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Address by H.E. Antonio Miloshoski, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe October 3, 2010

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Address by H.E. Antonio Miloshoski, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe at the 2010 Council od Europe Exchange on the Religios Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue in Ohrid

“The role of the media in promoting intercultural dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding: freedom of expression in the media and respect for cultural and religious diversity”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here with you today for this 2010 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. Allow me to welcome you to the city of Ohrid, which, with its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, is certainly an appropriate venue for this event.

Indeed the Macedonian society is a telling example due to its pluralist character, where different cultures and different faiths – the sum of our chequered and rich history – co-exist. We recognize that cultural diversity must be treasured as an advantage and an instrument of peace and mutual understanding and respect. The guarantee and respect of human rights and equality of ethic groups in each country is a guarantee for stability and sustainable development of the society. We, Macedonians have always regarded the multicultural and multi-confessional character of our country not as a handicap, but as a privilege and advantage that positively contributes in its social progress and development.

Most societies today are made up of different religions, communities, cultures. This diversity may be a result of historical processes, or quite simply the fact that – with what we refer to as globalisation – the world has become a smaller place. Communication networks, travel and migration flows have transformed societies. These societies have weaved themselves into a rich tapestry of different ethnic, cultural and religious groups. And this diversity is here to stay. It is valuable. It is the future. And as such, we should not just tolerate it but welcome and explore it. All persons, whatever community, religion, culture or ethnic background to which they belong, must learn to be tolerant and understanding of the other if we are to cultivate the type of cohesive society to which we all aspire. A society where we, and future generations, can live side by side in lasting peace and unity, in full respect of the rights of others. Speaking about future generations, I believe that the youth should be one of our most important target groups. We have to educate young people in the spirit of multiculturalism and urge them to counter and reject prejudices. That was one of the reasons for organizing the South East Europe Youth Gathering within the Macedonian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers just two days ago in Ohrid and launching the Ohrid process which aim is to contribute in promoting youth participation emphasizing inter alia the intercultural dialogue.

Dialogue between cultures and religions is of course the most effective instrument to foster such understanding. For this reason, the Macedonian Chairmanship has chosen intercultural dialogue, and in particular the religious dimension of such dialogue as one of its priorities. As you may be aware, in May this year, Ohrid also had the honour of hosting the Second World Conference on Dialogue among Religions and Civilizations. Hundreds of political and religious leaders and intellectuals discussed the possibilities how to generate further political will to eliminate common misconceptions and stereotypes among different religions and cultures, including through continuous education on fundamental human values that are common to all religions and cultures, and on establishing new channels of communication and dialogue. It is therefore a great privilege for us to witness that link between the global and regional perspective on certain aspects of intercultural dialogue.

By organizing the World Conference, as well as the participation in the other international events (Alliance of Civilizations etc.) related to the religious tolerance and understanding, my country confirmed its determination to strengthen peace and cooperation through constant dialogue and mutual exchange. In this regard, we recognize the need to protect and encourage all initiatives that can constitute bridges of connection and understanding, beyond cultural and religious barriers. We remain strongly committed to the need of fostering and further developing the dialogue by building and strengthening mutual exchanges and dissemination of best practices, particularly in our own communities.

Therefore, we use this opportunity to bring the specific aspect and the theme of the Annual Exchange in conformity with the common efforts to further affirm the necessity of providing better and more functional inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, thus strengthening peace, stability and prosperity, promoting peaceful and constructive cooperation among all nations in Europe, while respecting cultural and religious diversities.

The complex and very timely chosen theme for this year’s Council of Europe Exchange highlights the important role of media in fostering intercultural dialogue and promoting tolerance. This is topical and significant. As you are aware there are aspects of the relationship between the media and religious communities which have sometimes given rise to difficulties and have not been easy to resolve. But what is important is that the values defended by the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – are upheld and used as a reference point for discussions.

Media in today’s society – be it traditional or new media – have the potential to influence the public at large. Religious leaders too have the possibility to largely influence their communities. This instrumental role of both media and religious leaders – which in my opinion is a privileged role – is crucial in promoting a culture of dialogue, respect and understanding. Such privilege also brings responsibility – to resolve misunderstandings, misrepresentations or other disputes, in full respect of human rights and democratic values – even if it is not always an easy task.

The Macedonian Chairmanship attaches great attention to the fact that the media as the most relevant instrument for mass communication in the modern world can play a significant role in the efforts for improving the inter-ethnic cohesion.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to ensure that the Laws and other regulations in our countries are fully brought into conformity with the standards and principles of the Council of Europe, as well as other international standards and to effectively deal with the possible cases of proliferation of intolerance, based on ethnic affiliation, race or religion.

Freedom of expression and the media is fundamental in a democratic society and must be protected. But it must also be exercised with wisdom. And in this context, certain questions are sometimes raised. Do media represent religions in a fair and balanced manner? Do they reinforce stereotypes? Do they foster understanding of religious diversity?

Freedom of religion, for its part, is also a fundamental right essential for any democratic society. But it too raises questions in this context. Can or how far can freedom of religion impinge on the rights and freedoms of others? Can religious communities do more to ensure that media are fully informed on religious issues? Can they improve their understanding on how media work, and use media to inform and educate?

These are just some of the questions which will undoubtedly be raised in your discussions. It is gratifying to see that all relevant sectors of society are represented here today – religious communities, non-religious convictions, media, human rights experts, government representatives and institutional representatives. Your very presence here today, is a clear illustration of the commitment, openness and willingness to engage in dialogue. And whilst some of the questions raised may not find quick or comprehensive solutions, the dialogue in attempting to do so will, I am sure, be enriching, constructive and fruitful for all participants. I wish you a very successful Conference.

Thank you for your attention.

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