One under-reported subject this blog has looked at from time to time is an organisation called the “World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations”. This is an initiative created by Vladimir Yakunin, a controversial member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and a man dubbed “the Kremlin’s ‘model Orthodox businessman’”. The WPF has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), who have spoken at conferences in Rhodes and Vienna and written for WPF publications.
At the start of the month, Yakunin addressed the WPF International Coordinating Committee in Vienna, and the WPF has now published his presentation in English:
…In his article “Globalization of Insecurity and the Dialogue of Civilizations” (published in the collection of papers from the 2011 Rhodes Forum), Prof. Joseph Camilleri describes in detail the ever increasing feeling of insecurity. What is more, this feeling seems to be spreading everywhere: both in different societies which tend to practically determine the strategies and tendencies in present-day globalization processes, as well as in communities that have become involved in global expansion.
All this, I believe, compels us to think about the growing pace and scope of what we may call “barbarization” of international relations. What is meant here is the following: under slogans of “advancing” democracy and “strict observance” of human rights, there are those who are arming themselves with the most ridiculous means to de-sovereign states and to justify interference from the outside into the affairs, history, culture and the very lifestyles of whole countries and regions. Instead of trying to pave the way to attain noble goals, this process is being aimed at attaining poorly disguised interests and at “revolutionizing” the public masses that are rapidly transformed into mobs of marauders and terrorists…
This is, of course, a veiled yet familiar swipe at critics of the increasing authoritarian nature of the Putin regime, and of its growing obsession with suppressing Russia’s gay minority – and it should be noted that his talk begins with a shout-out to “our colleague from Iran, who represents the founder of the inter-state initiative Dialogue among Civilizations – Mohammad Khatami” (1).
But Yakunin’s rhetoric, in which he outlines the shortcomings of “neoliberalism” and “globalisation”, is designed to have wide political appeal. Further:
We most certainly welcome diverse ecological initiatives that are not aimed at transforming “values” into “price tags,” or at reselling “the right to life” of the people in some countries to others or for making profits for a small group of oligarchs.
It is difficult regard without mirth one of Russia’s richest men talking critically about “oligarchs”; as Spiegel Online noted late last month:
Yakunin is still in office [as head of Russia's railways] even though opposition leader and blogger Alexey Navalny revealed several months ago that the railway boss is not only an excellent contractor, but he is also extremely adept at taking care of himself. Navalny reported that Yakunin built himself a veritable palace just outside of Moscow, complete with dozens of rooms and a special, climate-controlled space for his wife’s fur coats. Yakunin says the report was nothing more than a “smear campaign.”
The same report describes Yakunin as “arch-conservative and powerfully eloquent”.
References to the WPF – and to the “Saint Andrew the First-Called Foundation”, through which Yakunin set up the WPF – pop up in unexpected places. For example, the WPF is sponsoring a “Musical Olympus Festival” at Carnegie Hall in April. The Musical Olympus Foundation’s founder, Irina Nikitina, has a “Faith and Faithfulness” medal from the Foundation.
(1) This description of Khatami as “founder of the inter-state initiative Dialogue among Civilizations” is explained here:
WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations” has become a practical realization of the UNGA resolution “Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations” accepted on November 9th, 2001, on the initiative of former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Khatami.
The “Dialogue of Civilizations” program started on May 19th, 2002, at the Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin.
This suggests that Khatami was a general inspiration rather than a “founder” in the proper sense of the word. The WPF was actually founded by Yakunin himself, although he had two co-chairs: the Indian philopher Jagdish Kapur, who has since passed away, and, more curiously, a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou. This is odd because Papanicolau is a close associate with the elements of the neo-Pentecostal Christian Right, in particular Rick Joyner and retired Lt. General “Jerry” Boykin”: the three men are part of a “chivalric order” (which has held meetings on Rhodes around the same time as WFP events), and in 2011 Papanicolau and Boykin sent out an anti-Islam fundraising letter.
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