Nazarbayev Given “Dialogue of Civilizations” Prize Ahead of Elections

News from Kazakhstan:

The Dialogue of Civilizations International Prize was awarded to the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev for outstanding achievements in the preservation of historical and cultural heritage in Eurasia and for the implementation of the principles of dialogue of civilizations into practice.

The Prize was awarded to the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev by World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” Founding President Vladimir Yakunin during their official meeting in Almaty.

Yakunin runs Russia’s railways, and he is a close associate of Putin. By a happy coincidence, the award comes just a couple of weeks before Kazakhs go to the polls to decide whether they wish to re-elect Nazarbayev, who has been president since 1989.

But how exactly does Nazarbayev go about “preserving historical and cultural heritage”? Forum 18 gives us an idea in a 2008 report:

Kazakh officials have played down to Forum 18 News Service the significance of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s recent call to”suppress the activity of illegal religious movements.” He also claimed that “tens of thousands of different missionary organisations work in Kazakhstan. We don’t know their purposes and intentions, and we should not allow such unchecked activity.” Independent Kazakh observers are unsure how seriously to take the comments, but do not think that they are meant to start a campaign against religious communities. A state programme “On the provision of freedom of belief and enhancement of state-confessional relations” has been introduced by the Justice Minister because of “radical religious movements whose aim is total Islamisation or evangelisation.” Recently, Protestant churches, a Hare Krishna commune, Jehovah’s Witnesses and an independent mosque have faced threats to their property, cancellation of their registration and harassment of their members. Accusations of espionage and high treason have also been made.

I blogged on the destruction of a Hare Krishna temple in 2006; just a couple of months previously, Nazarbayev had hosted a “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions” inside a giant glass pyramid designed by Sir Norman Foster. The event saw various religious leaders from around the world making risible attempts to outdo each other in ludicrous praise of the autocrat.

Yakunin, meanwhile, doesn’t just hand out awards to foreign politicians up for election: he also indulges in a bit of secret funding. According to Baltic Business News:

Tuuli Koch, a reporter for Postimees daily, received the 2010 Bonnier Award, Estonia’s biggest annual prize for investigative journalism, writes Äripäev.

Koch won the prize for her story, published at the end of 2010, in which she revealed that Mayor of Tallinn Edgar Savisaar had secretly attempted to fund his political party and the building of a church in Savisaar’s electoral district in Lasnamäe through the deep pockets of Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian state-owned railway company.

It should be recalled that in 2007 Time described the Russian Orthodox Church as Russia’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”; earlier this month, the neo-Conservative George Weigel noted the Patriarch of Moscow’s congratulatory message to Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko following seriously flawed elections in December, and observed that this suggested “the unhappy possibility that the Russian Orthodox leadership is functioning as an arm of Russian state power, as it did from 1943 until 1991” (actually, Weigel’s observation is somewhat belated).

Yakunin is also Chairman of the “Committee of Trustees of the Center of the National Glory of Russia and St. Andrew’s Foundation”; this organisation initiated the World Public Forum, which operates at an international level. According to its website:

The Forum is headed by the Council of Co-chairmen, which consists of the WPF Founding President Vladimir Yakunin (Russia), the President of the «Kapur Surya Foundation» Jagdish Kapur (India) and the President of the «Titan Capital Corporation» Nicholas Papanicolaou(USA/Greece).

The International Coordinating Committee (ICC) is a consultative body of the Forum. The head of the ICC is former Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Walter Schwimmer. Among the ICC members are the President of the International Progress Organization Hans Koechler (Austria), Professor of the Notre Dame University Fred Dallmayr (USA), Director of Research Emeritus at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of France Henri Favre and many other prominent scholars and researchers of the current «dialogue of civilizations» agenda.

The Forum works with different public institutions and organizations all over the world. Among them are United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), International Association for Intercultural Education (IAIE), «Globalization for the Common Good Initiative» and other nongovernmental organizations, which form the WPF «Dialogue of Civilizations» network.

This information is slightly out of date; Kapur died in November.

However, there’s something very weird going on, which I’ve blogged a couple of times recently: while Papanicolaou commends inter-religious dialogue in Europe, in the USA he is a close associate of some virulently anti-Islam figures on the neo-Pentecostal Christian Right, in particular Rick Joyner and Jerry Boykin. Papanicolaou is a board member and active participant in Joyner’s Oak Initiative, and its associated Oak Leaves Publishing has just published book by Papanicolaou called Islam vs the United States. A branch of the Oak Initiative held an anti-Islam event in Texas in November, with Boykin and Kamal Saleem.

In turn, Joyner and some associates were invited to the WPF in 2009 to take part in a panel on “Tradition and Modernization”: according to the schedule, Joyner, “Bishop Gregory Holly”, Bob Weiner, and Louis Sheldon shared the programme with various mainline religious figures and academics. “Holly” is actually Archbishop Gregory Holley, who has a website here; he is ordained into a group called “Independent Christian Churches International. Weiner was the man behind the authoritarian Maranatha Ministries of the 1980s; this group collapsed amid recriminations at the end of the decade, although some of the figures associated with it have since re-emerged as a group of churches called Every Nation (blogged by me herehere, and here; Pastor Terry Jones was also previously associated with Maranatha). Louis P. Sheldon heads the Traditional Values Coalition, which is known for anti-gay activism.

This is all rather peculiar: the WPF’s urbane discussion forum events and Joyner’s exclusivist and anti-Islam (and anti-intellectual, while we’re at it) form of neo-Pentecostal fundamentalism are completely  incompatible, yet there’s some significant cross-over going on.

But the weirdness goes deeper: as I blogged a few days ago, Papanicolaou is “Grand Master” of a chivalric group called “the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order” (“OSJ” for short, and not to be confused with the more famous Roman Catholic order). Boykin is the “Grand Chancellor”, Joyner is a “Deputy Member” of the Supreme Council, and Holley is “Grand Prelate” of the Religious Tribunal. Joyner’s website used to carry an article boasting that he had been asked to join because of “a spiritual renewal that was taking place in the OSJ”, and that “some of this had come about because of my books which were being read by the knights.” The article also made the bizarre claim that his involvement “began a series of events that made Kurt Waldheim a believer as well”.

Just a few days ago, the Moscow Times mocked the WPF for having given an award to the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2004.