On 26 January 2015, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, participated in a high-level discussion on “Staying Together – Dialogue in the Face of Violent Extremism.” The event, organized by the Permanent Missions of Sweden and Indonesia to the United Nations, took place at the UN Headquarters in New York, bringing together a number of high level representatives from UN agencies and civil society.
Foreign Minister Margot Walstrom underlined that the current tensions should not be perceived as a clash between the Islam and the Western world, nor as a clash of civilizations, but only as a confrontation with extremists. She appealed to the international community's efforts to focus on confidence building across communities and within societies, in order to foster a culture of peace. She called also for the adoption of policies of inclusive participation of all citizens at national level.
"The International Decade of Rapprochement of Cultures is an example of intercultural confidence building in practice,” she declared.
“While we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of UNESCO’s Constitution, we should cherish more than ever before today’s imperative of building peace in the minds of men,” stated Irina Bokova addressing the event.
She pursued by emphasizing that a global debate needs to take place that takes on board the local dimension of extremism.
"Cultural diversity is an everyday reality and this calls for the need to promote cultural literacy in order to develop greater appreciation for each other cultures”.
In this context, she commended the Secretary-General for launching the Global Education First Initiative and she underscored the Organization’s work on the teaching of History, education to prevent genocides, and UNESCO’s Holocaust Education Programme.
The Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called for the need to uphold firmly the core values shaping our societies despite today’s uncertainties. He called upon the responsibility of the international community to safeguard its fundamental principles in the face of current social turmoil and for world leaders to join efforts in defusing tensions and tackle rising intolerance and prejudices based on culture and religion.
The Director-General also held a bilateral meeting with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Walstrom during which she expressed her deep appreciation for the continuous and strengthened support by the Kingdom of Sweden to UNESCO, in particular through the recently signed cooperation agreement marking a new approach in Swedish cooperation across all the areas of the Organization’s work.
Minister Walstrom reaffirmed Sweden’s unwavering support to the importance of seeking tools to face the challenges of increasingly diverse societies, balancing the imperative of freedom of expression, free speech and the respect for cultural diversity and emphasizing the need to better engage religious leaders across the world as well as world leaders. The Director-General stressed the pivotal role of education in advancing new forms of global citizenship.
Minister Walstrom expressed her gratitude for the Director-General’s participation in the event and commended the Organization for its work in freedom of expression and in countering extremism through education and building a culture of peace.
“Today, extremist violence seeks not only to kill people but to destroy their culture and the rights to which we all adhere, to project diversity as a threat, to divide people according to beliefs and origins,” said the Director-General. "We see this in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria, and now in France with the terrorist attacks earlier this month – extremists attack schools, heritage sites, journalists, teachers and students."
“We must stay together to reject all forces of fragmentation,” declared the Director-General. “This is the fundamental task of the United Nations and UNESCO, whose 70th anniversaries we celebrate this year.”
The Director-General highlighted UNESCO’s action across the world to promote the idea that we can build lasting peace only through solidarity, through dignity, equality and mutual respect, namely through the “International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures 2013-2022”, through its work with the UN Alliance of Civilizations, through the project “Teaching Respect for All” and through the implementation of the “UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity”.
“Getting this right is not easy – and this is why dialogue is essential. Only through dialogue can we make the most of humanity’s diversity, while ensuring respect for the rights that bring us together,” declared Irina Bokova calling for a new focus on young people, and on education for global citizenship, for cultural literacy and media literacy.
“We need every opportunity for open debate on how we can better implement our shared values and principles -- and this is why this meeting is so important,” concluded the Director-General, thanking Sweden and Indonesia for organizing this debate.