Interview of Minister Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan Аida Balayeva with “London Post”

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By Raza Syed

London Post. What are some notable achievements or contributions that the Congress has made during its almost 20-year history?

Minister:At every juncture, the Congress has introduced novel ideas and initiatives, culminating in the summit’s final documents – Declarations and Appeals directed to the citizens, peoples, and governments worldwide. These initiatives not only invigorate and accelerate global intercivilizational and interreligious dialogue but also underscore the Congress’s foundational significance. Each of the seven Congresses conducted is unique and relevant. The 2022 Congress, in particular, stands out. The Declaration adopted as a result of it, without a doubt, elevated the forum, as it was focused on the most acute political problems of the modern world. The Declaration, consisting of 35 points, encapsulates core tenets, stating that the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions should continue with its commitment to peace and dialogue between religions, cultures and civilizations. The documents of the Congress are unique in that the religious leaders themselves participated in their formulation. By adopting the documents of the Congress, religious figures undertake a moral obligation to commit to facilitating their realization. All the main documents were promptly disseminated to the UN, OSCE, and other international bodies.

It’s worth highlighting that the propositions of religious leaders offer a sustainable pathway to amplify and advocate intercivilizational and interreligious dialogue’s priorities, furthering global peace, harmony, stability, and security.

LP.How does the regular convening of the Congress contribute to bringing different religions closer together and fostering peace and respect in society?

Minister: Regularly convening the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions undoubtedly contributes to the rapprochement of different religions and strengthens peace and respect in society. In an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation, representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions collectively discuss the most pressing issues of our time, devise strategies for fostering interfaith dialogue, spearhead various peacemaking initiatives to end conflicts in different parts of the world, and call for mutual trust, kindness, and peace. Humanity needs solidarity and the Congress plays a pivotal role in fortifying peace, harmony, and a robust international security framework.

Kazakhstan exemplifies a profound yet straightforward truth to the world: it is possible to live in harmony, without conflicts, and it is possible and necessary to resolve differences through dialogue. Unity can be achieved while preserving various beliefs and multi-confessional diversity.

  1. President Tokayev mentions the rich cultural and religious diversity in Kazakhstan. How has this diversity influenced the country’s approach to interfaith dialogue and cooperation?

Minister: At the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev highlighted that the third decade of the 21st century will be remembered as a time when “the world seems to have entered a new period of growing geopolitical confrontation. The long-established international system based on order and responsibility is giving way to a new, more chaotic and unpredictable international system”. One of the reasons for the proliferation of global crises is the erosion of spiritual and moral values.

A quick look at history reveals that Kazakhstan stands out as a distinctive nation, having welcomed and integrated various ethnicities and religious groups within its borders.

Historically, our country has been at the intersection of trade routes, migration flows, economic and cultural ties, and has fostered active inter-ethnic, inter-religious and inter-confessional interaction. It has been a bridge connecting Asia and Europe, West and East.

The people of Kazakhstan have absorbed the traditions of different civilizations and religions, including the spirit of tolerance and openness. Therefore, the principle of “unity in diversity” is fundamental for us. Currently, representatives of more than 130 ethnic groups live in harmony and accord in Kazakhstan, and approximately 4,000 religious associations representing 18 confessions are present in our country. This diversity is our invaluable strength and asset.

Thanks to these foundations, modern Kazakh society is characterized by its rich multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural way of life, which made it possible to form the Kazakh model of social harmony.

I would like to emphasize that strengthening unity, consolidation, and dialogue are key priorities for Kazakhstan, in both domestic and foreign policy. The state and its designated agencies continually strive to uphold a culture of neighborliness, mutual understanding, and respect across various ethnicities and confessions. They also work tirelessly to counteract xenophobia and discrimination based on religion or ethnicity. These principles are enshrined in Kazakhstan’s Constitution.

LP.Can you provide examples of how Kazakhstan’s policy of tolerance and openness has positively impacted social harmony and international relations?

Minister:With its unique ethnic and confessional diversity, Kazakhstan has preserved inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace throughout its history and maintained a balance of interests of various communities. Followers of Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, Protestantism, Judaism, Buddhism, and other faiths coexist harmoniously with Muslims. This mutual respect and understanding have been pivotal in reinforcing our unity, underpinning the stability of our nation, and promoting its sustained growth.  Internationally, Kazakhstan is recognized for its proactive role in the global anti-nuclear movement. We set a precedent by voluntarily relinquishing a vast nuclear arsenal and shutting down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. We’ve consistently urged other nations, particularly in Central Asia and the Middle East, to emulate our lead. This anti-nuclear stance is emblematic of our international identity. Furthermore, we’ve played a crucial role in global peace initiatives. Kazakhstan has offered venues for peace discussions regarding the Syrian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program. We’ve championed intercultural and interfaith dialogue, especially during our tenure as chair of both the OSCE and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In December 2010, Kazakhstan hosted the OSCE Summit, which adopted the Astana Declaration. In 2011, Astana hosted the 38th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We’re also proud of our contributions, such as the UN’s proclamation of 2010 as the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, among others. All these initiatives underscore our unwavering dedication to lasting peace, global security, and the continued advancement of humanity.

LP. In what ways does the Congress help Kazakhstan strengthen its position as a global center for inter-civilizational, interreligious, and interfaith dialogue?

Minister:We are all witnesses to the fact that today the world is becoming fragile in the face of interfaith conflicts. The events of recent years have once again clearly demonstrated that stability in the world depends in no small measure on interfaith dynamics.

The Congress, acknowledged by top international forums, has championed dialogue among civilizations and religions. The successful execution of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions has elevated our secular state’s global standing, showcasing our capacity to address pressing challenges of our times.

This Congress, a hallmark contribution from Kazakhstan, has cemented its place in global efforts to foster interfaith dialogue and boost mutual understanding and cooperation, both domestically and internationally.

LP.How does Kazakhstan plan to promote the ideas and initiatives of the Congress on a global scale, and what efforts are made to engage foreign politicians, experts, and journalists in this dialogue?

Minister: The influence and relevance of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions are growing yearly. The rising global interest in participating in the Congress speaks volumes.  In 2003, the First Congress saw 17 delegations from 13 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. By 2022, the Seventh Congress boasted participation from over 100 delegations spanning 50 countries. This diverse group includes religious figures, politicians, experts, representatives of international organizations, diplomats, volunteers, and international media journalists.

We all have one common goal – the development of dialogue and collaboration to strengthen peace and stability, and to build a harmonious world.

LP.Could you share specific instances where leaders of the world and traditional religions, as well as prominent political figures, have played a role in achieving long-term stability through the Congress?

Minister: Speaking about specific examples, I would like to note that the launch of the Congress was supported by influential politicians from all over the world – George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Jian Zemin, Nelson Mandela, Giscard d’Estaing, Kofi Annan, as well as global spiritual and religious leaders, international organizations, and religious associations.

Voices from academia, politics, and leading international organizations like the UN, OSCE, and UNESCO also showed interest in this dialogue platform.

The VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions stands as a testament to the weight and influence of this platform in fostering inter-religious dialogue. Its success can be gauged by the prominent figures who attended, representing a multitude of religious backgrounds, geographic regions, and cultures. They included Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, Supreme Imam of the Islamic University “Al-Azhar”, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb; Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims Administration, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade; Secretary General of the World Islamic League, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim al-Isa; Patriarch Theophilus III of Jerusalem; Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk; Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan; Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, David Lau; Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef; as well as delegations from leading religious and international organizations from the United States, Europe, and Asia.

It’s important to note that the VII Congress occurred during a crucial moment in history. Amid the increasing geostrategic challenges of the post-pandemic era, there was a pressing need to forge new strategies to enhance global inter-civilizational dialogue and trust. The speeches delivered by religious leaders and esteemed political figures at the Congress instilled hope and faith in millions worldwide.

LP.What future goals and objectives does Kazakhstan have for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in furthering its mission of promoting interfaith harmony and global peace?

Minister: Time has shown that the strengthening internal political stability, interethnic and interfaith harmony, overcoming all kinds of inequality—which can lead to national upheavals and global crises—are vital elements of Kazakhstan’s long-term strategy.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in his address at the VII Congress, very clearly outlined the goals and tasks that Kazakhstan envisions for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. This is to further its mission of advancing interfaith harmony and global peace. He proposed an initiative to adopt the Concept for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions for 2023 – 2033, including specific steps and stages to further strengthen the influence of the Congress. He stated: “Kazakhstan, in accordance with the priorities of its domestic and foreign policy, will fully support the consistent activity of the Congress. Today, it is more important than ever to realize the peacemaking potential of religions, to unite the efforts of spiritual authorities to achieve long-term stability. All religions are based on humanistic ideals, recognition of the supreme value of human life, aspiration for peace and creation. It is necessary for these fundamental principles to be embodied not only in the spiritual sphere, but also in the socio-economic development of states and international politics”.

The key task is to ignite the passion of contemporary religious leaders for dialogue, leveraging their vast capabilities and resources to address the pressing political, environmental, and spiritual challenges facing humanity.

During the XXI meeting of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions it is planned to discuss and adopt the Concept of the Congress.

Our common task is to consistently promote the conceptual provisions of this document in order to further strengthen the influence of the forum, to promote the decisions of the Congress at the international level, as well as to find ways to achieve balance and reconcile the disparities of today’s world for the benefit of all.

Thank your very much.