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Monday, July 25, 2016
Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Terra Scientia Youth Educational Forum July 22, 2016
22 July 201619:04
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the Terra Scientia Youth Educational Forum on Klyazma River, Vladimir Region, July 22, 2016
Thank you for inviting me. This was my second invitation to the Terra Scientia forum. I see that the majority of people here are experts on ethnic and inter ethnic relations, an issue that is gaining prominence in global politics. Nearly all crises on the international agenda are concerned with inter ethnic or religious differences. We must take this into account in our daily politics.
The developments in the Middle East and North Africa are a direct result of an incompetent and unprofessional treatment of the situation, a trend that is becoming widespread. The objective development of a polycentric world order, with more than one centre of power and influence, is coming into conflict with the desires of the Western countries, which set the tone in international relations for centuries, to preserve their domination at all costs and by all means. Of course, no one has succeeded in attaining this goal, as you had to negotiate the terms rather than simply dictate your will even in the colonial period. This has become even more difficult to do now, when the bipolar system of Soviet-US confrontation has been laid to rest along with the Warsaw Treaty Organisation and ideological differences, and when Europe and the United States have new economic rivals – the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil, as well as the African continent with its rich natural resources. We see the rise of new centres of economic growth and financial influence, and economic might and financial influence provide the basis for political influence.
Unfortunately, our Western partners, seeking to preserve their domination, acted like a bull in a china shop. They overthrew the government in Iraq, which was invaded by US and NATO forces under a false pretext. Pretending to search for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, they overthrew the Iraqi president, which was unwise even though he was a highly authoritarian ruler. There was no terrorism or ISIS [in the region] at the time. ISIS developed only after the United States invaded Iraq. As former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who supported US President Bush in the intervention of Iraq, recently admitted, the 2003 invasion of Iraq played a part in the rise of the Islamic State.
One reason for the US intervention in Iraq was a primitive desire to change everything to its liking. They ousted the Sunni, the Sunni Muslim minority who ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and turned authority over to the Shia majority. Sunnis were fired from the army, the security service, police and other law enforcement agencies of importance. They were left without jobs, and the majority of them were weapons-trained people who had no other skills. Now the core of ISIS is comprised of former Iraqi military personnel who have little in common with the ideology of Islamism, radicalism or extremism. They were hired by those who manipulate public opinion and appeal to religious feelings and the slogan of restoring justice. Arab countries have been victimized because Western civilization does not respect their interests and because Arab societies are plagued by poverty, backwardness and lack of access to education. Young people succumb to these slogans and are recruited to terrorist groups or even to wear suicide bomber belts.
This is a good example of how complete disregard for the ethnic, religious and interfaith composition of the population in Iraq led to a fatal mistake. Although ruled by an authoritarian leader, Iraq was nevertheless a stable and predictable country, whereas the suspicion that it had weapons of mass destruction, something that could have been settled peacefully, has pushed Iraq to the edge of collapse. We’ve been working to help Iraqi society root out the threat of terrorism and restore unity. The path to this goal lies through inter ethnic dialogue, so that the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, who constitute ethnic diversity in Iraq, feel comfortable.
A similar situation was created in Syria, where the terrorist international comprised of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and many other groups, which our Western partners regard as acceptable opposition and which regularly team up with al-Nusra to conduct joint operations, were played off against the legitimate government. There are many examples like this. We can discuss them in more detail later, if you want.
The war that is being waged in the region has acquired a religious dimension. Bashar al-Assad is not part of Syria’s Sunni majority who traditionally did not wield power in the country. Attempts are being made to use a Sunni-Shia split to overthrow undesirable governments. The rights of minority and majority groups are very important, but it is not through war or the overthrow of a Sunni or Shia regime that the issue should be settled. Shias were brought to power in Iraq in order to overthrow Sunni rule, and they are trying to bring Sunnis to power in Syria in order to overthrow President al-Assad.
Inter ethnic problems – and I’m sure there are many experts here who know much more about this – can only be settled through dialogue and accord. Syria is not only a Muslim country that consists entirely of Sunnis and Shias. It is also the cradle of Christianity. In fact, the Middle East is the cradle of Christian religion, a place where three global religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity – coexisted peacefully for thousands of years. The current developments threaten to disrupt the balance that was maintained despite bloody wars and crusades. If our enlightened age becomes witness to the destruction of this balance, it will be a disgrace for all of us.
The number of Christians is rapidly decreasing. They have been decimated in Syria and Iraq. This trend must be reversed. We have been working with our colleagues, including the Vatican, to draw attention to the unacceptability of anti-Christian sentiment. The OSCE has decided to establish special rapporteurs on Christianophobia, Islamophobia and Judeophobia. Many problems in the modern world can only be settled through an unbiased attitude towards religions and ethnic groups.
The migration crisis in Europe is a new version of the same problem. Migrants try to adapt to new societies, but they are not succeeding. When the first groups of labour migrants entered Western Europe before refugees fleeing conflicts in their countries, the Western countries tried to use the US “melting pot” concept where different people can live together, intermarry, have children and become a single nation. But this concept has failed in Europe. By the way, the concept also regularly fails in the United States. The recent police attacks on African Americans and response attacks on police are a serious problem, as US President Barack Obama said publicly. Americans will have to come to grips with this new reality. The melting pot theory has failed in Europe too. Migrants have mostly settled in separate communities and married each other: there have been few mixed marriages. Next, Europeans applied the policy of multiculturalism, under which migrants live in their communities and have the right to speak their ethnic languages and honour their customs. This has failed too, primarily because, as I see it, the European elite pursued a misguided policy of political correctness.
Here is an example. When the EU decided to create a European constitution some 15 years ago, the task was assigned to a commission chaired by former President of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Ultimately, they did not adopt a constitution but the Treaty of Lisbon, which has also been put to test. As for the proposed constitution, President d’Estaing wrote in the draft, which they were preparing for consideration by the European countries, that Europe has Christian roots. Doubts were voiced during the subsequent discussion, because the current population of Europe also includes Muslims and people of other faiths. Of course, Europe initially developed as a Christian society, but it has now been opened to other religions, they said. I view this as a big mistake. They started saying that it is wrong to flaunt one’s Christianity or any religion. You may remember that they even prohibited the sign of the cross on public buildings and schools and recommended that Christians do not wear a cross openly.
I believe that when you forget your own moral and spiritual roots you will soon become indifferent to the moral roots and spiritual values of other people too. This is why Islamophobia is growing stronger in Europe. Migrants have been accused of unacceptable behaviour, and you know that these accusations have been supported with facts. At the same time, others have tried to sweep this problem under the rug. The backlash is that migrants started to behave as they wanted, because moral values have been eroded, nobody is eager to revive them, and it has even become embarrassing to talk about them. The European response is Islamophobia.
I won’t talk about this anymore now, because I could talk for hours and provide many examples. I believe it would be wise to hold an interactive discussion. I want to hear you talk and learn about your concerns, and I will try to answer your questions as openly as possible.
To be continued...
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