The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, took part in the opening ceremony of the 5th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), in Vienna on 27 February, 2013.
The Director-General called on political leaders to build on the potential of culture as a force for social cohesion and dialogue: "The role of culture in development should be fully recognized by policy makers, especially at a time when the new development agenda is being defined," she said. "We are alarmed that culture is targeted in armed conflict. There must be zero tolerance for such acts. Culture is a link between peoples -- the heritage of Timbuktu has played this role for centuries. The more culture is attacked, the more we have to make our message heard. We rebuilt the bridge in Mostar and we will rebuild the mausoleums of Timbuktu," she continued.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended UNESCO’s efforts to protect cultural heritage in Mali, highlighting the importance of heritage as a factor of cohesion in societies that are ethnic and cultural mosaics.
In his opening speech, His Excellency Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the new High Representative of the UNAOC, sounded the alarm on the need to strengthen the tools for cooperation, prevention and resolution of conflicts, to face the rise of intolerance, and several very serious humanitarian situations, including Syria.
"Within societies, economic difficulties exacerbate tensions that negatively affect the way migrants are seen and threaten social cohesion," said the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, calling for the rejection of public statements condoning racism and stigmatization.
Discussions also focused on the importance of the role of media and journalists: "Our role is not to praise cultural diversity, but to report the truth and demand accountability from those who deform it. In this respect, education for critical thinking is as important as the training of journalists," said the Princess Rym Ali, founder of the Jordan Media Institute, in a much applauded speech.
On the sidelines of the forum, the Director-General met with the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan in preparation of the 2nd Summit of Intercultural Dialogue in Baku and the next Committee of Intangible Cultural Heritage, to be held in Azerbaijan.