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Opening Remarks of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias, at the 2nd Ministerial Conference of the Ancient Civilizations Forum (La Paz, 13.07.2018)
It was a long trip coming to La Paz from NATO, coming from “war” to “peace” !
Thank you for your hospitality, thank you for your informative introduction, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
I brought with me this book, this documentation with the speeches from last year’s Forum. You can find there every speech, both in English and in the original language. The first part is from the Ministerial Forum, while the second part is from the Academic Forum, which you are going to organize and hold on the 21st of December, which also coincides with my birthday, so I am even happier!
It is a great pleasure for me to be here in La Paz, on the one hand, because it is important to maintain the momentum of this initiative and also because I am visiting a country with great history and great culture. And I listened very carefully to the opening speech by the Foreign Minister of Bolivia, with a special interest in the culture of this country, a living culture and especially the city of Tiwanaku.
A year ago, we took the initiative along with my Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and we launched the founding Conference in Athens, which concluded with the adoption of the Athens Declaration on the establishment of the Ancient Civilizations Forum.
This initiative started upon the realization that our two countries have two great ancient civilizations and, thereby, are respected internationally and they also bear mutual respect for each other. On the basis of this respect, the substantial further development of bilateral political and economic relations came to be more possible.
The Founding Conference of Athens aimed precisely at implementing a bilateral successful example at the international level, thus, creating a permanent platform for dialogue, facilitated by the respect that civilizations with an uninterrupted presence of thousands of years and continuous contribution to the world's civilization enjoy.
So, we continue this initiative because we agree that what we do is first of all up-to-date, that it is relevant and connected with modern times.
In the past, great civilizations have developed at the same time without necessarily communicating with each other, for example between the cultures of Central and South America and the cultures of the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.
In the modern era of globalization, there is an increased "cultural interaction" in the sense that cultures nowadays communicate and interact. They develop not just in parallel but simultaneously, interacting with one another. It is therefore necessary to better understand them, while respecting their diversity, their equivalence, their recognition as cultures of the world heritage.
This understanding can only come from seeing ancient civilizations as "tanks of wisdom" from which we can draw on to deal with the modern challenges humanity faces today.
Although we live in a society dominated by economic and defense policies, we need to demonstrate in a more coordinated way the cultural dimension of international relations. Because many political decisions have a cultural background while many other matters that affect political developments, such as modern migration, are not easy to tackle because of different cultural perceptions.
Even in the hard core of politics we need what we call political culture. So we need tolerance towards each other. Respect for one’s opinion, one’s existence. We need - and many countries have forgotten it - a culture of consensus and compromise.
Modern power is dominated by hard power and technological advances. Ultimately, however, those who speak the language of soft power win. Diplomacy, international law, "cultural supremacy" in international relations is of paramount importance.
Looking back in history, in our old cultures one can find many examples of cultural, soft / smart power. Ancient civilizations - like what we have just seen here in front of our table - have produced spiritual and material achievements that not only survived to date, but have also determined the developments in their time.
It feels great, I have to confess, to go every morning to work and to see the Acropolis, to bring in mind Democracy. And then to imagine the awe and the admiration that this magnificent monument, together with the other cultural and spiritual achievements of classical Athens, must have provoked to the visitors of the ancient time and the other Greek city-states.
Also later on, the soft power of the Eastern Roman, or better we can call it the Byzantine Empire, which, in contrast to the Western Roman Empire, promoted - and in a sense invented - modern diplomacy, in order to counteract the waves of invading peoples from the steppes of Asia, as a tool of deterrence;
And I must also point out the third side. Culture is today a global economic power as well, because every culture produces, reproduces and diffuses particular goods. These are the brand name of each country.
Culture today has a substantial economic dimension, what we call the "culture industry". It produces goods and services, creates jobs, contributes to GDP, is present in all sectors of economic activity, production, research and innovation, education.
And because of these three elements of culture (timeliness, soft power, economic dimension) and its capacity to connect and stabilize the world in an unstable period, it is even more important to continue and strengthen our initiative.
For us, the main issue in this 2nd Conference is to examine how we can make one step further, to see how we can develop a positive agenda such as co-operation of our cultures in the context of multidimensional synergies.
Today we can also discuss, we already had the first discussion as you remember in New York last September, about introducing new members in our Forum. Many countries have asked to become members of this Forum. We have said in September we can discuss it today. I think, from all the candidates for this Forum, there is one that has a very specific role in the history of humanity and of ancients cultures. That is Armenia and I am very happy to see the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of this lovely country, with its long history - maybe it was our mistake not to invite you from the beginning - here today, we had to start and that is also part of life.
In this Second Conference I think it will be good to focus on the protection of cultural and historical heritage, on the return of cultural goods to their countries of origin and on the related support, on the promotion of understanding of ancient cultures and on historical research to highlight their importance and their contribution to global civilization, on the coordination of our actions in international fora, on the strengthening of dialogue and cultural exchanges among our cultures and peoples.
We will also seek in this Second Conference of our Forum to extend the dialogue through the participation of our peoples and the academic community as I have already mentioned - in particular, we will look at the technical aspects of the Academic Conference that will take place, as I mentioned on the 21st of December - and we will look at the possibilities and conditions for new members to join – as I already have mentioned for Armenia.
Also, we can systematize and intensify our dialogue through our UNESCO Permanent Representations on the subjects and activities of the Forum of Ancient Civilizations, as well as on national cultural activities.
And I hope that the Bolivian Presidency will prepare a meeting for our Ministers for foreign policy or culture in New York by the last week of September this year.
In fact, I would like to inform you that the Forum's website has been launched! Please take notice. And in this website of our Forum, we invite everyone to contribute to its content in order to become a reliable reference point for the relevant actions of the Forum and its members.
Again, I would like to thank the Government of Bolivia, the Foreign Minister of Bolivia and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, for inviting and organizing this 2nd Ministerial Conference of the Ancient Civilizations Forum.
In a way it is like a baby for us, which is growing up, coming in the highlands of Bolivia, where culture is still alive – we have only to look after all these people, after these beautiful boats, after everything we have seen these four hours that we are here in Bolivia. Thank you again my dear Colleagues; it is great being with you here.
Thank you very much.