President Saakashvili opens international symposium entitled

Under the patronage of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura and with the support of Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, the international symposium "Globalization and Dialogue between Civilizations" opened in Tbilisi on 24 May. During the course of the two-day the forum Georgian scientists, public figures and invited guests are discussing issues concerning dialogue and cooperation among civilizations, as well as the role of education and science in strengthening these values.

President Saakashvili addressed the symposium participants, drawing attention to the need for tolerance among the various ethnic groups which reside in Georgia, the special role of the Orthodox Church in Georgian society and the peaceful resolution of the existing conflicts in the country. The president also spoke about recent economic successes.

"Georgia has always been a remarkably tolerant nation. Representatives of all nationalities have always considered themselves fully fledged citizens," Saakashvili said.

Symposium participants also discussed the need to expand the dialogue between representatives of various confessions and ethnic groups. The president began his speech by discussing the great contribution of the Georgian Orthodox Church in efforts to preserve Georgia's unique cultural identity.

"The history of our statehood has been closely associated with the Georgian Orthodox Church. The church's role in its preservation has been significant. This is the clearest expression of our historical credo. I especially welcome the role of the church in holding dialogue with representatives of the various confessions in Georgia. It was His Holiness and Beatitude, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II, who invited Pope John Paul II to Georgia several years ago.

"His holiness is in constant dialogue with Muslims, Jews and representatives of other faiths. This is of great importance," President Saakashvili said, adding: "This year and next year we are celebrating the anniversary of Ilia II's enthronement as patriarch. We should hold special events to mark this.

Saakashvili recalled that when his government came to power, many people criticized him and team mate Zurab Zhvania for having non-Georgian origins.

"For those in Georgia who hate Armenians, I will be an Armenian; for those who hate Azeris, I will be an Azeri. People have said I am Ossetian. I will gladly be an Ossetian. I will be a Jew as well, and this will be a great honour for me. Still, I will remain one hundred per cent Georgian!" he said.

He also criticized the world community's failure to react to human rights violations in the separatist region of Abkhazia.

"Two months ago they took all the Georgian books out of all the schools in Gagra and burned them publicly in the city centre. Where was the international community then? Why didn't anyone speak up? If in the 21st century we allow such an ideology to exist that says people don't have the right to return to their own homes only because of their ethnic origin, this means that not only are we not a state, but also that mankind in general has serious problems.

The goal of the symposium was to contribute to the strengthening of ties between cultures and civilizations based on the principles of tolerance, strong cultural identity and diversity against the backdrop of the irreversible process of globalization and to explore ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities' centuries-long history of living peacefully within the Georgian state.

Press Office
of the President of Georgia

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