Asia-Europe People’s Forum: An Eyewitness Account

As the proverb goes, “the first impressions are the most lasting.”

For the first time this year, representatives of Kazakhstan’s civil society attended the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF).

1356579604_sabirovFor 20 years now, this forum of nongovernmental organisations has been organised on the eve of the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM). The 10th AEPF in Milan on Oct. 9-12 brought together more than 150 civil society activists from across two continents. Despite its official-sounding name and huge number of guests, it was very easy to register for the event. A registration fee of 20 euros and confirmation of my name (without even mentioning the name of your NGO) and country on a badge gave me access to the forum.

An ordinary room, simple plastic chairs, a table covered with a cloth, a microphone and equipment that constantly went haywire convinced me even more that major summits can be carried out on a global scale in very simple and natural ways.

There was only one working language at the forum, English, but since the event took place in Italy, translation was available from Italian into English, which, I guess, is the correct thing to do.

The programme and working sections were devoted to the most urgent challenges faced by the international community: peace and security in Asia and Europe, nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, democracy and human rights, social security for all and the right to work, waste disposal and more.

Unable to grasp such immense topics, I had to choose something specific. I chose two thematic sessions on weapons of mass destruction and on human rights and democracy.

I must say, the atmosphere at the event itself was friendly and sometimes even homey. Participants greeted each other warmly and kindly, got acquainted and discussed pressing issues and various problems. In the beginning, I was approached by many people who simply held out their hands and introduced themselves and their country. At first, I felt ill at ease, as we have lost the habit of such simple communication. But in a few moments these feelings passed, and I started feeling comfortable and introduced myself with great pleasure in the same way.

The plenary sessions were held in the same style. Nobody hurried, speakers contributed on equal terms, asking questions of the audience and delivering speeches without reading them. My personal experience of participation in international events allowed me to evaluate all aspects of the forum calmly and without haste. Speakers, in fact, were talking about well-known and well-understood things. Much was already known to me, and it was not necessary to write anything down, though the audience took careful notes during the speeches.

I would like to specifically highlight a plenary meeting devoted to “Peace and Security in Asia and Europe.” It is no secret that today numerous conflicts affect the lives of people in Asia and Europe. These conflicts, in turn, affect the territory and borders of many countries, lead to ethnic tensions and migration and eventually result in terrorism. Forum participants tried to find out which is more important, a policy of war or a strategy of peace? How long can we increase military budgets at a time when the whole world is struggling economically? A separate report was devoted to the policy of disarmament and conflict prevention in Asia and Europe, as well as unresolved frozen conflicts.

It was impressive to see how civil society organisations from different countries can discuss and draw up possible solutions (sometimes even controversial ones) to the toughest crises in our world.

For example, in a thematic session on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, a representative of an NGO from India expressed his opinion on how to avoid conflict between India and Pakistan, while an NGO representative from South Korea explained the situation between his country and North Korea. Three hours passed in the blink of an eye. Given the floor first at the beginning of the section, I spoke as a representative of a Kazakh NGO about Kazakhstan’s promotion of a nuclear-weapons-free world, the ATOM Project, the collection of signatures on the project’s website and that more than 95,000 people have already signed its online petition. Participants of the session were surprised and pleased to learn about the noble initiative. I hope at the next forum, we will be able to organise a special session on Kazakhstan’s disarmament policy.

Over recent years, we’ve gotten used to organising such large-scale events with a great number of participants, including many notables and celebrities. But we should remember that events of this kind are organised not so much for a good venue and beautiful badges, but for making some substantial contribution.

The 10thAsia-Europe People’s Forum in Milan was truly a forum by the people and for the people.

The author is president of the Internet Association of Kazakhstan

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