ECRL Council member Chief Rabbi René Gutman: “we only represent fragments of civilization and history, but we need as religious people to contribute to our common future in constructive ways”. The statement came in the Council of Europe convened “Exchange” meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan 1-2 September.

Council of Europe convened its VIIth Exchanges on the Religious Dimension of Intercultrual Dialogue with the title: “Intercultural dialogue: interaction between culture and religion”. Around 30 representatives of religious communities and organisations, inter-religious organisations and representatives of non-religious convictions and human rights organisations participated. In addition to Chief Rabbi Gutman, ECRL was represented with Council member Jamie Cresswell and its General Secretary Stein Villumstad. Jamie Cresswell, who joined Chief Rabbi in delivering opening statements claimed that “war and violence is not programmed in our genes. … egoistic worldview, ignoring the need of others lie at the heart of culture of violence. … we need inner transformation to strengthen humanity!”.

The Exchange dealt with three sub-themes.

The theme “Tolerance of religion and non-religious convictions in culturally diverse societies: a social capital” brought about a debate about the meaning of “tolerance”, both in negative and positive interpretation. It was claimed that tolerance is on the lowest end of a value scale, and that we should strive towards “active co-existence”. The question was raised about what role religion plays in the two spaces in which human beings find themselves: space of being and space of belonging. While belonging is important, we need to enter a lifelong learning “to be”.

The second theme was “Contribution of religions and non-religious convictions to combating all forms of discrimination, intolerance and violence”. It was observed that combating hate speech and discrimination could preferably start with dialogue in order to create knowledge that could contribute to better understanding. We need to listen and be patient in a fluent world. The inclusive approach that reaches both majority and minority voices is crucial. Dialogue is not only about niceties, but has to address the difficult issues.

“The contribution of cultural heritage of a religious nature to intercultural dialogue and to the respect of the universal values defended by the Council of Europe” was the final theme that emphasised that our heritage shapes our current situation. Safeguarding of cultural heritage promotes awareness and respect of who we are, and builds trust and understanding. Positive comments were offered for the “Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites” that was presented by ECRL General Secretary, and it was pointed out that this code is a valuable complement to the different UNESCO conventions.

The Exchange confirmed the importance of ECRL interaction with Council of Europe. The agendas and concerns overlap, while their mandates differ … religious versus political.

The European Council of Religious Leaders – Religions for Peace (ECRL) brings together senior religious leaders from Europe’s historical religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam together with Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.ECRL has participatory status with the Council of Europe. ECRL is one of five regional Interreligious Councils with the Religions for Peace network. Religions for Peace – accredited to the United Nations – is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition advancing common action for peace since 1970.