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Monday, August 15, 2011



On 21-22 June, 2007 an international Round Table “Caucasus – Perspective of Intercultural
Dialogue” took place at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgia. The Round Table
was organized by UNESCO Chair in Intercultural Dialogue (Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State
University), in co-operation with the Georgian National Commission for UNESCO in the
framework of UNESCO’s “Caucasus Project”.
The event was held with the financial support of  Division of Cultural Policy and Intercultural Dialogue, Culture Sector, UNESCO.
The Caucasus – region of comparatively  small size and extremely diverse population,
especially needs to identify and develop tools and methods, regarding intercultural competences
to facilitate intercultural dialogue. The region is facing challenge of globalization, therefore it is
important to have a balance between tradition and modernity. The Round Table could be
regarded as a step forward to understanding the specifics of the region as well as a good starting
point for the cooperation on the regional and inter-regional levels.

The Round Table brought together the representatives  of the UNESCO Chairs in
Intercultural and Inter-religious Dialogue as  well as governmental and non-governmental
organizations from Armenia, Azerbaijan,  Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Russian
Federation. The Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue, UNESCO, represented
by Mr. Bernard Jacquot, actively participated in the meeting.
The Round Table was inaugurated by professor Nino Chikovani, head of the UNESCO
Chair in Intercultural Dialogue, Tbilisi State University. The participants were welcomed by
professor Giorgi Khubua, the rector of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Mr. Bernard
Jacquot, Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue, UNESCO, Mrs. Ketevan
Kandelaki, Secretary-General of the Georgian National Commission for UNESCO, Mrs.
Svetlana Sahakian, Department of  International  Relations and Cooperation with Diaspora,
Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs (Armenia), Mr. Asif Usubeliev, Head of the Scientific Methodological Sector, Ministry of Culture and Tourism  (Azerbaijan).
 The Round Table centred on three sessions:
1. Regional approach: the Caucasus example;
2. Good practices and methodologies in the promotion of intercultural dialogue;
3. The network  of UNESCO Chairs – perspective for a common programme and potential co-operation.
The participants came to the agreement on  further co-operation and implemented Final

Caucasus:  Experience of Intercultural Dialogue and Research Perspectives 
Contemporary political and scientific interest towards the Caucasus was mainly drawn by
the post-Soviet regional conflicts. Not often the Caucasus is referred as the multicultural,
multi ethnic and multi confessional region, with the history, which, like the past and present of the
other similar regions, was determined by the valuable experience of the peaceful coexistence,
collaboration and dialogue between different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.
Could we talk about the real practice of intercultural dialogue in the Caucasus? Is there a
regional resource for fruitful intercultural dialogue?
The problem can be seen at least from the two perspectives: factual and methodological
approaches. Let’s start from the first one.
Intercultural dialogue, as a permanent process, has been existed in the Caucasus during the
whole history of the region; the dialogue is perceived here not only as the contact, but exactly the
dialogue, in terms of awareness and understanding of the other. This was the objective process,
determined not by the ethno-cultural characteristics of the Caucasians, or by purposeful policy of
the regional ruling elites, but rather by the socio-cultural reality, influenced by the geographical
location of the Caucasus. The same processes of intercultural dialogue can be observed in each
multicultural and multi confessional areas, e.g. the Balkans, the South-Eastern Europe in whole,
Central Asia. It should be noted as well, that the political history of the above mentioned regions
is characterized by the dozens of similarities, be it the Middle Ages, the period of totalitarian
states or the post-communist era. Furthermore, each of these regions stress the fact of existence
at the crossroad of cultures, serving as a hallmark for their history, as well as the experience of
the intercultural dialogue, reflected in their cultures.

Several examples. Professor of philosophy Ferid Mukhich admits that the role of Balkans
in the world history was mainly determined  by its geographical location. It was not only the
crossroad, but the bridge at the same time; not only the main street but also the central site for
the meetings of civilizations of the three continents. Hardly can we name any other place with so
many conflicts and disturbances, as well as the fruitful and creative  contact and collaboration
between the people with different lifestyles and cultural experiences (Мухич 2003: 143). I think
the Balkans may be easily replaced here by the Caucasus.

“The cultural and historical legacy served as a basis for sharply expressed cultural
corridors, which may be observed in our homeland for the centuries long period” (Пырванов
2003: 36), _  Bulgarian politicians refer to the results of existence at the crossroad for the
history and culture of their country.
Generally, culture is interpreted as the complex system of the methods and tools for the
adaptation to the environment. It is a set of  answers to the challenges. According to another
definition it is a structure of the standardized answers to the similar challenges.

How the environment can be characterized in the case of the Caucasus? What kind of
challenges can be observed? In a geographical and cultural sense, the region has served both as
bridge and barrier to contact between the North and the South, the East and the West. It used to
be a crossroad and meeting point for the different cultures and civilizations. Generally, traffic is
intensive at the crossroads at any time. This is true for our region as  well, characterized with
ordinary migration processes, trade links, diplomatic missions, as well as with refugees’ flows.
As a result, ethnic, linguistic and confessional image of the Caucasus, like the natural landscape
of the region, is quite diversified and colorful. The Caucasus represents a mosaic of cultures,
confessions, ethnic groups and languages. Caucasian peoples belong to the four language groups:
Caucasian, Indo-European, Turkic and Semite. Followers of three major religions are found here:
Christianity, Islam in both its versions, and Judaism.
Under these circumstances, the existence and survival of the peoples of the region was only
possible in conditions of dialogue with each other and with the wider world. It must be stressed
that the dialogue of cultures was of a stable character in relation with the unstable and constantly
changing political realities. Exactly the dialogue of cultures served as a basis for the formation of
adaptive mechanisms, contributing to the coexistence of different peoples and traditions.  
The concept of United Cultural Space is quite  often used regarding the Caucasus and other
similar spaces. We think it is the most appropriate concept, fully expressing the results of
intercultural dialogue. The terms –  Caucasian, Balkan, Baltic, etc. – designate not only the
geographical space, but they refer to the identity with one particular cultural entity as well. These
entities are best described in terms of diversity, cultural pluralism and unity. The concept of
“Unity in Diversity” fits best with the sense  of the Caucasus, as well as for the resembling
cultural spaces.
As we have already mentioned, the process  of intercultural dialogue was the everyday
practice of general life, rather being the result of purposeful policy. Nevertheless, we should
admit that the usual process of dialogue quite   often was used as a tool for achieving of the
political goals (e.g. cultural rivalry with the great neighborhood, political unification of the region,
etc.) Obviously, the centuries long practice of intercultural dialogue does not imply constant 6
peaceful coexistence. Neither the forms of dialogue were unchangeable for the course of time.
However, the interrelation of the Caucasian  cultures can be termed as a good practice of
intercultural dialogue. I hope, our  presentations will describe this practice and its particular

Recently intercultural dialogue has been understood and ‘analyzed as the sociocultural
phenomenon. There does not exist the accepted definition of the concept. In November 2006, the
following definition of the term was offered by the Council of Europe: intercultural dialogue is a
process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups
with different cultural backgrounds, which leads  to a deeper understanding of different world
views and practices.
It appears necessary today to respond to the need for a deeper and more structured dialogue
of cultures. The dialogue currently was formed as a new paradigm of security, having different
reasons in its foundations. Contemporary processes are too rapid and prompted, while the world
itself is too small and interconnected. Thus we  can hardly hope for self regulation of cultural
processes (among them intercultural dialogue can be listed as well). The main paradigm of our
time is intensive relations between various individuals and groups. As professor of Political
Sciences Ghasan Salame admits, migrations, tourism, transformed during the past century from
an individual adventure into large mass movement, information technologies always take us to
face with “the Other”, who “is everywhere and there is no efficient way to avoid him”. And the
last but not the least: as a result of globalization the various groups of individuals and ongoing
processes in the world have become more  and more interrelated. On the other hand,
“globalization paradoxically triggers cultural and social disintegration while pushing for deeper
and deeper financial and economic integration. People invent new frontiers, new borders, and
new distances in order to differentiate, to insulate, and to separate themselves from those who
become too close for comfort” (Salame: 2007). Development of the modern world does not leave
any space for the closed and self-sustained cultural entities. It requires for dialogue between
different cultures and civilizations.
All these processes were accompanied by the  significant and fundamental changes in the
world politics and on the world political map. The new problems were raised as a result of
dissolution of the USSR and the Cold War. First of all these processes were connected with the
deepening of the process of political disintegration and with the raise of the new conflicts on the
post-soviet space, among them in the region of  the Caucasus. In scientific literature these
conflicts are evaluated as ethno-conflicts, stressing the importance of religious factor and seeking
for historical foundations of the conflicts. The old hurts are often recollected. Breaking of the old
identities was followed by the identity crisis and the process of search for new identities. Quite
often the process of search has the shape of attempt to rebuild protective fences around the old
collective identities, in spite of the fact that the process is drawn in the fundamentally different
The ongoing changes have taken us to the need of their management. In order to manage
successfully you have to know what to manage. You should know the substance of the process.
In this case, one should be aware of not only with the existing reality, but also with the historical
experience. That’s why the dialogue of cultures (and cultural interaction in general) was
transformed into the subject of scientific and practical interest not only in the multiethnic
societies, but in the wider world as well.
Besides, quite often, nowadays we mention “Culture Matters”, thus we have become more
and more aware of the fact, that culture plays a crucial role in functioning of each aspect of the
society. The success or failure of particular projects and aims are significantly determined by the
culture. Although, it should be noted as well that  “culture has become a language in which
conflicts, even when caused by non-cultural factors, are now often expressed” (Salame: 2007).
We are trying to perceive intercultural dialogue – the real practical process – theoretically.
We try to settle with its rules and norms, to determine its relations with the concepts of identity,
conflict, etc. Exactly this is the novelty, and thereby the main hardship and difficulty lies in it.
By means of intercultural dialogue we are trying to find answer to the specific problem: is
the renewal of group identity really possible without confrontation with others, when the contact
is too close and the process itself is fueled as a result of constant collision with the other?

The several crucial factors should be taken  into consideration while dealing with the
successful dialogue of cultures. These factors include, but are not restricted to:
Knowing why people from other cultures behave the way they do – and especially knowing
that their behavior makes sense to them even if it makes none to you – is the first and most
important step in successfully crossing cultures Graig Storti states (Storti: 2001).
As Ahmed Jalili, permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran at UNESCO
admits, the question is the basis of dialogue. If we do not accept the priority of question over the
answer, the real dialogue, new knowledge, perceptions and understandings will be inaccessible
for us. Knowledge is a discussion over the confronted viewpoints. Questions make the whole
specter of opportunities apparent, while dominant sense makes dialogue impossible (Джалили
2003: 59).
The dialogue can not start from the problems  dividing us. Exactly the substance, which
makes us united, serves as a basis for dialogue. As rabbi Arthur Shnaier admitted, God gave us,
humans, not only the sense of memory, but the capacity to bury things in oblivion  (Шнайер
2003: 23).We should accept the predominance of rationality and scientific method over the
emotive one (Dialogue: 2007).
The theme of dialogue should be determined clearly. Dialogue is not about everything. It is
desirable dialogue not to be in relation with fundamental convictions of particular cultures, for if
we wish to establish common ground for dialogue at the level of basic convictions, somebody’s
basic convictions become the measure, taking us to the misunderstanding, serving as a basis for
false universalism, which can arise true differences (Appadurai: 2007). Only those topics should
be selected, which are really suitable and affordable for the dialogue.
We should not hope for a complex and full understanding; it is an impossible standard
because of the culture, language and history that divide individuals and communities. Dialogue is
a form of negotiation and negotiation cannot be based on complete understanding or a total
consensus across any sort of boundary of difference (Appadurai: 2007). We should remind here
the determination of dialogue offered by Martin Buber, referring dialogue as an effective method
of communication, rather than as a necessarily purposeful attempt targeted towards particular
Arjun Appadurai offers that to reduce this risk of misunderstanding we have to choose our
words carefully, to pay attention to language and translation, and try to imagine the mental
assumptions of the other party,  in short we try to find the best ways to cross the boundaries
between the speaker and listener (Appadurai: 2007).
Nobody of the participants of dialogue is able to pretend to be entitled to speak in the name
of the whole culture or nation. Such temptation can be determined by the perception of culture as
monolithic and homogeneous unity, existing in  a particular geographical area. But it’s an
extremely oversimplified scheme for representing complex structure of culture.
In the framework of each culture there do exist various controversial, debatable issues.
Dialogue demands for exact calculation of what to bring from the internal debates into dialogue
with the other. If you bring in too much internal debate, your position looks weak, if you bring it
too little, you look authoritarian  and incredible. The risk is that we can make a wrong choice
(Appadurai: 2007).
Selecting the participants of the dialogue plays a crucial role as well. We should never try
to make involved in dialogue as much people as possible. But rather we should select for the
right one for right time.
Let me think, that current meeting brings together such kind of people. The participants of
our Round Table can share their experiences, serving as a necessary precondition for successful
dialogue. Promotion and advancement can be achieved through dialogue,  if you are ready to
open your mind and try to know as much as possible about the other. Thus, dialogue is an active
learning process. As Dieter Senghaas admits, intercultural dialogue these days requires, above
all, expanding the intellectual  horizon regarding history and a  globally oriented comparative
analysis (Senghaas).

Nino Chikovani
Professor, Head of the UNESCO Chair of Intercultural Dialogue,
Tbilisi State University ,Georgia

Джалили А.  Выступление на форуме.   Региональный форум Диалог между
цивилизациями. Охрид, 29 и 30 августа 2003 г.
Мухич Ф. “Концепция и применение межцивилизационного диалога:  македонская
перспектива”. Региональный форум Диалог между цивилизациями. Охрид, 29 и
30 августа 2003 г.
Пырванов Г.  Выступлуние на форуме.   Региональный форум Диалог между
цивилизациями. Охрид, 29 и 30 августа 2003 г.
Шнайер А.  Выступление на форуме.   Региональный форум Диалог между
цивилизациями. Охрид, 29 и 30 августа 2003 г., с.23.
Appadurai A. New Stakes for Intercultural Dialogue. The Risks of Dialogue. Expert Meeting
“Towards Mainstream Principles of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue in
Policies for Sustainable Development”. 21-23 May 2007, UNESCO, Paris.
Salame Gh. “Respect for cultural diversity is  a prerequisite for dialogue”. Expert Meeting
Towards Mainstream Principles of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue in
Policies for Sustainable Development. 21-23 May 2007, UNESCO, Paris.
 Senghaas D. Modernity facing cultural globalization.

Storti G. Old World / New World: Bridging Cultural Differences: Britain, France, Germany
and US. Intercultural Press, 2001.
“Dialogue with the Other: Rationale and Principles. The Abu   Dhabi Declaration on the
Arab position toward Cultural Dialogue and Diversity”. Expert Meeting  Towards
Mainstream Principles of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue in Policies
for Sustainable Development. 21-23 May 2007, UNESCO, Paris.

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