizations. The paucity of participants from Africa and China was touched upon, as was also the need for a code of conduct for the media, in whose preparation UNESCO should take the lead.

As in any conference of this size, there were last-minute cancellations - unfortunately, without any announcement from the organizers. On the other hand, the organizers added several surprise lectures, like the one by Marek Edelman, one of the last survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. He noted the shift of the terminology during the last few decades - the term 'globalization' has exchanged places with the term 'cosmopolitanism', which was used in the past with the same frequency and enthusiasm.

As well as preparing the rich daily programme of parallel sessions, the organizers arranged also a few additional events for the participants of the conference. The first one was the presentation of awards for the Ambassador of Dialogue, given in four categories - international relations, science, business, and the arts. The award winners included the politicians Giandomenico Picco (UN Secretary General's Representative for Problems of Dialogue) and Edmond Israel (Luxembourg); scientists Professors S. N. Eisenstadt (Israel), Hassan Hanafi (Egypt), Robert A. Scalapino (USA), and Jerzy Smolicz (Australia and Poland), as well as a representative of the media, Ryszard Kapuscinski (Poland). In the field of the arts, the award was conferred on Andrzej Wajda and Krystyna Zachwatowicz for establishing the Centre of Japanese Art and Technology in Cracow, and on Bernardo Bertolucci for stimulating interest in Asia among the Western countries. Following the award-giving ceremony, a concert entitled 'Music of Dialogue' was performed by foreign students of the Frederic Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw. Additionally, the organizers screened a short review of films devoted to the dialogue of cultures and civilizations, under the title 'Colors of the Sun'. On the final day of the conference, 'A Multicultural Evening' was held in the Gromada Hotel. After the conference, but in connection with it, the International Academy of Dialogue between Cultures and Civilisations for Education for Dialogue was inaugurated on 27 April 2003.

The conference on Dialogue Among Civilizations: The Key to a Safe Future provided numerous insights into the various issues connected with communication among cultures and with the obstacles that such communication encounters. It is to be hoped that after this conference, the initiatives that were proposed there will be further developed, so that true dialogue can take place.

For additional information about the conference and about the conference proceedings (which will be published in a separate volume), please contact: Marek Pawlowski, Director of the Conference Office, tel.: + (48 22) 339 06 21, + (48) 601 29 81 39; fax: (+48 22) 339 06 29; e-mail: an@arsnobile.pl; http://www.sprap.pl.eu.org