The International Meeting entitled “ADDRESSING THE HUMANITARIAN CHALLENGES OF A EURO-MEDITERRANEAN PARTNERSHIP,” which was organised by the “Nizami Ganjavi International Center” (NGIC), in collaboration with the ‘Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation,” held on 22 November 2017 in the Amphitheatre of the Acropolis Museum.

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis warmly welcomed the speakers, who came from various parts of the world to present their experiences, views, and visions at the International Meeting, noting, among other things: “It is an immense honour for our Foundation to host in Athens the Thirteenth High Level Meeting of the «Nizami Ganjavi International Center», the organization that has been distinguished for its initiatives and activities on the international co-operation and dialogue towards the most important issues of our times. It is the second time, since 2014, that we are hosting this Meeting in Athens and I feel grateful for the opportunity that we are given to organize this exceptional gathering of so many prominent personalities and leaders who have played a significant role to many chapters of the world and the European history… The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership must target peace and stability for the people in the Mediterranean. Our region has been the birthplace of many civilizations, but also suffers from many challenges such as conflict, migration, and climate change… More than ever before, we need to be vigilant towards the crisis in the Mediterranean region…”.

This was followed by a speech by the President of Latvia (1999-2007) and NGIC President, Ms. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who spoke about the purpose of the Meeting, stressing, among other things:

  • “War and peace have been succeeding each other in these shores for as long a history as we can remember.”
  • “Europe has been a bastion of peace and security since WWII, and a beacon of hope who cannot rely on their government. It is a short time in which we have achieved a great deal.”
  • “The citizens of Greece have borne a heavy burden of responsibility, supporting those who have arrived at their shores.”
  • “We must devote our energy, thoughts and efforts to overcoming the challenges of our world. There is no problem that human ingenuity cannot find a solution for.”

Subsequently, Mrs Sissy Pavlopoulou, the spouse of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mrs Andri Anastasiades, the spouse of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs Mr Georgios Katrougalos, the Head of Department of Public and Political Issues, Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan Republic, Mr Ali Hasanov, and the President of the Acropolis Museum, Mr Dimitris Pantermalis, extended their welcome.

Sissy Pavlopoulou: “Our common sea has been a crossroads for cultures for centuries; a cradle of democracy. But our is also a region familiar with conflict. Peace, democracy and dignity are currently tested in our shores. Nobody has the right to remain indifferent in the face of these challenges.”

Andri Anastisiadis: “We are called upon to focus our efforts to try and bring prosperity to all the countries in the Mediterranean and create the conditions for economic growth and development. We must work to eliminate inequalities, marginalisation, and injustice.”
George Katrougalos: “Globalisation is not producing just winners, but also losers… We are trying to address the root causes of the political and economic crisis, and working towards a much fairer international system. We need a better balance of the social and economic dimensions of European integration. Europe must establish policies of cooperation, not confrontation.”
Professor Dimitris Pantermalis :“The art in this museum tells the History of our world. Years of glory and years of war, fighting, and calamity. It has survived for centuries and we can admire them here today. Let that be the message we give to the world, a message for the resilience of civilisations.”

The opening ceremony of the International Meeting ended with a speech by the President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mr Mladen Ivanic, who pointed out: 

  • “In my country, we can only make decisions if we agree.”
  • “A partnership requires at least two players with a common view, and with equal power. I do not believe we have that in our region.”
  • “The precondition to solving problems is being honest. For the next two days, let us be honest so we can chart the way forward.”

The opening ceremony for the meeting was moderated by the former Vice President of the European Parliament and BoD Member of the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” Mrs Rodi Kratsa, who, summing up the views presented by the speakers, said that we must renew cooperation between North and South, and that this need will become even more evident during the proceedings of the meeting.

The proceedings of the Meeting continued with the first panel of speakers, who discussed: “The Refugee and Immigration issue, humanitarian challenge number one”.

Speakers included the former Prime Minister of Hungary (2010-2012) Peter Medgyessy, Turkish former Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin (1991-94), the former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (2007-2015), Noeleen Heyzer, the Mayor of Piraeus, Yiannis Moralis, and the Chairman of the “European Network Against Racism,” Βenedetto Zacchiroli, while the debate was moderated by the former Prime Minister of Slovakia (2010-2012) Iveta Radicova.

In their speeches, they referred to the fact that new models of social conflict have been created as a result of the economic crisis, the refugee and immigration issue, and terrorism. Problems which in turn lead to political instability, unpredictable behaviour, a lack of confidence on the part of citizens, etc., which in turn pose a threat to the rule of law and human dignity.

“We live in an age in which the world is in constant motion, we live in an age of human mobility, and the future of this world seems bleak” was a phrase echoed by most speakers, and they agreed that “only common solutions and answers arising from frank dialogue and cooperation will allow us to deal with the humanitarian challenges. Without the truth, we cannot find solutions. Nor can we do this on our own. The solutions must be global”.

It was noted that the approach to the refugee issue must be global, and that we need to change social stereotypes that hinder the integration of refugees and immigrants, and legal immigration must replace illegal immigration through inter-state and legal agreements.

Hikmet Cetin:
  • “We are living in a critical moment. A short-term response, focusing solely on security, will never achieve deep rooted solutions.”
  • “We must eliminate the negative prejudices against migrants that prevent them from contributing to society, and turn migration into an opportunity.”
Noeleen Heyzer:
  • “Migration is not a humanitarian crisis in itself. The number one challenge of our time is, in fact, to end the conflicts that are creating forced migration and displacement.”
  • “Our inability to end conflict has led to the largest number of displaced people since the Second World War.”
  • “Global powers should transition from a crisis response to migration to real development approaches.”
  • “Media attention is so short-lived that I fear the Rohingya crisis will fall out of the agenda if we do not address it urgently.”
Yannis Moralis:
  • “Instability knows no borders. It forces millions of people to leave their homes.”
  • “The most serious crisis Europe is facing is a crisis of values and solidarity. Uncertainty and the unknown have turned us inwards, and made us build walls and revert to nationalism.”
  • “The issue of migration will not be solved until we stop focusing on our own issues and begin paying attention to our common challenges.”
Peter Medgyessy:
  • “The European Union must move into action, and liquidate the causes of mass migration. This includes promoting agreement on a common view on migration, creating a joint military force, joint intelligence services, fortifying borders, and accelerating repatriation.”
  • “Europe needs a new Schuman plan that allows us to reimagine our common future.”
Benedetto Zacchiroli:
  • “Citizens are the first to tackle the impact of migration. When migrants arrive, they arrive to a school, a classroom. They are close to society. It is cities and their citizens that manage the responsibility to host migrants.”
  • “The world is becoming one where we have two sides that are completely out of touch: citizens living in the local reality and politicians increasingly disconnected with that reality. We must devise clear channels of communication for both, up and down, to connect and work together.”
  • “In every family, there are two great concerns: the economy, and its own behaviour towards its environment. The EU is our family, and we must balance the two, economy and values, adequately.”

The proceedings of the first day of the International meeting “ADDRESSING THE HUMANITARIAN CHALLENGES OF A EURO-MEDITERRANEAN PARTNERSHIP” was attended by representatives of the political, diplomatic, and academic world, as well as representatives of civil society and the media.

The Meeting’s proceedings continued the next day, November 23, at Zappeion Hall

The first panel of speakers dealt with the following subject: “Creating humanitarian societies in the 21st century through the promotion of multi-cultural dialogue and a culture of peace, a challenge for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation”.

The panellists were Bulgarian former President (1997-2002) Petar Stoyanov, the former Prime Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina (2001-2002) Zlatko Lagumdzija, Romanian former President Emil Constantinescu (1996-2000), and the former President of Croatia (2010-2015), Ivo Josipovic, and the debate was moderated by Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Second President of NGIC and former Vice-President of the World Bank (1992-2000).

Petar Stoyanov:
  • “The clash of civilisations might only be spared if people West and East join in a march towards a future that is based on understanding.”
  • “Dialogue between people and cultures must be the key priority for global powers, and it must be the vehicle for a new Europe.”
Zlatko Lagumdzija:
  • “It’s time we look to the future, keeping in mind our past is not something we can change, but something we can learn from.”
  • “Without promoting multiple cultures and the dialogue between them, we stand no chance for the future. And we must do so not with just our heart, but with our head too.”
Emil Constantinescu:
  • “A culture of peace is based in a new type of relationship between States – and among peoples. Peace cannot be forced, but must arise from the depth of millions of people’s consciences.”
  • “The biggest mistakes in political History have been caused by a lack of understanding between people – or by people who did not want to understand the motivations of the other. Multiculturalism enlarges the space for peace.”
Ivo Josipovic:
  • “One of the main tasks of the European Commission should be to build a common European identity, based on tolerance, understanding and multiculturalism. A European identity requires not only laws, but values.”
  • “Good relations are never a finished job. Multiculturalism is like a very beautiful, very sensitive garden. We must take care of it continuously.”
  • “There is no future for Europe or the Mediterranean, or even humanity, if we do not do everything in our hand to recognise all cultures and peoples.”
Closing Remarks:
Hikmet Cetin: “We have forgotten about ideology, the market, left and right. Everything we talk about is culture; populism is taking over, and there is no leadership to stand up against that.”
Noeleen Heyzer :“Culture is not something that is fixed; it changes constantly, and it’s related to power. Power to decide what is acceptable.”
 Ismail Serageldin:
  • “When we talk about multiculturalism, we ought to add an overarching culture: the culture of peace.”
  • “Any objective analysis would show us there is a huge problem in the Muslim world. The vast number of victims of terrorism are Muslims; so are most people fighting terrorism. There is a storm going on in the Muslim world, and the spray touches the Western world.”
  • “Those of us who believe in multiculturalism must find new ways to engage with the public, or we risk talking to ourselves over and over without ever reaching out.”

The second panel of speakers discussed the following topic: “The future of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and its importance to Peace and Development – the responsibilities of Europe and partner-states – A call for action”.

Panellists included Albanian former President (2012-2017) Bujar Nishani, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon (2005-2008), Bulgarian former President (2012-2017) Rosen Plevneliev, and Serbian former President Boris Tadic (2004-2012), while the debate was moderated by Kateryna Yushechenko, spouse of the former President of Ukraine (2005-2010).

Bujar Nishani:
  • “We live at a crossroads between East and West. The challenges of our region are not just our region’s, not even Europe’s, but a threat to democratic values and development worldwide.”
  • “Whatever the future holds for use depends on the hand of human beings. It is up to us to decide whether we want to make it a bright or a dark future.”
Rosen Plevneliev:
  • “There is no contradiction between keeping borders safe and sticking to human rights.”
  • “Whatever we speak today [at this meeting], we will make sure it is continued and brings about concrete results.”
Boris Tadic : “We are living in an unpredictable world. We have to react faster, be more engaged, more proactive than before. And in this unpredictable world, Europe is becoming an introvert.

Finally, the conclusions of the meeting were presented by the former President of Latvia (1999-2007) and NGIC President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Second President of the NGIC and former Vice-President of the World Bank (1992-2000), and the former Foreign Minister of Egypt (1991-2001) and Secretary-General of the Arab League (2001-2011).

Vaira Vike-Freiberga:
  • “When another human being is in distress, we react and do something about it, to the best of our abilities, and with dignity, compassion, and unsparing efforts. That is humanitarian intervention.”
  • “If international institutions are not up to the challenge of maintaining international law, those of us who believe in a just world must continue working and say “not at my doorstep” to injustice.”
  • “Law is a convention that human beings have adopted. Just having law is not enough: it must be just, fair, and good law.”
Ismail Serageldin:
  • “The power of ideas starts small. It begins with meetings of people committed to certain values, who want to think more profoundly and beyond one specific moment in time.”
Amre Moussa:
  • “Debating issues is no longer enough. We must come up with recommendations, solutions, and carry them to where they can make a difference, both to global powers and to civil society.”

The closing speech of the meeting was delivered by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, who said, among other things: “As the Mediterranean Sea is located at the crossroads of North-South and East-West, and was the cradle of numerous cultures that flourished from ancient times, it is up to us to constitute a starting point for vital new initiatives for the peace and prosperity of our peoples. As Aristotle, the great ancient Greek philosopher, said: “Well begun is half done,” so did we make a beginning, these two days, which is just as important as continuing our objectives. I am very pleased and optimistic about the fact that we are closing this meeting having strengthened our friendship and cooperation, as well as our determination. We are determined to continue this battle, which essentially corresponds to the content and objectives of both our institutions.”

The closing ceremony of the 13th “Nizami Ganjavi International Center” International Meeting was moderated by the former Vice President of the European Parliament, Mrs Rodi Kratsa, who highlighted its great importance and its success, since, as she said, personalities gathered at this meeting who are distinguished for their stature and their knowledge of the very pressing topic of the Meeting.