Current realities make it obvious that despite the hopes of humankind, the world of the 21st century has not become safer. In this century international tensions caused by geopolitical confrontation between major powers have yet again heightened, the threat of terrorism and extremism has grown and global economic, social and environmental problems have aggravated. Along with the danger of a revival of the Cold War, a matter of particular concern is increased violence motivated by religious and ethnic intolerance which threatens to turn into a full-scale clash of civilisations. Crisis of the Yalta-Potsdam system of the world order has become increasingly evident, and the very foundation of international law has been seriously weakened.
That is why unity of political will and solidarity of efforts is strongly required from the world community of nations in order to strengthen international security and ensure the sustainable development of all mankind. Current situation has significantly increased the need for a global dialogue to find efficient solutions to the contemporary problems, including through inter-cultural, inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation. Kazakhstan, the initiator of the global interactive forum G-Global, believes that every state, regardless of the size of its territory, population or type of economic and political system, can make tangible contribution to such a dialogue.
Our country actively promotes the values of peace, harmony and cooperation at the international level, participating in the work of major international organisations, developing constructive cooperation on a bilateral basis, promoting the initiative to convene the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Using the potential of our chairmanship in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE) in 2010, Kazakhstan put the promotion of tolerance and intercultural dialogue in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space at the heart of the OSCE agenda. The course towards the expansion of inter-civilisational dialogue between Muslim and Western countries was continued within the framework of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2011-2012.
Kazakhstan made an important input in the development of the global intercultural dialogue while putting forward proposals for the United Nations to hold the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010, and an International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures from 2013 to 2022.
Kazakhstan regards the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to hold the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Astana as an important item on the international agenda. Since 2003, four congresses have taken place in the capital of our country. Participants of the congresses have included the heads of the largest religious denominations of the world, well-known politicians and representatives of international organisations.
The fifth congress will be held June 10-11. This time, the spiritual forum is to be dedicated to the dialogue of religious leaders and politicians in the name of peace and development. This issue is of particular relevance in the context of the alarming events in the modern world. Kazakhstan, as the host country of the forum, believes religious leaders can make a valuable contribution to the solution of complex political problems in close cooperation with leading politicians.
Kazakhstan’s peace-loving efforts in the international arena are, in a sense, the extension of its internal policies directed at ensuring unity, peace and harmony in our society. Our head of state rightly believes that internal political stability is a prerequisite for the successful continuation of reforms.
Kazakhstan, where the population reaches 17 million, is a home to 130 nationalities practicing different religions. We are the citizens of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state and are proud of peace and harmony in our society. Unity in diversity is our credo that has passed the test of time. Kazakh ethnic and religious tolerance has become an important factor in ensuring stability and security in the vast territory of the Eurasian continent.
Kazakhstan’s Constitution is a solid legal basis for the harmony of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the country, guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, religion or social status. The constitution provides punishment for actions aimed at undermining the stability and harmony in the country.
The state pays great attention to the preservation and development of all ethnic groups. There are 800 national cultural centres and ethno-cultural associations, as well as 3,500 religious associations active in Kazakhstan. In addition to Kazakh and Russian theatres, there are four other ethnic theatres. The country now has 75 schools teaching in the Uzbek, Uighur and Tajik languages. The languages of 22 ethnic groups are also being taught. There are more than 300 news media outlets publishing in 11 languages. The state bodies, along with Kazakh which is the state language, officially use Russian which completely eliminates the problems of inter-lingual communications.
The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan which was established in 1995 on the initiative of President Nazarbayev and which includes representatives from all major ethnic groups of the country is a form of involvement of ethnic groups in the process of governance unique to the post-Soviet space.
Over 20 years of its existence, the assembly has grown from a consultative to a constitutional body. It makes a significant contribution to the stability and inter-ethnic harmony of our country. The assembly ensures representation of ethnic groups in the Kazakh Parliament, where it has an independent electoral quota of nine members. Today, the parliamentary group of the assembly in the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) includes 21 deputies representing all the parliamentary parties.
There are 1,035 CouncilsofPublic Accordunder the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan that act as advisory bodies in local state bodies and work forces of large enterprises. Departments of the assembly have been opened at 11 universities of the country. Their task is to educate the younger generation in the spirit of ethnic and religious tolerance which is important considering continuous civilisational conflicts in many parts of the world.
Tolerance, mutual understanding and accord have become a prerequisite for building sustainable statehood and ensuring social stability, both in our country and abroad. Kazakhstan’s experience has an international dimension, as it has proven its effectiveness as a factor of ensuring security. Indeed, we have been able to show that polyethnicity and different religious affiliations are not a risk factor, but rather an advantage, contributing to the mutual enrichment of cultures, useful exchange of knowledge, as well as increase of our country’s competitiveness at the global level. Former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan said: “Kazakhstan can serve as a perfect example of different ethnic groups coexisting peacefully in a country. Ethnic diversity is regarded as a blessing instead of a calamity here.”
President Nazarbayev is successfully pursuing a policy of strengthening peace and harmony inside the country and developing constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation with all interested states. This balanced policy based on a fair assessment of the legitimate interests of all nations has already brought many advantages. Kazakhstan has been recognised by the international community as a respected partner that is treating its international obligations with utmost responsibility. Not accidentally, the OSCE summit, which adopted the Declaration Towards a Security Community, was held in Astana in 2010 after an 11-year break.
The upcoming fifth Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will no doubt make a significant contribution to the development of a global dialogue for the sake of peace and harmony. Kazakhstan hopes for collaboration, mutual understanding and cooperation with all religious leaders and politicians to fulfil these noble missions.
The author is Chairman of the Senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Head of the Secretariat of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.