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A Viable Platform for Inter-Faith Dialogue
"Bangkok Post", Friday, November 27, 2015

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of Kazakhstan,

Head of the Secretariat of the Congress

of the Leaders of World and Traditional religions

The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held on a regular basis in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, has become an important venue for rapprochement of various confessions and a unique arena for dialogue on today’s most contentious issues.

Current realities make it obvious that despite the hopes of humankind, the world of the 21st century has not become safer. In this century international tensions caused by geopolitical confrontation between major powers have yet again heightened, the threat of terrorism and extremism has grown and global economic, social and environmental problems have aggravated. Current situation has significantly increased the need for a global dialogue to find efficient solutions to the contemporary problems, including through inter-cultural, inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation. Kazakhstan believes that every state, regardless of the size of its territory, population or type of economic and political system, can make tangible contribution to such a dialogue.

Kazakhstan, where the population reaches 17.5 million, is a home to 130 ethnicities practicing various religions. We are the citizens of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country and are proud of peace and harmony in our society. Unity in diversity is our credo that has passed the test of time. Kazakh ethnic and religious tolerance has become an important factor in ensuring stability and security in the vast territory of the Eurasian continent. The state pays great attention to the preservation and development of all ethnic groups. There are 800 ethno-cultural associations, as well as 3,500 religious associations active in Kazakhstan.

My country actively promotes the values of peace, harmony and cooperation at the international level, participating in the work of major international organisations, developing constructive cooperation on a bilateral basis, as well as promoting the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in which Thailand is an active member. Using the potential of its chairmanship in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSСE) in 2010, Kazakhstan put the promotion of tolerance and intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space at the heart of the OSCE's agenda. The course towards the expansion of inter-civilisational dialogue between Muslim and Western countries was continued within the framework of the country's chairmanship in the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2011-2012. By the proposal of Kazakhstan the United Nations proclaimed the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010 and an International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures from 2013 to 2022.

The initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to hold the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana is an important item on the international agenda. Since 2003, five congresses have taken place in the capital of our country. The event is traditionally attended by spiritual leaders of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Shintoism, and Zoroastrianism, as well as leading politicians, representatives of NGOs and international organizations.

The V Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place in Astana on 10 and 11 June 2015. The theme of the Congress was “A Dialogue of Religious Leaders and Politicians for Peace and Development”. The attention of the whole global community was riveted by the Fifth Forum, especially against the background of spreading of global conflicts with obvious religious overtones. The list of participants is evidence of its growing international influence. Along with religious leaders there was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the King of Jordan Abdullah II, the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, Heads of the OSCE, the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, ISESCO, representatives of mass media, religious and public organizations who all met in Astana. The Secretary General of the World Fellowship of Buddhists Phallop Thaiarry delivered a very thoughtful speech during the Congress' plenary meeting.

Four Panel Sessions on such topical issues as “Religious and Political Leaders: the Responsibility to humankind”, “The influence of Religion on Youth: Education, Science, Culture and Mass Media”, “Dialogue Based on Mutual Respect and Understanding among Leaders of World and Traditional Religions for Peace, Security and Harmony” and “Religion and Politics: New Trends and Perspectives” were held within the framework of this Forum.

The religious summit in Astana revealed some common ground in the approaches of political and religious leaders to the most acute problems of our time. These coinciding positions were reflected in the Final Declaration, which has become a substantial yet unprecedented document not only in the 12-year history of the Forum, but also in the history of international events dedicated to the resolution of bloody conflicts.

Participants of the Congress expressed the belief that it is impossible to fight against radicalism using force alone; instead, we need to bring to the foreground education, religious literacy, the involvement of young people in an active social, political and economic life. This is a difficult task, but without it we cannot count on the well-being of law-abiding citizens and international security as a whole.

At the Opening Ceremony, President Nursultan Nazarbayev formulated the “Five Appeals”, reflecting the pain and hope of billions of people around the world. The ideas and proposals of the head of Kazakhstan were supported by all participants of the Congress and were included in the Declaration of the Forum. It is about cessation of military conflicts and declaring a truce, non-violent methods of resolving political conflicts and eliminating the chasm of mistrust between the major powers. The President has also called for an end of the use of media to incite sectarian strife, as well as joint efforts of religious and political leaders to solve the problems of poverty, hunger, disease, unemployment, the struggle with the consequences of natural disasters and man-made disasters. In fact, this is a call to action for all civilized countries.

Thus, the congress of religious leaders has reached a new meaningful level, because the spiritual leaders cannot be limited to liturgy and preaching, but by virtue of their authority to participate in the solution to the most complex problems of humankind. By adopting the Declaration, religious leaders have taken on a moral obligation to exert all force necessary for its implementation. This is the political significance of the religious summit in Astana.

For its part, Kazakhstan will continue its efforts to enhance this dialogue for the sake of global peace and development.

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