Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana
June 10, 2015
Your Excellencies and Eminencies!
Dear Mr. Secretary General of the United Nations!
Dear participants and guests of the Congress!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I cordially welcome you on the blessed land of Kazakhstan! If something happens in the world only once, it is usually considered as a historical accident. When it happens two or three times, it is a law of history. But if more times – this is Great History! Astana is welcoming participants and guests of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions for the fifth time!
We, who are gathered under the arches of the world’s only Palace of Peace and Reconcilliation, built following to the decision of the First Congress, are creating a Great History of tolerance and a global dialogue between cultures and religions. We are writing it page by page, even in this difficult epoch. And all of us – politicians and religious leaders – share a common sense of responsibility for the fate of people and nations, peace and tranquility throughout our unique planet generated by the Great Creator.
For the first time UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon is participating in this Congress. I cordially welcome you, Mr. Secretary-General! Your presence emphasizes the importance that the whole international community attaches to the dialogue of religious leaders in Astana.
I welcome all those who have accepted my invitation and are present today in this Palace. The noble ideas of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions have found broad support in the international community, both in religious and political circles. They give the world a chance to overcome existing stereotypes of inter-religious relations, to develop an effective formula for global tolerance and mutual understanding in the 21st century. I am convinced that the work of the Fifth Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will help to take an important step toward this goal.
I would like to wish all participants and guests fruitful work, useful dialogue and positive solutions.
Dear religious leaders!
The core question of the Fifth Congress is related to the important role and responsibility of religious and political leaders for the safe and harmonious development of the present-day world. In the 21st century the most of the world remains deeply religious. According to information from the Gallup Institute, presented in one of the recent reports of the Global Barometer of Hope and Despair, more than half of the world’s population – about 60 per cent – consider themselves to be religious. One in five is believed to be irreligious.
The phenomenon of the sustainability and preservation of the influence of religious teachings in the age of technological revolutions was precisely explained by Cesare Pavese, an Italian writer of the 20th century. He wrote that “Religion is a belief that everything that happens to us is extremely important. That is why it will always exist”. But does this mean that human development will invariably be accompanied by religious differences, hostility, conflict and interfaith wars? I am not a supporter of the affirmative answer to this question.
Firstly, according to Mahatma Gandhi “God has no religion”. “Our ecclesiastical partitions do not reach to the skies” – said famous Orthodox philosopher of the 19th century Metropolitan Platon Gorodetsky. During the thousand-year history of theological discussions there remained only verbal disputes, until politicians turned them into wars and conflicts.
Secondly, all the religions of the world advocate restraint, patience, non-violence and harmony between people. The Holy Qur’an contains the words, “Whoever kills a human being… has killed all mankind”. The Christian New Testament contains the same appeal, “One should take care of good for all mankind and be at peace with all men”. The ancient Indian Upanishads call for responsibility for all human acts, “When a blade of grass is ripped, the whole Universe shudders”. True faith is only that which motivates a person to love, compassion and kindness. It is an enduring and eternal truth.
Thirdly, modern history has shown examples of religiously tolerant societies. For example, in Kazakhstan, we have created a successful model of co-existence between 18 religions living in peace, harmony and mutual understanding with each other. Our legislation on religious associations is based on the principle of equality and freedom of conscience. For nearly the quarter century of our independence, Kazakhstan has experienced a Renaissance of spirituality. In the Soviet era, including in Kazakhstan, atheism was adopted. But our people have not lost their belief in God. Now there are 3,312 mosques, churches, chapels, synagogues and other places of worship in our country. We have 47 religious media outlets. Nearly 500 foreign missionaries work in our country. Key Dates of the Islamic and Christian calendars are common holidays for all people of Kazakhstan. Congregations of all religions exist in our country and are members of one large Kazakh family. We all are building a new country with no place for discord and strife.
All of us are united by one goal – to build a prosperous state, which by the mid-twenty-first century will be on a par with the 30 most developed nations of the world. We have set this task to ensure that all people of Kazakhstan become a nation with a united future. Its main foundation is civil equality and tolerance, openness, law and order, unity of thought and practical actions towards the creation of decent living conditions for each and everyone. It is age-old wisdom which exists through the spread of the values of peace and harmony from generation to generation, from epoch to epoch.
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of this unique organization – the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan. It has become a basic value and a robust mechanism of accord and tolerance for all people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. We have shown the world that there is no fatal inevitability of religious and cultural conflict within any society. Therefore, this can be avoided at any level of international politics. We have demonstrated that tolerant relations within society is a question of conscious responsibility of the state, religious associations, and ordinary citizens. We view the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana through the prism of global recognition of our experience’s success.
Dear participants of the Congress!
A distinctive feature of our forum is the discussion of relations between religions and cultures in the context of interests for peace and stability on the planet. Such discussions are enhanced interjection in the global course of development. Today, the world hangs in a dangerous state of uncertainty.
Firstly, there was a drastic weakening of global security. And, it seems, that this process has not yet reached its end. The international system of checks and balances does not work. We can only regret that the atmosphere of trust between leading countries, which has been developed over the past decades since World War II, has been lost. The pressure of mutual sanctions complicates the global economic situation. It has alienated the prospects of overcoming the consequences of the recent global economic crisis. Distrust has a negative impact not only on the economy but also on humanitarian relations between countries and nations. Tourism and cultural exchange are declining; countries have entered into information wars with each other. All of this is the consequence of instability, mistrust and local wars and conflicts.
Secondly, the number of wars and internal conflicts in the world has increased dramatically. The conflict in the Eastern Ukraine significantly reduces the level of European and global security. The whole territory from West Africa to Afghanistan is gripped by armed confrontation.
Thirdly, the threat of global terrorism has taken the shape of campaigns by the so-called “Islamic State”. Using a global recruiting network, it attracts young people from around the world. Hiding behind pseudo-religious calls, militants have carried out shocking acts of mass executions of followers of other religions, journalists and volunteers. I believe that we have to unite and express common opposition against such crimes that hide behind religion. They deliberately destroy centuries-old cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. All of these actions could be described as nothing other than inhuman.
Fourthly, the amount of hungry and destitute people is also not declining in the modern world. Today, according to the UN, 700 million children and adolescents around the world live below the poverty line.
150 million children have been abandoned. 100 million children have no access to education because of the lack of schools. 10 million suffer from a lack of drugs and medicines. Here it is the original environment of social disorder, and then of crime, social hatred, terrorism and extremism.
Fifthly, it is impossible to overlook the deterioration of spiritual and moral values in the world. Through the media, social and Internet networks spreads profanity, ridicule of spiritual principles, criminal immorality and permissiveness, all vulgar examples of the so-called mass culture. Streams of such “pseudo” culture are particularly detrimental to the souls of our youth, they undermine family traditions and destroy the connection between generations. All of these are critical challenges of our time. I am convinced that the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is the place to discuss in detail the way to solve these and many other problems.
Today it is important to establish a dialogue to develop a new paradigm of security and development. Principles of equality, mutual respect and recognition of each other’s interests, cooperation, tolerance and mutual understanding must be at the core of this dialogue. Today humankind has great material, scientific, technical and intellectual capabilities. No progress can be made if people do not learn to live in peace and spiritual harmony with each other. Humankind will always have ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural differences. However, They should not disconnect us, but provide a unified future.
I agree with Pope Francis who said, “that which unites us is much greater than that which divides us”. I am sure that inter-ethnic, inter-religious conflicts are caused by erroneous policies, which destroy countries, people and societies. Today, we see it happening in different parts of the world. But the mutual desire to learn each other’s languages, cultures, spiritual world, to develop trade and good neighborly relations are long-lived. And this trend of a commonwealth of nations is particularly enhanced in the 21st century under the influence of globalization. Spiritual and political leaders can work together to make the world more ethical and tolerant.
The V Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will adopt the final declaration. I propose to include a number of important appeals, reflecting the pain and hope of billions of people all over the world.
First. To stop all the military conflicts and declare a truce. All the warring parties need to sit down at the negotiation table to work out agreements to cease the violence, protect civilians and find peaceful resolutions for the conflicts.
Second. All countries and intergovernmental relations must resolutely reject the use of force as a way of approaching political differences.
Third. It is important to urge the political leaders of all major powers to work towards stopping the growth of the abyss of distrust in the modern world. It is necessary to lift mutual sanctions, from which the “third world countries” and ordinary people suffer the most. It is important to warn the world against the risk of a return to the Cold War stereotypes in the 21st century. Today it is necessary to use the mechanisms of the UN and other international organizations to resolve contradictions and end wars and conflicts.
Fourth. It is necessary to appeal to reason and to stop the practice of using the media, including the Internet, to incite interfaith strife between people. We need to increase the moral responsibility of the owners and publishers of the media, all of those who call themselves “the fourth power”.
Fifth. States and societies need to unite their efforts to solve the problems of poverty, hunger, epidemics, unemployment and the consequences of natural and man-made disasters. All these must be part of a new security architecture in a harmonious world.
Your Excellencies and Eminencies!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The events of the modern era make our Congresses of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions the most important part of the global “spiritual diplomacy”. I urge the heads of all delegations to bring to the congregations of your religions a call for the multiplication of inter-religious dialogue. I appeal to all attendant politicians and public figures to use their influence and opportunities to end war and conflict, restoring trust in global politics. I am confident that the Congress will enrich the practice of dialogue between cultures and religions.
I wish you fruitful work and success!
Thank you for your attention.