|“The Alliance of Civilizations”: The Spanish-Turkish Initiative and its Role in Countering Extremism and Radicalism|
The main goal of “The Alliance of Civilizations” (UNAOC) initiative is to contribute to a global movement which reflects the will of the vast majority of people and rejects extremism in any society. To this end, it employs soft diplomacy as a tool to mitigate radicalism and fundamentalism. This project was presented by the President of the Spanish government Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the United Nations Organization’s General Assembly on September 21st 2004.
Co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, this plan was strongly supported on the official level and was formally launched on July 14th 2005 by then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. (1) In 2005, the Secretary-General set up a High-Level Group with the mandate to analyze the causes of the current polarization between societies and cultures. The High-Level Group recommended that Annan appoint a High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, and that an Alliance Forum be held, which would bring together governments, international organizations, and civil society. Around the Forum a Group of Friends was formed. Today, the Forum consists of more than 100 countries and international organizations that politically support the project.
The Forum was held for the first time in Madrid on January 15-16th 2008. The key figures of this Forum were: Spainish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. (2) Erdoğan stressed in his speech that:
“Turkey is a secular and democratic republic which has an overwhelmingly Muslim population and a dynamic market economy. Turkey is the only country which is a member of both the Organization for Islamic Conference and NATO, and [currently] pursuing accession negotiations with the European Union. It is now generally accepted that, with these special characteristics, Turkey represents the best panacea against “clash of civilizations’ theories.”
Therefore, the directing role of the Turkish Prime Minister, who developed the concept of “The Alliance of Civilizations,” seems to be evident.
On April 26th 2007, Ban Ki-Moon appointed the UNAOC’s first High Representative, Dr. Jorge Sampaio (the former President of Portugal). By June of that year, Dr. Sampaio presented the Alliance Action Plan for 2007-2009, and in September, he proposed the drawing up of National Strategies and Partnership Charters in relation with the Alliance to fellow members of the Group of Friends Forum. (3) The second forum meeting took place in Istanbul, Turkey on April 6-7th 2009, the third forum was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 28-29th 2010, and the fourth summit was held on the 11th through 13th of December 2011 in Doha, Qatar. (4)
Regarding the importance of the Spanish-Turkish initiative “The Alliance of Civilizations,” it should be stressed that it is mentioned in the Spanish Security Strategy, which was adopted in July 2011. This basic document underlines the core threats and risks to Spain`s security, as well as identifying courses of action and defining coordination mechanisms. This strategy has been conceived with national, European, international, and global perspectives in mind. It could be said that it means that special attention is paid to the process of cooperation between Spain and other countries.
The strategy enumerates the following strategic objectives of “The Alliance of Civilizations”:
1) to reinforce mutual understanding among different cultures, reaffirming reciprocal
respect and recognition;
2) to counteract the influence of those who promote intolerance and confrontation;
3) to promote the idea that security cannot be compartmentalized and that global
cooperation is essential for world stability and human development.
The initiative is aimed to establish inter-cultural understanding and co-existence, to help counteract the underlying causes of potential conflicts, and thereby contribute to peace. (5)
The Alliance of Civilizations has encouraged national and regional plans, and among them, the National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations for 2008-2010 or The Spanish Action Plan can be singled out, which was approved in January 2008 by the Council of Ministers for the Alliance of Civilizations. The 2nd National Plan for 2010-2014 was enacted on May 20th 2010. (6)
The Spanish Action Plans
The Spanish Action Plan is the government’s attempt to translate, on a national scale, the specific goals of the Alliance, including them both in its foreign and cooperation policy and in the whole of its domestic policies. It is marked four priority spheres of action:
• the media
Among some practical measures which are proposed in the plan, the following can be enumerated:
• fostering the teaching of the ideas of tolerance and cultural diversity both in schools and universities
• promoting activities related to conflict prevention
• peace building and supporting non-violence
• creating, through the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence, an Observatory of Cultural and Religious Pluralism in Spain
• designing and implementing a number of measures aimed at preventing the exploitation of immigrants, in any sector of public and social life, and at eliminating practices that may demean their dignity and thus be considered prejudicial to public order
• reinforcing mediation, within Autonomous Communities and Local Entities, as a procedure for crisis and conflict resolution, and drawing up guidelines on good practices
• introducing matters related to questions concerning cultural diversity, interculturality, tolerance and respect for human rights into training courses for national police forces. (7)
The 2nd National Plan continues the ideas mentioned in the 1st Plan, but it has some vital innovations, which directly affect domestic and foreign policies of Spain. It promotes involvement of autonomous regions and local governments to enable the authorities in closest contact with the general public to help bring the goals of the Alliance of Civilization closer to citizens through regional or local plans or strategies. The Plan enables the incorporation of not only of all the public institutions, but also of private entities, citizens, and works within the framework of both the Strategic Plan for Citizenship and Integration and the Support Fund for the Reception and Integration of Immigrants, in order to combat racism and xenophobia, and particularly to prevent racial or ethnic discrimination and violence.
In the international arena, the Spanish government also plans to be active. It will:
• advance consolidation of the initiative within the framework of the United Nations system and enhance its universal nature by extending the Group of Friends to include other regions, such as Africa and Asia
• contribute to the development of the Alliance of Civilizations regional strategies for Southeast Europe and the Regional Mediterranean Strategy
• support cooperation projects aimed at cultural diversity management, improving coexistence and mutual recognition, promoting civic values and peace in Africa, Asia, eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Near East, and Latin America. (8)
It is rather important to mark out some projects and decisions, which were discussed and proposed during four forum meetings because they express the will and aspirations of all the country-participants.
The Alliance Forums
Key outcomes of the first forum (in 2008) included: the launch of the Alliance of Civilizations Rapid Response Media Mechanism providing balanced views and voices of moderation at times of intercultural tension and crises; the announcement of a multi-million dollar Alliance Media Fund that will work on media productions that include normalizing images of stereotyped communities; the creation of a Youth Solidarity Fund that will provide small grants to outstanding youth projects in the area of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. (9)
The second forum (in 2009) devoted special attention to the youth, with a series of events, debates, and conferences focused on the role of the youth as key-actors and stakeholders in advancing cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. A wide range of new programs were presented, such as Dialogue Café, which links diverse groups of citizens from around the world through third generation video-conferencing technology (provided by CISCO), thereby creating a new space for social innovation and exponentially expanding the ability to solve problems and innovate as a global community. (10)
Among the outcomes of the third forum assembly (in 2010), there were various especially remarkable announcements, such as the creation of the United Nations University’s International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations, based in Barcelona, Spain; the inauguration of the two Dialogue Cafés in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro; the launch of “The Online Community on Migration and Integration” in partnership with the International Organization for Migration; the launch of the third round of the Youth Solidarity Fund, an initiative to provide seed funding to youth-led projects that promote cross-cultural understanding and presentation of the ‘Global Expert Finder’ website, a free online resource of experts and opinion leaders. (11)
During the fourth forum in 2011, a wide-range of projects were discussed, including the roles of youth and women in promoting intercultural understanding, immigration, and integration, and the use of social media in fostering collaboration on common problems among people from different parts of the world. (12) Moreover, during the 4th annual UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum, specialists from UNESCO took an active part in the discussions on freedom of expression, where the focus was on journalism education and youth communication, the role of education in sustainable development (in particular the contribution of education to sustainable development), as well as the promotion of cultural diversity and intercultural understanding. (13)
Such influential analytical, expert, cultural centers and organizations include: Casa África, Casa América, Casa Árabe, Casa Asia, Casa Mediterráneo, Casa Sefarad-Israel, the Elcano Royal Institute, the Institute of Cervantes, the European Institute of the Mediterranean, the Carolina Foundation, the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence, the Tres Culturas Foundation, the Euro-Arab Foundation for Higher Studies, and the Menéndez Pelayo International University. These centers take an active part in trying to implement the aims of the Plan. (14)
Debates Among Experts
The significance of the “Alliance of Civilizations” for Spain is also evident, because this topic is repeatedly analyzed in the working papers of the Elcano Royal Institute. For example, in his article published in 2010, Carlos R. Fernández Liesa stresses that the National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations lacks the exterior implementation because of the absence of appropriate mechanisms to realize the practical measures on the international level. (15)
British ex-diplomat Shaun Riordan criticizes the name of the “Alliance of civilizations” project in his article on the subject. According to him, the name highlights the conflict between the liberal secularism and religious fundamentalism, where the West tries to separate the Muslim world into good Muslims to cooperate with them and bad Muslims, in order to inculcate Western values. Moreover, the Alliance unifies the Western and Muslim worlds against Islamic fundamentalists. This initiative excludes half of the world’s population who doesn’t belong to these two worlds from the process of negotiations, in spite of the “Dialogue of civilizations” initiated in 1998 which had an open character. In his mind, the rejection of the values of the globalized and modernized world by some Europeans provokes many conflicts in modern Western countries. The emphasis on the cultural, religious, and ethnic diversities only stimulates the appearance of contradictions and clashes.
The author proposes the following directions of the modernization of the Alliance: to pay attention to the new challenges to the international security by concentrating on the economic and social problems which threaten all countries. This approach will help to avoid a conflict between different values. To establish cooperation, not only between the governments and political elite, but, firstly, between different kinds of civil societies, is the primordial aim of the Alliance. That’s why it is necessary to involve non-governmental organizations. The Alliance should strive to include other “civilizations” besides the Western and Muslim societies. (16)
It should be mentioned that Riordian’s article was published in March of 2006, and his last proposal about inclusion of other “civilizations” was reflected in the 2nd National Plan, which showed the intent of the Spanish Government to include regions such as Africa and Asia in the Alliance’s sphere of interest. Also, the phrase about the lack of cooperation with civil societies is not enough persuasive, because the project defines priority spheres of activity such as youth, education, the media and migration. It is impossible to realize certain projects in these fields without interaction with diverse organizations. Furthermore, the establishment of cooperation with institutes within civil societies and the media was one of the primordial issues of the Alliance Action Plan for 2007-2009, which was specified by results of the first forum.
Javier Noya, senior staff scientist of the exterior image of Spain and public opinion of the Elcano Royal Institute, touches upon the issue of the influence of the Alliance on the foreign image of Spain in his 2005 published article. The author supposes that this initiative, including its cultural aspect, continues to be a cornerstone of the Spanish diplomacy. Additionally, Spain should posture itself as the ‘civilized’ state and obtain a leadership position in this project. (17)
It is also important to mention the opinions of some Turkish experts who put special emphasis on the problem of influence of the initiative on Turkey’s foreign policy. Şaban Kardaş, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Ankara’s TOBB University of Economics and Technology, dealt the issue in his article entitled “The Alliance of Civilizations Forum: A Major Test for Turkish Diplomacy.” He stresses that the Second United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) forum, held in Istanbul in 2009, plays a major part in the foreign policy agenda of Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP). The project has been used by the AKP to advance its political vision as a pro-EU, moderate conservative party which emphasizes dialogue and consensus in conducting Turkey's foreign relations. The AKP government has recently undertaken several initiatives reflecting their belief that Turkey could serve as a bridge between East and West, and advocate the rights of the Islamic world. The forum, however, also demonstrated Ankara's current dilemma, as it seeks to improve its relations with Armenia. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev declined an invitation from Turkish President Abdullah Gül to attend the UNAOC, preferring instead to send his daughter to represent the country. As Turkey builds bridges across cultures and normalizes relations with its neighbors, it risks damaging its traditionally closer relationship with Azerbaijan. (18)
Dr. Petr Yakovlev, director of the Center for IberAmerican Studies in the Institute of Latin America at the Russian Academy of Sciences, estimates the first results of the initiative positively. In his opinion, the Alliance is characterized by the systematic vision of relations between the civilizations and aspiration to prevent a frontal clash on the ethnic and religious grounds. The ideas and political practice of this project play a positive role and should be supported by the international community. (19)
As can be seen, the Alliance is a mutually beneficial project both for Spain and Turkey. Such global initiatives undoubtedly strengthen the positions of these states in the international arena, helping them to have a hand in European matters while additionally helping to form a positive image of these countries in the other regions of the world. Of course, it will take some time to bear the fruits of this initiative and there are certain difficulties, such as problems related to financing, coordination, and practical implementation of the new ideas and projects. Some of them have been solved however (as seen in examples such as the Youth Solidarity Fund, the Dialogue Cafes, an opening of the center for enhancing Arab-Spanish political and cultural dialogue through “Arab house” in Madrid). The main goal of this project should not be forgotten, which is to solve the internal problems of radicalism and fight with international terrorism, namely the threats that jeopardize both countries. Besides, the search for the solution of internal issues such as the Basque’s problem in Spain and the Kurdish issue in Turkey unites these partners and contributes to strengthening cooperation within the frames of the Alliance.
To face new threats and efficiently counteract extremism and radicalism, the Alliance should also attract active leaders and well-experienced decision-makers who are able to implement all the projects in their countries, because they have detailed knowledge about specific characters of the ethnic processes in concrete areas. Therefore, more attention should be paid to the solution of some certain ethnic problems and prevention of extremism and radicalism. The regional approach can be quite productive and effective. It takes ethnic and religious specifics of concrete territory and its population into account and it means that partners of the Alliance of Civilizations have better chances to find more inclusive decisions and well-balanced solutions to various conflicts and international contradictions.
Moreover, it is especially important to take notice of not only cultural and religious factors, but also of economic and political ones, because they are usually closely tangled. To solve or halt an ethnic conflict, it is necessary to analyze all the reasons and factors, which touch upon the issue. For example, poverty leads to despair, a sense of injustice, and alienation. When it is combined with political grievances, it can foster extremism. Eradication of poverty would diminish those factors linked to economic marginalization and alienation. So, in the process of prevention of extremism, it is important to create appropriate conditions in all spheres, which are connected with the every-day life of a certain ethnic group, in order to contribute substantial development and peaceful coexistence.
(1) Inauguration of the Alliance of Civilisations in the United Nations. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones.
Presidencia del Gobierno. URL: http://www.pnac.gob.es/IDIOMAS/9/Alianza/071111Quees.htm
(2) The First Alliance of Civilizations Forum, Madrid, 15-16 January 2008. Published by: Alliance of Civilizations Secretariat.
New York, USA. URL: http://www.aocistanbul.org/documents.en.mfa
(3) National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Presidencia del Gobierno.
(4) II Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations – Istanbul. . Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Presidencia del
Gobierno. URL: http://www.pnac.gob.es/IDIOMAS/9/IIPlan/Forums/Istanbul/index.htm
(5) Spanish Security Strategy. Everyone`s responsibility. Gobierno de Espana
SpanishSecurityStrategy.pdf P. 30
(6) II Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Actualidad : Noticias. Presidencia del gobierno
(7) National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Presidencia del Gobierno.
(8) Approval of the 2nd National Plan for the Alliance of Civilisations. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones.
Presidencia del Gobierno. URL: http://www.pnac.gob.es/IDIOMAS/9/IIPlan/101111IIPlan.htm
(9) Background. First Alliance of Civilizations Forum. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones.
Presidencia del Gobierno. URL: http://www.aocistanbul.org/background.en.mfa.htm
(10) II Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations - Istanbul. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Presidencia del
Gobierno. URL: http://www.pnac.gob.es/IDIOMAS/9/IIPlan/Forums/Istanbul/index.htm
(11) III Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations - Rio de Janeiro. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones.
Presidencia del Gobierno. URL: http://www.pnac.gob.es/IDIOMAS/9/IIPlan/Forums/Rio/index.htm
(12) Ten initiatives receive intercultural prize at UN's 4th Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Doha in collaboration with BMW.
AMEinfo.com - 13.12.2011 URL: http://www.ameinfo.com/284705
(13) Doha focuses on cultural diversity and development. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization – 12.12. 2011
(14) National Plan for the Alliance of Civilizations. Plan Nacional para la Alianza de Civilizaciones. Presidencia del Gobierno.
(15) Carlos R. Fernández Liesa. Perfiles de la política exterior española de derechos humanos. Documentos de trabajo.
Publicaciones. Real Instituto Elcano. – 17.02.2010.
(16) Shaun Riordan. ¿Alianza de Civilizaciones o “Alianza de los Civilizados”? Publicaciones.
Real Instituto Elcano. – 20.04.2006.
(17) Javier Noya. Del 92 a la Alianza de Civilizaciones: cumbres abismales en la imagen exterior de España.
Publicaciones. Real Instituto Elcano. – 01.08.2005.
(18) Saban Kardas. The Alliance of Civilizations Forum: A Major Test for Turkish Diplomacy. The Jamestone Foundation. - 08.04.2009
(19) Петр Яковлев. Альянс цивилизаций против «столкновения цивилизаций»? Перспектива. – 11.02.2010.
(дата обращения 29.01.12)