Meeting of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education
Istanbul, 10 May 2010
Chairman, Dear Andrew,
I am very pleased to welcome you to my homeland and to this beautiful city of Istanbul. I take this opportunity to express to you my gratitude for the work your Committee has been doing year after year to promote European values in a broad range of areas. These include indeed the issues which are crucial for the future of European societies.
First of all, young people. All over Europe, many young women and men are facing increasing difficulties in finding their place in our societies; they worry about their prospects. I highly value your work aimed at encouraging recognition of, and respect for, youth rights. I sincerely hope that this work will help us identify how to build our future with and for the younger generation.
Next, research and science. These are fields where our societies design and prepare their tomorrows. But these are also fields where errors, manipulation and abuse may annihilate human dignity and lead to environmental catastrophe. I am thankful to the Committee for considering in a comprehensive manner the crucial question of the ethics of science. I look forward to your suggestions on guidelines which our Assembly could provide in this complicated and sensitive area.
Next, the media and information and communication technologies, which are at the heart of our global society. They are the most powerful vehicles of knowledge and know-how, but may disseminate misinformation. They are the kingdom of freedom of expression, but can broadcast world-wide hatred of diversity. Your committee has a key role in delivering guidance so that global communication patterns contribute to overcoming divides and do not generate new ones.
And, last but not least, I refer to culture in its broadest meaning, which encompasses lifestyles, traditions, beliefs and values, and thus embodies all the distinctive features of societal groups. I firmly believe in your work aimed at enhancing our education systems, preserving our cultural heritage, and favouring dialogue between communities.
That also shows the importance of intercultural and inter-faith dialogue. I never tire of repeating that this must be given top priority on our political agendas, as a way of reinforcing mutual understanding and the best instrument to fight extremism.
In this connection, I take this opportunity to inform you that I will take part in the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro at the end of this month, under the headline “Bridging cultures, building peace”, which perfectly coincides with our views. The Alliance of Civilizations, as you probably know, was launched by the United Nations and supported jointly by the Prime Minister of Turkey and the President of the Government of Spain. Next year, either during the January or April part-session of the Assembly, I intend to propose holding a large debate on intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
On that occasion, I would like to invite Mr Zapatero and Mr Erdogan to address the Assembly, as well as some religious leaders and other personalities. From this debate I expect an important contribution, in terms of ideas and proposals, to our work and the strengthening of our co-operation with the Alliance of Civilizations initiative.
This morning you have a hearing on “The right of everyone to participate in cultural life”. I would like to take this opportunity to express again my gratitude to Professor Dr. Mehmet AYDIN, Minister of State for Turkey, and Professor Dr. Mehmet SAĞLAM, Chairman of the National Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Committee of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, for their presence here with us.
I also warmly welcome Mr Gaetano ARMAO, Minister for Culture of the Region of Sicily in Italy and am grateful to him for his availability to contribute to this meeting. My sincere thanks also go to Mrs Annamari LAAKSONEN whose expertise will be precious in the debate.
Our rapporteur, Mrs Marland Militello, will have the complex but exciting task of preparing a report on this issue for your Committee and our Assembly. It is crucial to find practical ways to sustain culture and make it accessible to the widest possible number of citizens. Culture is not a luxury, it is a compelling need.
This afternoon your Committee will be adopting two reports. The first will be Mr Jensen’s report on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia. It covers very delicate and somewhat controversial issues, promising an interesting debate at our June part-session. But I think there is a message which is likely to be consensual: we need to build dialogue and mutual understanding. And, for that, we are today in a very appropriate setting here in Turkey. For many centuries Turkey has been at the crossroads of cultures. Lying between East and West, it has been called a bridge between Europe and Asia. As its unique geography tells you well, this is the point where civilizations converge and merge throughout the centuries. Perhaps no other land has witnessed so many diverse civilizations over the last nine thousand years.
Today, you see that European values are embedded in the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. When one looks at the unparalleled position of the country itself – uniting Asia and Europe, an integral part of the Balkans, the Middle East, the Black Sea region and the Mediterranean basin, with access to Central Asia and to the Islamic World; its population, devout, but living in a democratic secular system embracing other faiths – then you see that this is a synthesis which is hard to find anywhere else. And such a country could indeed be a model for many other countries in the region and beyond in building democracy and states respectful of human rights.
The second recommendation you will be invited to adopt could not be more appropriate in our setting here in Istanbul. Tomorrow afternoon you will visit the recently discovered Byzantine port of that time; you will see for yourselves the results of the Turkish authorities’ courageous decision in 2004 to postpone the much-needed works on the new tunnel under the Bosphorus in order to carry out full archaeological excavations. This constitutes a perfect example of successful implementation of a balanced approach to the rescuing of archaeological finds from development projects, the very subject of Mr O’Hara’s report and I commend him for having included this project in his report.
Of course, the subject of culture and cultural heritage is also most fitting as Istanbul is European Capital of Culture this year. I hope that during your stay you will take this opportunity to indulge in a few of the many diverse cultural activities.
Regretfully, I will not be able to stay with you as I would have wished, because of other commitments. However, I wish you a successful meeting and a pleasant stay in this magnificent city.