“The Importance of Cultural Diplomacy in the Middle Eastern Peace Process”

Romania, Bucharest, TVR, Channel 1
May 23rd, 2013

Poster Image
Reporter: It’s time to present our guests, as said, Emil Constantinescu, President of the Academy of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, welcome to „Prim Plan“, and next to Mister President Emil Constantinescu, we have Ivo Slaus, President of The world Academy of Art and Science, welcome, and Mark Donfried, Director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, welcome to you too. Let’s start first with Professor Constantinescu, because we are trying now to identify the focus point of these conferences and moreover of your actions.  We have prepared here a map of the entire area of the Mediterranean See, and I would like to know on what exactly should we be focused on, maybe on this region in the East of the Mediterranean See?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: Not only. We are talking here about a larger area, not only the classical zone in which the Levant was thought to be located. The Levant area is bigger and it includes North Africa, meaning the entire region from Morocco to Egypt, thus Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and then the eastern part of the Mediterranean: Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the Balkans, from the Eastern Balkans to the Western Balkans and the Caucasus. This area was seen for a long time, and it continues, unfortunately, to be seen as a conflict zone. We talk about conflicts in North Africa, about the conflicts in the Middle East/Middle Orient, about the conflicts in the Balkans and about conflicts happening in the Caucasus. Only that, this region, beyond all the conflicts, represents an important zone for the future of mankind, because as civilizations have travelled from west to east so will the economical centers of gravity do.  And in a society of knowledge, that will come whether we are prepared for it or not, knowledge based on culture will count more than information.
Reporter: But why now?  Why is it now that we direct our attention towards this area? And maybe Mr. Slaus and Mr. Donfried could answer this question.

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: As I said, nothing can stop an idea for which the time has come. It is time for us to reconsider the Levant. The Levant is not only the cradle of cultural diplomacy, but also the cradle of great civilizations: Egyptian, Syrian, Babylonian, Phoenician and Greek, the Empire of Alexander the Great which occupied exactly the area of the Levant that we’ve described earlier, Byzantium, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

Reporter: But it looks more like history than present… how can reconsidering the Levant help me now, in the present?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: What I was trying to point out to you is the present failure of policies based on force or economic pressure. Classical diplomacy was built on pressure: on military pressure, on political pressure, on economic pressure. At this time, having a military force is useless, as having missiles is, since you cannot use them. The time of economic pressure has passed and that’s why, what happened last year in 2012, the Arab spring, was a shock.

The Arab Spring showed us that the security system that was built on a dictatorship and worked for a while, but is no longer effective. The space of democracy is the space of peace. This space must be carefully built. It cannot be built following the same pattern on which military security systems were built, by dictators. And I would like to conclude, in order to leave the place for answer to my guests at the Conference that we are organizing here in Bucharest, by saying that it is time for the Levant to find its dignity and start working on a policy that comes from the inside and that will be able to respond and to concord with such an important and glorious past.

Reporter: Mr. Slaus and Mr. Donfried, it is indeed time for cultural diplomacy and we would like to know exactly what this actually means?

Dr. Ivo Slaus: Absolutely, and as you asked, there’s no doubt that the Levant and the Middle East are the cradle of civilization and of the three dominant religions today. As you have correctly pointed out, and clearly asked: “Why talk about this now, when there are other important areas such as Latin America for example?” If we look at a world map, we can see that the area we politically refer to as Middle East is going from bad to worse. This started after the Second World War with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; and now we are facing a bigger problem, besides the Pakistani nuclear bomb, also known as the Sunni bomb, we are also facing the Islamic bomb, also known as the Shi’a Bomb. I hope this situation never happens. I trust the Iranian Government saying that they won’t build a bomb, but above all this, we are facing also a dangerous situation in Syria where already both the Assad Government and the revolutionary forces are being accused of using another weapon of mass destruction: the chemical one. So, that explain why I was stating that the situation is going from bad to worse. 

Reporter: Sorry, how all can these diplomatic tools solve the situation, at a political level first of all?
Dr. Ivo Slaus: Precisely, diplomacy actually divides into two categories: one is the so called “standard diplomacy” among nation states, and of course, there has been an enormous effort about one year ago, that is the idea to convene on the so called “Helsinki Conference”, ambassador Jaka Laeva, form Finland, is the so called facilitator. And when about a year ago it looked like it was just a question of days, maybe months to wrap up this conference, it turns out that the conference was not convened in 2012 and it’s still not convened now. So the first enlargement did not work. The second enlargement was, the idea was, since obviously Israel has nuclear weapons. There is another bomb in Pakistan, we know that, there is a question of what other country in the Middle East may have it or not. But there are weapons of mass destruction like chemical, and biological, it’s very easy to get them, so the idea was to form not only nuclear weapons free-states but WMD-free zones.   My strong belief is that what one should be doing, is going to the roots of what Levant actually is: the cradle of civilization, which means putting together development and peace. How do you create development? You create development by simply saying first: can we use some of the experiences that we already have? One experience that we all haves have related to that is membership of the European Union. In Europe, let us all remember, we had the 100 years war, the 30 years war, five years war, and two World Wars and so on. And then, we’ve managed actually, is the very well deserved Nobel Prize that the European Union has, to have peace. So let’s try to use the same similar model: you cannot copy, but you can have a similar Model. My view is that we should have a similar model, and this is why I love this map that you have shown. Let me say, you’ve started with the Levant and then you went up to the Mediterranean, and I think that it is the Mediterranean now which should play a role, equivalent with the role that European Union has for peace.

Reporter: As Professor Constantinescu said, Levant in the larger meaning of the word.

Dr. Ivo Slaus: Yes, absolutely. Enlarged.

Reporter: Mr. Donfried.

Mark Donfried: Thank you very much again for hosting us this evening, First of all, why right now and why cultural diplomacy? So first of all, why now? I think that the context today is very different from the context five years ago, ten years ago. If you go to the history as it shows on this map, the history for the most part is actually bonded up with the idea that they wanted to be independent; they wanted to be free, they wanted to their own thing, not to worry about other countries. And I think that today as we look at the many challenges that Prof. Slaus and President Constantinescu spoke about - Syria, terrorism - we can talk about climate change, we can talk about poverty, all of these challenges that are actually based in these countries of today, for the most part are not challenges linked to one country, that one country should or can solve them. But these are challenges that we need to solve together. When it comes to Syria, when it comes to mass atrocities, genocide or Egypt, these are different problems. Meaning that the most urgent priority today is actually cooperation.  Meaning then that cultural diplomacy, the ultimate goal of cultural diplomacy is to follow after the collaboration. So, the one distinction that we are making, cultural diplomacy in the past, and people might know about the Goethe Institute, Alliance Française, British Council, for a long time that was about how do we win the hearts and minds of one’s audiences? During the Cold War, the Americans and the Soviets asked how to win the hearts and minds, how to attract. That, I would consider more as cultural diplomacy of the past. If you look at the countries in the Levant, if the only goal they have is to attract the others, to persuade the others, that’s not going to help them a lot. What we need is to actually do the opposite. What we need is to actually, in a humble way, listen more than speak. We need to get to know each other’s culture in order to build dialogue, understanding and trust. We don’t have to agree with each other in this region, we don’t even have to like each other, but we do have to trust each other. And if we can get that trust to connect us as it did in the past, I would ask Turkey or any of these countries, that trust is the most urgent priority now, and there I think today cultural diplomacy could do a lot. One final thought that I think is interesting, we are now, as president Constantinescu said, we are in a time here which is post-Arab Spring. We can see the power of youth, we can see the power of citizens, we can see the power of social media. Meaning that it’s not just up to the governments anymore, but I think that citizens have a huge role to play, I think youth has a huge role to play and we have tools today that we didn’t have before. If we want, this entire region can be communicating with each other, immediately, now, not everybody has necessarily a generic role, but everyone in this system has at least one cell phone. If you look at those countries, we can connect to each other. We have much more power than we had before. Cultural Diplomacy, I think, provides a way for us actually to build that trust, the way that we didn’t have ten years ago.

Reporter: Mister Constantinescu, as I understood you and your guests are the initiators and in some way connectors in these actions of bringing these regions closer together. Who else is involved in these types of actions, because, as Mr. Donfried said, it takes a lot of people to make these actions reach the right persons?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: Now, I start with the dignity. First of all, the decision factors have failed. They have failed in the political crisis, they have failed in the economic crisis and actually, the security system hasn’t got any solution for what global citizens in a globalized world actually represent. We lack vision, and what I understand by dignity is a solution that comes from the inside of the Levant. A solution which is no longer expecting the Occident to present solutions, because as we could see in Iraq, during this post-dictatorship period, and I will quote here Zoe Petre, “ the problem is not the democracy, the problem is the pattern”. So, we cannot solve the problem of peace through democracy without modifying the American Pattern that worked until now.

Reporter: The Model of the old Levant for example?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: A new Model that starts from what unites us, because until now in the Levant, we are only aware of what separates us: a 150 year old history of the national states, a century and a half. What does a century and a half mean compared to five millenniums of culture? There are here a lot of elements uniting these countries, the citizens of these countries, and that’s the reason why I haven’t directed myself towards the decision factors but to the academic environment.

Reporters: I see the guests.

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: The people I have invited to the conference, I brought them here to attend. To attend, and to understand why they represent the future. Because, what is important to understand now, is that we must address ourselves to the conscience of the citizens, to the ethos, because uniting people by using force is no longer possible in a new world. You can no longer enroll global citizens with different interests, but you can attract them using something new, something important. We have invited also former heads of states with academic backgrounds, former university professors, people that at one point represented the decision factors. The element that I don’t want to lack from this meeting is the role that Romania can play. Romania has traditionally played, since the creation of its first state units, the role of a bridge between the Orient and the Occident.

Reporter: Do we still play this role?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: No. Not anymore, because unfortunately, in practice, and I don’t want to argue with anybody by saying this, in the last years Romania has disappeared from external politics. And it did so exactly at the moment in which it was supposed to build political ties in this region. What I strongly believe is that we cannot start again by using directly governmental politics. We must create the premise for the academic world to come together because academic speech is fundamentally different from political speech. Political speech is by itself built against something. Academic speech is for something.

Reporter:  That’s correct, that’s why I would like to move forward and somehow to translate this academic speech, because unlike political speech which is more or less attractive for the population, academic speech is a little harder to digest.  And I would like to ask you, what can you tell to the traditional Romanian, who is being affected day by day by corruption scandals, political scandals, by the high cost of the life? What can you tell him, in order for him to support these kinds of projects that you are promoting? What good do these kind of projects do for him?

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: The academic environment is the only independent environment there is. Not only in Romania, but all over the world. Politicians depend on the vote, business men depend on the profit, media indirectly depends on the news and advertising and profit at the end, and that causes a drop of their influence level. That is the reason why the World Academy of Art and Science, which is the highest Scientific Forum in the world, with Nobel laureates like Einstein, Oppenhammer, Flemming, was initiated by scientists preoccupied with what happens in society. Since politicians lose their power and their influence because of the fact that they lack of vision, business men because they lack morals, and the media because sometimes it can lose the criteria of truth and honesty, the academic environment remains the only zone that can win credibility.

Reporter: I would like to extend this question to Mr. Slaus and Mr. Donfried, and I expect an answer that can be understandable for the European Citizen who is affected by today’s economic crisis. Why should he believe that tightening relationships in this area could be of any use to him?

Dr. Ivo Slaus: Thank you very much for your question, it’s actually very timely because this year is the year that the European Commission has declared the year of the European Citizen. So, various integrations, Euro this or that, Schengen border, and so…now combine the most important stakes.

Reporter: We’re having internal problems.

Dr. Ivo Slaus: Absolutely, I mean it’s not the internal problem, it’s not anything impossible to solve, but we actually have coming, as the European Comission Council declared this,  the Year of the Citizen. Similarly, since you mentioned, and President Constantinescu as well, the World Academy, let me say few words about the World Academy. The World Academy has now some 600 members throughout the world, it is very active in the area which sometimes is called south-east Europe, although it may be more properly called the Mediterranean. Let me make a comment on the map that you showed. Now, when I look at this map there’s one thing which I dislike, mainly the color of your country and that of Bulgaria is not that of the Mediterranean, while I deeply believe that Romania and Bulgaria are part of the Mediterranean, because after all this is the exact area which…

Reporter: We would like to but we don’t have the climate…

Ivo Slaus: The climate? That’s easy, but to return to the serious question, this whole extended area is slowly gravitating to what the Greeks did some two thousand years ago and this is very important. But, coming back to the question of the Year of the Citizen, there is another stake. The World Academy has decided to approach all the problems we have, and that’s a multitude of problems: from economic disaster, financial disaster, ecological disaster, we are ruining the ecology as much as we can, we are overusing the earth’s resources now by 50%, but we’ve decided to focus, the most important needs to be the human being. And the question of the human being is something where this area of the Mediterranean, as opposed to Europe, is very rich. While Europe has an increasing birth rate, which means that no matter what in Europe tthere’s an increasing population, when we look at the Mediterranean that is still a very vibrant, active population. And of course, if we really consider ourselves to be together and we are primarily human beings, then there is of course a great chance. Then the necessity to focus on the dignity of the human being, on the freedom of the human being, to allow human beings employment, is now a big problem in Europe and in many other countries in the world. And really a life, a life which allows a person maximum freedom, activities and education. And this is where science comes in as an important stake. And to come to ask why this is relevant for Romania, why it is relevant for Europeans, it is because it provides a convenient model. For instance, in the Middle East, we told you about the failure of the Helsinki Conference, we see the failure of war and so on; the only zone where we see success is the Sesame Project. The Sesame Project is a project lead by one of the Members of the Board of Trustees of the World Academy as professor Constantinescu and I are also Members of the Board of Trustees, and this Sesame Project is a project which is located in Jordan, involves Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian authority, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and on top of that it involves the United States, the Russian Federation and others like that. Which is of course done in the domain of science and can be done also in the political unification of the Mediterranean.

Reporter: Thank you very much, I noticed the paradox from your sayings: that Europe is a rich but at the same time a poor “country”, concerning the birth rate, meanwhile there are countries in the Mediterranean zone, that have a higher birth rate. And also the speech in favor of scientific cooperation. Mr. Donfried, would you like to add something more for the end?

Mark Donfried: So, I think why this should matter for the common individual as you were saying; now I have two easy examples. First of all I would say genocide and mass atrocities, secondly climate change. If we think of what is happening in Syria now, many of us would say that the world is doing nothing although everyday people are dying. It’s not true that the world is doing nothing. What the world is doing right now is providing guns, is providing weapons to the “opposition”, to the other side, so the response is actually invest more funds into weapons, etc. As we look at the armaments taking place, whether it is in Iran, imagine other parts of the world, think of the incredible resources that are being invested into defense, security. If a common person is frustrated about their salaries or this or that, think that what actually built through cultural diplomacy is serious understanding and serious trust. Just within the different nations on this map that would be a tremendous strength. So eventually when we talk about it in terms of money going into education and etc., and of course when it comes to other things as well, the European Union, as you said, is a success story. For us, we take it for granted that Europe exists, but the fact that France and Germany are in peace is a big deal. For climate change, a second example, most scientists, many think that it’s too late for climate change, many think there is a chance, but that chance is actually better if we act today, not tomorrow, not next year, not in ten years. If we act together. So that would be a very burning challenge: to act immediately now, as a team.

Reporter: Thank you very much and good luck.

President Dr. Emil Constantinescu: I would like to add something for the end. A message actually. The time for scientists to be heard has come, because they have a vision. And that is exactly what is missing today. Einstein, one of the founders of the World Academy of Science said: “to solve a crisis, you don’t go to those who provoked it”. The world today has as leaders Europe and managers, but what it actually needs is real leaders capable to change the system not only to make it work.

Reporter: Thank you very much for being today here at the “Prim Plan”, let’s hope that scientists, researchers, cultural diplomacy, will manage to have success there where politicians or other decisional factors have failed. Good luck for the Conference, let’s see how it will end and hope that you will accomplish everything you have planned.