Speeches

Address of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Opening Session of the II Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

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Astana

September 12,  2006.

Distinguished Leaders of World and Traditional Religions,

Dear guests of the Congress,

Three years have passed since the moment when we held our First Congress, which gathered together Leaders of World and Traditional Religions for the first time. As we agreed at that meeting, full of good will and intercession, we are again meeting each other in the heart of Eurasia, in Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan. Today I am heartily pleased to greet all of you, who promote the light of high spirituality throughout the world, make all efforts to call nations to live in peace, accord and mutual understanding.

As you remember, at that meeting we made a decision to hold the next Congress in a specially built Palace of Peace and Accord. I kept my promise, the unique Palace has been built up according to the design of famous architect Norman Foster. And now I tell you that you are welcome to the Palace, to Kazakhstan!

The four sides of our Palace are oriented to the four sides of the world. In some sense this construction embodies independent Kazakhstan that friendly embraces all people of all nations and practicing different religions. Therefore, in multinational Kazakhstan, populated by people of about 130 nations and 40 confessions, peace, accord and mutual respect were settled in the independence years. Due to that, we have persistently established the Kazakhstani development model and have made impressive progress in the development of our economy.

 Having voluntarily rejected nuclear weapons, we have turned Kazakhstan into a region of peace and stability. Having established friendly relations with our neighbors, we became a regional leader in maintaining global security. All of these allow us to acquire the trust of all peaceful forces and we got an opportunity to gather such a represen­tative forum, at which you, the spiritual representatives of different nations and religions, demonstrate the confessional variety of the modern world.

This reputable forum has gathered in Astana for the second time. I am greeting all of you and would like to express my gratitude to the distinguished guests. The Peace and Accord Palace I talked about at our first forum, has opened its doors for you for the first time.

The First Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which was held here, in Astana, drew attention of the world community in 2003. There had not been such a universal, in terms of confession, representation forum prior to the Congress. That meeting in Astana gave a significant impulse to the global dialogue of religions, different forums and con­ferences of regional and global scales.

Today we are opening the Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. 17 confessional delegations took part in our forum three years ago. 29 delegations participate in the current Congress. This trend is indicative and reflects the growing authority of our forum. The trend means that we continue to go together along the road of mutual understanding, joint search of answers to complicated questions of the modern world.

The importance of inter-religious dialogue has increased over the time passed since the first forum. Unfortunately, many tragic events occurred over these years on all continents, explicitly and unambiguously demonstrated that numerous conflicts cannot be solved with only political or brutal force methods.

Moreover, indeed terrific acts are committed pretending to be committed for the sake of God, what is not approved by great religious leaders. On the other hand, there is a trend to accuse some religions of aggression.

This mutual rigidity is not decreasing. A civilized person is a person, who can doubt in his own views and look at the situation from another side. But some politicians experience lack of this. This is peculiar to people of high spirituality, who are in this beautiful hall today.

We forget sometimes one great religious principle, the principle of nonviolence in thoughts, words and acts. But this ancient principle reflects quite modern phenomena.

A human's internal world, full of thoughts, emotions, worries and doubts, is a spiritual world, the field for religious search. Television, the Internet and mass media, making a thunderous echo, are words in their essence. Acts are the prerogative of politicians, who transfer those words and thoughts into acts. The refusal of violence at the level of religious doctrine, of media and of political action is a real basis for survival in the modern world.

However, there is a growing aggression at all three levels. When religious leaders quite seriously discuss advantages of one religion over another, it is clear that this is the base of a conflict. When mass media publish and discuss in details humiliation of holy feelings of believers practicing other religions, it is clear that those journalists will face mockery of their own holy feelings sooner or later. When politicians without any doubts order to solve an ethnic or religious problem in a brute force way, it is clear that war will come to their homes. There shouldn't be place for aggressive sides in that triangle. And there shouldn't be place for aggression in the position of religious leaders.

A modern dialogue in the world full of conflicts very often resembles a dialogue between deaf and dumb persons. There is no necessity in the dialogue after which the sides leave, being one more time convinced in their infallibility. In my opinion, principles working in other areas must be applicable in this sphere. I would call them understanding principles. This is not a dialogue yet, it is the basis for its beginning. But without such a basis any dialogue will be a waste of time.

The first principle is - no jaundice, refusal of the stereotypes of mutual perception formed throughout ages. There is no need to maintain a dialogue without rejecting negative stereotypes. There was much blood and hostility in the long and dramatic history of Kazakhstan. It is enough to say that a third of the Kazakhs were physically exterminated, perished from severe conditions or emigrated in the first thirty years of the 20th century. We do remember all, but we do not use it as a reason for hatred and aggression. The danger of historic stereotypes is often in that they call for evil, not for good. There are too many victims and wounds in the modern world. But my political experience says only one thing: it is necessary to overcome own stereotypes.

The second principle is - the conscious rejection of intrusion into sacred matters of other people. What is sacred for one person must not be a subject of humor or jokes for another person. This is a simple rule, which is often broken not only by journalists and politicians, but sometimes by religious leaders themselves, who are not cautious about their words concerning other religions.

We often say that there are believers of more than 40 confessions living in peace in Kazakhstan. And these are not just words, you could not see any humiliation of religious feelings in any Kazakhstan newspaper or television channel over the last 15 years. This is prohibited by the Constitution of the country. At the same time there was no need to prosecute anybody. The answer and explanation are simple: there is a tolerance and understanding climate for all believers in the society.

The third principle is - a joint response of world and traditional religions to new atypical threats. In the world of policy these non-standard threats are connected with terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational criminality. There is a deeper problem in the world of religion. This is a gap with millennium spiritual traditions. This is a worldwide spread phenomenon. This is a radical negation of such spiritual type that is connected with traditions of the world religions. Misunderstanding of this threat, which could destroy the foundations of modern religious institutes, causes fruitless arguments. The spiritual situation in the modern world is very dynamic and religious institutes are a part of society, which must take into account new risks and threats to the foundations of its existence.

These principles could form the carcass of understanding.

There is the most common principle in any kind of human activities. The following platform could be such a principle in the area of religious dialogue, which is similar to political dialogue in terms of external forms, but completely different from it in its nature. "To search a basis for dialogue through divinity in a human being, not through a human being in divinity". Despite of its abstractedness, this principle is very important.

Indeed, the incompatibility of many religious doctrines with each other has not divine, but human reasons. God is one, according to all world religions, and this is the proof of the human nature of incompatibility.

There is another reason. All world religions say about serious spiritual transformation, about the neglect of a small human identity in the face of God.

At last, all great spiritual leaders said about especially dangerous arrogance, the arrogance of all-knowing. Who can pretend to be the one who can propagate the word of God in the best way? In my opinion, such a pretension is a sin.

In practical sense, the special role of this principle is to look at the world, taking into account other spiritual perspectives, without breaking the main values of other religions. I am deeply convinced that politicians only follow some deep religious postulates, regardless whether they realize them or not. Therefore, the readiness of religious leaders to start searching divine, not human in other religious systems might be the basis for more human political decisions in the world.

The growth of religious intolerance is partly the result of globalization in some sense. Many different cultures and religions are in immediate contact now. Migration, television, types of different cultures make a mixture. Globalization has revealed the global economic injustice. Billions of destitute people have seen the life standards of the modern world and have realized that never will they live such a life.

A kind of "spiritual escape" is taking place under these circumstances. But this is not an "escape to God", this is an "escape from reality". This can lead to a new cultural shock, when religion will become not an appeal to God, but a search for a platform for justification of hatred against the modern world and its injustice. Actually, time can turn back. This global cultural problem cannot be solved only with political actions. The role of spiritual leaders is the decisive one in this case.

Using religion for political mobilization of population is a means, that has been used in the history for many times. The means that always ended in tragedy. The especial responsibility of world and traditional religions' leaders is not to use religious sermons in political conflicts, to prevent usage of sermons by state structures and illegal organizations from solving their problems, which are far away from God.

The cult of God is the foundation stone of any genuine religion. For ages cultures based on faith have the word alive in history. In some sense the preservation of its religious spirit is the guarantee for surviving of nations in history. It is obvious that the world will never follow a single model of civilization project. The realizing of this key element of history including the modern history is very important for us, politicians. It seems, the world is starting to realize one simple fact after heavy shocks, global terror, the growing threat of nuclear weapons and vast casualties over the six years of the new century. The fact is that the cultural and religious diversity in the world is the reality, which must be adopted and accepted as the environment of the human kind. Any other treatment might destroy the world.

The wish of one cultural tradition to impose its values on other cultures, attempts to build social relations using others' standards will never lead to mutual understanding. On the contrary, such an exacting cultural expansion will cause an adequate response. Only respectful treatment of the historic traditions of other nations, justice and sincerity in relations between civilizations, religions and nations are able to form the world of accord and spirituality.

A human being is tended to address his or her own problems to the spiritual spheres. However, a society often dresses quite earthy things in religious garments. What is often named a conflict and contradictions between religions, in most cases is a conflict between states, between economic groups or certain politicians. Religion is a sacred conversation inside any human soul, but it is often treated as a social agreement between people.

It is necessary to take into account the reality of the modern world in order to establish inter-religious dialogue. Before it was the interaction between religions, sometimes productive, sometimes bloody; today it is the global dialogue of the religious and secular worlds.

The modern society has developed three crucial postulates during the long evolution. These are internal personal freedom, property protection, social support by society and state. But some political ideologies do not recognize these postulates. And many geopolitical battles are due to this contradiction. It is time to confess that it is not a conflict between religions, but the conflict of not religious values.

Kazakhstan in its practical policy takes as an axiom that internal personal freedom is a condition of inter-confessional tolerance. It is due to that while being a part of the cultural Islamic continent, we do not throw obstacles to the development of all world and traditional religions in Kazakhstan.

If a state, nation or religion considers external cultural field through the prism of annexation, conquest, the own habitat will unavoidably deteriorate. The Kazakhs always attributed to their own master, spirit, own aruakhs to each place. This deep integration of a human, religion, territory has been the salvation filter, which kept the soul of my nation. Tolerance is a practical, not abstract conception for the Kazakhs. A balanced state policy in the area of religious relations is carried out in Kazakhstan since getting independence. It is based on the following basic principles. I would call those principles of accord.

Firstly, those are legislative and institutional foundations of religious and human freedom. The Constitution prohibits any forms of discrimination, including confessional discrimination or because of other social differences. The Law "About freedom of conscience and religion in the Republic of Kazakhstan" formed all legel foundations for free work of religious unions. The country has ratified 40 international agreements and treaties with regard to human rights, including the UN fundamental pacts in this area.

Secondly, those are favorable and equal conditions for religious confessions, which must be established by the state. The liberalization of the religious area contributed to a sharp increase in the number of religious institutes, which had increased by five times in the years of independence. The majority of Kazakhstan's population considers themselves as Muslims. But I would like to emphasize that Islam domination in Kazakhstan does not prevent the functioning of other religions. There is a notable increase in the number of non-Muslim organizations. The number of Russian Orthodox parishes and the number of Catholic parishes have been increased by four times and by two times respectively over the years of independence. There are more than one thousand missions and prayer houses of protestant unions in the country, 21 Jewish communities function as well and the Buddhist temple has been established for the first time in Kazakhstan.

Thirdly, the promotion of international and inter-confessional dialogue in Kazakhstan is a mainstream of our activities. We have created such a unique institute of international and inter-confessional institute as the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan. I would like to add, that starting from this year all major religious holidays are announced to be days-off, in order to offer an opportunity for all believers to hold cult events without any obstacle. Our model of international and inter-religious accord is Kazakhstan's contribution to the global process of interaction between different confessions. We would like to be apprehended in this namely way on the international arena.

There is a need for special caution and some healthy conservatism in order to avoid the trap of "lost in God quest". The necessity of a balance between tradition and novelty is especially clear for me, since I am a politician. But the role of world and traditional religions is very important not only in terms of preserving spiritual heritage. It is also a spiritual practice developed throughout centuries, which is the only remedy from the experiments beyond the human understanding. We are already in the zone of massive intrusion of unusual, extreme forms of God quests, and also of genetic technological experiments beyond the limits of traditional ethic. Therefore, the role of world and traditional religions is not only becoming actual, but is transforming into a key factor of preserving true spirituality by the human kind.

I know the contents of the documents adopted at our Forum. I would like to suggest several additional ideas to your attention, which are preliminary and could be discussed later, not at this meeting.

Taking into account the growing significance of spiritual word in the modern world, we are going to start from 2007 a periodic "religious hour" on one of the leading television channels of the country.

This will be an opportunity for spiritual leaders to deliver a good and religious tolerance sermon directly to many millions of people. Knowing the immense authority of the people sitting in the hall and those religious institutes they are representing, I would like to call you to appeal to the governments of your countries to follow the example and to establish something like this on all continents of the Earth.

While creating the Peace and Accord Palace, I was dreaming about the highest spiritual gathering, which would sanctify these walls with their presence. My dream has come true. But a dream would have short wings without a continuation. I would like to officially invite leaders of world and traditional religions to deliver honorary lectures to Kazakhstani people in the Palace once a year. It would be one of the brightest spiritual events in Eurasia, if world leaders of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, Confucianism and Shinto would annually deliver their word of peace and accord to my compatriots.

Cathedrals, Mosques, Churches, Temples, Pagodas were ones of the main architectural sightseeing places in the capitals of the world. We are not an exception. But inter-religious understanding should not remain as only words in the new millennium. It should be expressed in a material, architectural form. We think that there is no more important symbol than peace and accord in a human soul and between human souls. Astana demonstrates an example of such an architectural symbol, and we hope that Peace and Accord Palaces will be constructed in the capitals of countries, represented in Kazakhstan today by their spiritual leaders.

The global nature of both inter-religious contradictions and inter-religious dialogue allows speaking about the fact that the United Nations Organization should announce one of the nearest years as the international year of religious and cultural tolerance. I think that this initiative could be supported by many states in the modern world.

I would like to conclude my speech with the words of genius Kazakh thinker Abay, who said:

"A human being is a friend to a human being. The reason is that all in this life including birth, education, the feeling of satiety, hunger, sadness, grief, the form of the human body, the way of coming to this world and the way of leaving this world, are the same to all people. And in another world everything, including death, funeral, decay, the Judgment Day, sorrows and drags, enjoyment with goods of both worlds are the same. All people are guests to each other, and a human being is a guest in this life. Is it worth to slander, to be at enmity because of another's richness, to be envious because of another's happiness, to be hostile to each other because of vain things?"

Distinguished guests,

Today we have made another great step to eternal values granted by God to a human being, to mutual understanding, to peaceful and dignified life, to the harmony of interests.

Nobody has a right to forget the truth known to everyone: Creator is common, the universe is common, heavens are boundless, and we, as children of one father and one mother, must live together in peace and accord.

It is obvious today that new global challenges are arising throughout the world.

May God bless you all with favor and charity in the noble way!

Thank you for your attention!