The World Public Forum has published a statement about the sanctioning of its co-founder, Vladimir Yakunin:
We, the undersigned people from various countries around the world, including the USA, express our great dismay about President Obama’s list of sanctions on top Russian officials. The world in 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned instead of individualized sanctions.
We consider it to be a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin who is not only President of Russian Railways but also the founder and president of the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations which enjoys consultative status in United Nations’ ECOSOC. For more than a decade Vladimir Yakunin has devoted a lot of efforts and activities to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia.
Many people around the world know of and greatly value Dr. Yakunin’s extraordinary and tireless work for peace and justice and the resolution of conflicts…
The letter is signed by Walter Schwimmer, Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, followed by Fred Dallmayr of the University of Notre Dame and various academics. Schwimmer has also penned his own statement:
The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned, as former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, stated in response to President Obama’s list of sanctions of Russian top officials. The world of 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. We fully share Mr. Schwimmer’s view that it is a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin, not only President of Russian Railways but founder and president of World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations. Vladimir Yakunin has devoted since more than a decade a lot of efforts, time as well as activities, to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia. His efforts are appreciated by many people throughout the world, including the United States of America. We want Vladimir Yakunin to continue without interruption and hindrance his work for a better and peaceful world where dialogue prevails. We demand that President Yakunin enjoys free access to all United Nations Headquarters including New York as chairman of an NGO with consultative status in UN Economic and Social Council.
As I’ve noted previously, Yakunin’s 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. However, Yakunin’s enthusiasm for “dialogue” actually means rallying conservative forces against Western liberalism, styled as “neo-liberalism”: just last month he suggested that human rights is deployed in international relations to “de-sovereign states”, and in 2011 he gave a WPF speech in which he opined on the “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values” and explained that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”. Yakunin has also denounced anti-Putin protestors in Russia as having ” no connection with democracy” and as “a direct threat to the sovereignty of our country.”
By suggesting a clash between how “human rights” have been understood and “human values”, Yakunin is speaking generally, but he is also alluding to Russia’s increasingly authoritarian opposition to homosexuality. Yakunin has links with a number of US “family values” activists – most notably, Allan Carlson, Don Feder and Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families. But the Ukraine crisis has provoked dissension within the US conservative movement: Feder recently published a boiler-plate rant entitled “Putin Doesn’t Threaten Our National Security, Obama Does”, which prompted Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media to issue a rebuke that “conservatives opposed to Obama’s agenda do not have to ignore, excuse, or rationalize Russian aggression in Ukraine” (however, Kincaid managed to outdo Feder in the “most absurd article title” stakes, with “Putin Now Threatens Nuclear Attack”).
A further link between Yakunin and US conservatives is somewhat stranger: another co-founder of the World Public Forum is a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou. However, Papanicolaou is also the “Grand Master” of a chivalric order which had been known to meet in Rhodes around the same time as WPF events. The order’s Grand Chancellor is none other than “Jerry” Boykin, while a “Deputy Member of the Supreme Council” is the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner.
Last week, the New York Times profiled Yakunin as part of a piece on “Foes of America in Russia” (links added):
…there are important stakeholders who, faced with the threat of sanctions last week, have advocated that Russia cut itself off from the West. The most obvious among them is Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and one of Mr. Putin’s trusted friends, who in a recent interview with The Financial Times described the struggle against a “global financial oligarchy” and the “global domination that is being carried out by the U.S.” On Tuesday, Mr. Yakunin presented plans for a Soviet-style megaproject to develop transportation and infrastructure in Siberia, a move toward “an economics of a spiritual type,” he said, that would insulate Russia from the West’s alien values.