April 17, 2009
Jorge Sampaio

Ipek Cem's program guest this week is Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal and the U.N. High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations. They will be discussing current issues including the future of east-west relations, European perception of Islam, Turkey's accession to the E.U. and human rights in a globalized world.

Ipek Cem: You were the President of Portugal for ten years, and you are now the High Representative for the UN, for the Alliance of Civilizations, as well as being the Special Envoy for Tuberculosis. These are two very important tasks. I would like to start with the Alliance of Civilizations project. And we are in Istanbul, we will be having the forum in the next several days. What are some of the expectations regarding this year's forum?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, as you know, we had the first forum of the Alliance in Madrid in January 2008. This forum is important to show two things. First we have grown, we were 40 members in 2008, now we are 101, between states and international organisations, and lots of work has been developing, not only the Madrid commitments, but other new commitments and projects that are underway, and the network, and the memorandums of understanding with various international organisations have been signed. Others will be signed. So, since our target was always to bring the great themes of cultural understanding and diversity to deliverables is to show how we can pass from a global perspective to a step by step approach to this fundamental problem which is, in fact, how to deal with diversity in modern times.


Ipek Cem: It's sometimes not only diversity, and your counterpart is not always states. This is the difficulty of conflicts in this day and age. For example, when you look at the incidents of September 11th, the Twin Towers, when you look at incidents in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, you are not... you may have states coming together, 101 states, but the counter part...


Jorge Sampaio: Yes, but let me just complete my first intervention. Of course the partners are not only states and international organisations, but we obviously have to work with civil society, we have to work with people in general, with municipalities, town halls, everyone in fact. Youth. Don't forget that the four areas of the Alliance are Youth, Media, Education, and Migration, because that was considered by the high level group report from where the Alliance was constituted, there is four areas in which we should concentrate towards the future, because this is obviously not a short run exercise – short term exercise – it's at least a middle term and long term exercise. Knowing precisely that you are right in saying that the difficulty is the multiplying actors that can either do good things, or do mischief. So we have to deal with those who are available to precisely exercise their work, and their contributions, in the good sense of the word. And there is a basic belief, and the basic belief is that people really want peace, and want to live with each other, so this is where we should really concentrate really, and try to see by spreading out a network of those who are working in the same direction although through different means we can get where we want to get.


Ipek Cem: And I have been reading some of your comments, and you talk a lot about the localisation of globalisation I believe this is what you are mentioning right now...


Jorge Sampaio: Exactly.


Ipek Cem: What could be some examples where this is taking place?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, if you have in these times of globalisation. If you have an incident in a part of a town between a minority and a majority, that incident is immediately transformed into an international incident. Take the Danish cartoons – so called –. Take the Fitner film. It was a very localised thing, but everyone was talking about it in the world five minutes later. And from a something that has to be dealt with locally, in a certain way, immediately spread out into the world. This meaning therefore that you have to be very attentive on what is happening at the local level in terms precisely of this major issue of modern times which is the cultural diversity of people. People are different. They are travelling, they are migrating, they are integrating new societies, they are... there is a wave of multiculturalism and interculturalism of various types, there are preconceptions, there are ignorance... there is ignorance etcetera. So this place that... For example I pay great attention to city diplomacy. I think that cities have an immense role to play by the work they do, how they challenge these works with minorities in their own cities, how does this come together, how can you assemble a common project of a city with all these diverse cultures, religions, etc. So from a... it's top down, and it's down up, and this is the way in which I think we can accomplish a... the best thing, you see, is not to have the idea that – it's a very wrong idea – that suddenly a miracle occurs, and the Alliance appears and solves all the problems. The Alliance is a process. At some times a slow process. Ups and downs. Going forward and coming back. But the momentum is needed, and I think it has developed.


Ipek Cem: You know, when you talk about cultural diversity and tolerance, you are talking about emotions, you are talking about pride, you are talking about respect. For example you mentioned the Danish caricatures, and right now one of the topics discussed in the world: it's NATOs 60th anniversary and in July the NATO Secretary General is going to change. One of the names that a consensus has been built around is Danish Prime Minister, Rasmussen, and now there is also a controversy surrounding his name regarding his perceived lack of response to these caricatures. So, is this moving in the right direction to discuss these things even when time has passed?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, you see, I think that I never say – I said it to you a few seconds ago – but I never say "the Danish cartoon", or "the Dutch film", or whatever. It was a cartoon in a magazine. It's a film in a country, or it's a film in my country. I would not say in that case, "The Portuguese film". I would say, "The film did by a Portuguese". You know the difference. So therefore I will not comment on his candidature. I don't even know. I read in the papers the comments around it. I think that we all have to work with local communities, which I think happened, for example, in Holland, to a great extent. The fact that from the beginning there were months of work with conveying the communities, and help from here and there, and connecting those who could eventually be offended, let's put it in this way, that is a major work. There you are: local work can in fact diffuse tensions. You didn't see the same kind of tensions or confrontations. So I would not... there are various traditions interpreting the liberty of religion, as you well know, there is a world wide debate, so I think there is a very... liberty, and liberty of religion is a very complex concept. It has to have a balance. Where to draw the balance is an every day case. As a lawyer, as I was, in the past, I know that a case is a case, and where did we go beyond the frontier which is acceptable... it's a cultural event of great importance. And so you have to measure all this at the same time without affecting, on one side the liberty of expression, and on the other side a respect for religion. So this is a balance that has to be drawn every time, so I will not understandably comment on someone who, by the way, is probably coming to this forum, so let's see what happens.


Ipek Cem: OK. What happens when a tradition infringes upon some human rights issue? For example recently a video is on the net. It's the flogging of a Pakistani teenager girl due to some offense. It's a teenage... it's really a heartbreaking video. I'm not saying this is your task as the High Representative, but how do you draw lines between respecting tradition of a community versus human rights needs of a young woman, or even a child?


Jorge Sampaio: You are a... you are in fact addressing a fundamental issue. We will be with that issue for the years to come, and I am a believer in the combination between the universality of human rights and knowing that you can not put aside the various atmospheres in which this universality and indivisibility has to take place. So again, it's a case to case, but I must say that I am a true defender of the human rights declaration, and I think that it's around that basic framework, and specially on basic framework of the right to a decent life, the right not to be tortured, the right to life, in general, that we have to organise the way in which we might have descent, but at the same time understand the other. And of course there are things that in my view are impossible to admit, and therefore this is a very slow process. You can not impose, for example, the traditional democracy by force, we have seen that. We have to take into account local traditions. How do you combine them with modernisation. These are very complex issues at the moment, but I think that we have to be pragmatic. We have to be non-arrogant. We don't have to have "never", sort of a culture of superiority, "We are the best... the others are not the best", and this is... I mean, I have to understand you perception. You have to understand mine if possible, and we have to find paths of agreement, but there are things that we have to really repudiate because they are against this major framework of understanding which I think is fundamental. The empowerment of women, I think that is essential...


Ipek Cem: I was just going to come to that...


Jorge Sampaio: It is essential point. How does it develop? How can it develop without being aggressive in the terms of disconnecting with what is the usual framework? It's a slow process. I mean you can't, you know, do a click with your fingers and suddenly decide that everything is resolved. No, it's a slow process. What we have to do is to sort of defuel confrontation. Fuel understanding. Try to explain what are the different moments of certain different types of cultures. What is the moment of this diversity, and this evolution versus this one? And try to see how we can live in this world together and...


Ipek Cem: This forum, the Alliance of Civilizations Forum, taking place in Istanbul, is also getting heightened attention due to the fact that the United States President Obama is going to be possibly joining the forum. How do you see his presence, his commitment, his involvement, as helping the case for the Alliance of Civilizations?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, I must say that I don't know officially what is going to happen...


Ipek Cem: Yes. There is talk...


Jorge Sampaio: There is talk... so that's you job, not mine, I won't comment on that, but I do think, really that the United States of America, in this new administration is, I would say, very important for the Alliance of Civilizations, and since that we have been witnessing so many significant overtures as far as the new administration is concerned, I think they are overtures in relation to some very hot spots in the world are important and I do hope that they can collaborate in the works of the Alliance of Civilizations.


Ipek Cem: And Turkey has been an essential part of the Alliance, since its inception. Geographically and culturally Turkey has always held kind of a bridge aspect between East and West, between Europe and Asia, and the Middle east, and of course there is the Turkish accession process to the EU. In this context, how do you see Turkey's role developing within the Alliance of Civilizations?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, you know that I was... my country, Portugal... but I should not necessarily have to mention my country, myself, as President of my country, when I was until 2006, and after that, I was always a staunch supporter of the entrance, and the speeding up of negotiations towards accession to the European Union from the part of Turkey, and I think Turkey plays a very important role, because it is that bridge you speak about, an enormous culture, an enormous tradition. The fact that it's a bridge between – to use your words – East and West – and the talent of the people and the fact that they have sponsored the Alliance from the beginning is obviously a very good indication that they have found this as an important tool to get on with this kind of talk between those who have sometimes divergent views. To use a normal expression, which I don't like, "the West - Islam divide". I don't like the expression because there are divides within Islam, there are divides within the West, as you know, but anyway, let's use the classic expression. I think Turkey plays a predominant role, and we now have seen that Turkey has a bigger role in the region, in the sense that they have been playing a very important diplomatic role in some of the difficult points that are around in different areas, and I think this is extremely positive. And as far as the Alliance is concerned, I have only to register that response as Turkey and Spain have been very important, but now on top of that we have a very vast group of friends... very vast group of international organisations... a very vast group of NGOs who are preparing... You will have here in Istanbul working sessions of a great variety of those who have prepared work to show, or those who are preparing work to go on. So I think that it will be a substantive march forward from the very important Madrid Forum, and this forum will not only demonstrate that there were not only achievements in relation to those commitments, but there are also new paths in which the basic strategy of the Alliance is focused on. In other words to aggressively, in peaceful ways, pursue this immense target and... of getting together in the same society.


Ipek Cem: You know in this day and age there are a lot of sceptics about international organisations... about the UN, about the IMF, the World Bank, and you have been in very executive positions in your country. And then now you are working with a large organisation, the UN, trying to have a very immense task and I see that you have a lot of goals defined. What would constitute for you success? How would you say this project is successful? What would be some of the things that would happen that would prove to you two years, five years, ten years from now that there is progress?


Jorge Sampaio: I think that if... as I have asked the member states to prepare and present national programmes on cultural diversity, because if you don't have cultural diversity, and if you don't manage it correctly inside your own country, I mean then you are missing the point. So there are several countries, Turkey included, who have national plans to deal with cultural diversity within their own countries. That is an advance. So if in a few years you have the possibility of exchange experiences on national plans formulated by the countries, by government departments, by NGOs, by those who work on the field, by cities, etc. Exchange the goof practices, exchange what went badly and what went well, this is very, very important. And at the same time if we can put forward projects, for example in the Mediterranean, addressing people to people diplomacy after some of the difficult situations that we have lived recently, namely the conflict in Gaza, which is a very traumatising event, what ever the perspective that you may have, and therefore we are presenting these initiatives. So I hope that in the future, and I don't know when the future is here – I am speaking of a generation – we can have a better intercultural dialogue, we can have better tools and models of managing diversity at a city level, at a country level. We will have national plans enriched by the various activities this country has... and that country has.... and comparing, and going forward. And of course, that, we have projects on the ground with all the international organisations that have specific then of course we will get accustomed to this very important new pillar of sustainable development, which is precisely how to manage cultural diversity in the years to come.


Ipek Cem: If the current demographic trends continue, in Europe, and you often mention there is a significant Muslim minority, about, in 2020, I believe it will be about 10% of the aggregate population of Europe, and this is excluding Turkey. If Turkey joins the EU probably it will be a different percentage. How do you think that integration is going – of course it is a case by case, country by country, region by region, but as a general rule of thumb?


Jorge Sampaio: It's obviously a very challenging task. We have top fight Islamophobia. We have to fight double standards. We have to get accustomed to having good practices in all cities, and show that there is a vast possibility of everyone getting together and deal with this kind of combination. It is going to be a fact. And we might as well prepare ourselves. There are places where this works very well. There are places where it doesn't work very well. And I think that it takes a new spirit. We are no longer what we were a century ago. We are not still what we are probably going to be in fifty years time. We might as well face this challenge and prepare ourselves with modesty, but with endeavour, to in fact demonstrate this kind of multiculturalism – I am not using the word technically here – raises problems, but they can be solved. They can be directed upon, because I think that apart everything else that I have been mentioning, there is this search of identity, second generation persons who are more, you know, European, than their father and their mothers were in the past. The fact that they are sometimes excluded. The fact that there is more unemployment in these minorities than in others. The fact that there are difference in salaries etc., etc., etc. So we have to do our best to give equal chances for people to develop, for people to have degrees, for people to be on the job market as much as we can, because that migration is inevitable, it will occur and we might as well prepare ourselves for these challenges which already exist, and try to avoid incidents which will give a very bad picture on how we are able, or unable to deal with this great challenge.


Ipek Cem: You mentioned some moments ago about your support for Turkey's accession into the EU as a full member. We, in Turkey, have the feeling currently, and a rising feeling, that this project is really at the backburner of the European Union because of maybe lack of support in some countries, or the popularity concerns of some European leaders. What is you assessment of how Turkey's accession process is going.


Jorge Sampaio: Well, first of all I think – may I say very clearly – I have an appeal to say to the Turkish audience...


Ipek Cem: Yes, please...


Jorge Sampaio: I think that Turkey can play a very important role in Europe, and I think you should not be disillusioned by the ups and downs of negotiations. Portugal took seven years of negotiations to get in, at that time, which was an easier time in comparison. So the ups and downs will continue. International situations, and economic situations, financial situations are more complex. And countries tend to see, as you saw, now the discussions which were taking place before the London meeting that the fight against protectionism, because this is a tendency to sort of inter, make it national, what international is demanding. In other words we need international measures. We need multilateralism, but countries are afraid to have their own public opinion, so they tend to give more attention to their public opinion immediately. This is why the London meeting was important, because at least it showed a common face towards some of the prospects approaching. So I foresee that strategically the political process as such, all these things are very important, and the biggest, the bigger the role Turkey is in fact showing in the international arena, will, in my view, enhance the possibilities of Turkey. It will be a very... let me say, a very complex and bumpy process, as every process now tends to be, because of precisely the economic slowdown of the European Union. It's clear: we are not going to grow as we should be growing. We probably have a negative growth. But it takes time. It takes patience. And I think you have a role to play. I have always said that, and as time goes by, I think that this kind of bridge, as you were saying, to use your expression – it's a standard, very good expression – is a very important one, and I don't think we should miss it. And I think that time will prove more and more that it is essential, provided that of course you keep the interest in coming in, irrespective of the difficulties. You will have them; everyone has them. Let's not, you know, quit the idea.


Ipek Cem: As if the Alliance of Civilizations wasn't enough of a topic, you also had a previous responsibility with the UN regarding tuberculosis which you are still continuing. You were just in China, in Beijing; I believe you were with Bill Gates, as well, working with some of the new issues. What are some of the milestones and the challenges facing this...?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, tuberculosis was more or less a forgotten pandemic, a very serious one, because it still kills more or less 4,500 people per day. There are 22 high burden countries. Some in sub-Saharan Africa, others like China or India, or Indonesia, or in the periphery of Russia etc., etc., and that, therefore, since it was more or less thought that tuberculosis was stopped there was no research, new research, there was no new vaccines, and now suddenly one realises that it is there again, but it is there in more developed... not only as a regular tuberculosis, because that can be treated and cured, it is a curable disease, but now you have the multidrug-resistant tuberculosis...


Ipek Cem: It's mutating?


Jorge Sampaio: It's mutated. There are mutative bacillus, in fact, because if you interrupt the treatment then you – if you come back – you have a resistance there, you need a second line... quantity of drugs, more complicated, more time, more expensive. Then you have an extensively drug resistant which has appeared in 55 countries and that is even worse. So, the fact that... I think we need a quick diagnostics, therefore we need new tools for that: research, research, research. We need new vaccines: they are working on that very heavily, with the hope that within five to ten years we will have a new vaccine, that is very important. Meanwhile you have to have the coverage at the regular tuberculosis to try to make it impossible to develop later for lack of treatment into a multidrug-resistant which is now a very big menace, and this meeting in Beijing was precisely with the support of the Chinese Government and of course the grants from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to research on some aspects of the need to have quick diagnosis, and have quick tools of attacking this disease. It was a major meeting of the 27 countries which are now with multidrug-resistant to a great proportion. So it is like HIV/AIDs, and like malaria, and the new thing too, to finalise this point is to say that many people who are living with HIV because of the antiretrovirals, are dying because of TB, and so there is a deadly combination of this paradoxical thing. That a curable disease like tuberculosis is killing people who can live with HIV because they are taking antiretrovirals. So we have a very complex public health situation here.


Ipek Cem: You know the millennium has passed, and there was the UN Millennium Goals, you know: deadly disease such as tuberculosis was also involved in some of the goals, and now we have the global economic crisis. Funds from wealthy countries have come down, especially to help development needs. How is this dilemma going to affect your work on tuberculosis?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, my work with TB primarily was directed to make advocacy on the neglected and forgotten illness. Well, that work will go on, but of course there is, I must say, because of many factors, and the fact basic one is the importance people politically speaking, people are now realising that it very serious. But of course money is needed, and the economic crisis, and the economic and financial influx of monies should not forget the need to invest in health, because investing in health is a very good investment, if I can use this kind of economic jargon. And...


Ipek Cem: How do you say that?


Jorge Sampaio: I say that...


Ipek Cem: Commercial aspect?


Jorge Sampaio: No... I mean the fact that you can, in fact, paralyse a GDP's development because of tuberculosis. There is a study of the World Bank showing that countries which have tuberculosis, high rate tuberculosis have a diminishing four to seven percent of GDP. So this is a very serious thing. You can not only look like that to the financial and economic inputs, you also have to not diminish the grounds that have maintained control over this pandemic and have obtained good results, because when you spoke of the Millennium Development Goals, there are areas of the world... well, they will be attained in 2015, and others will probably not because they have a very big percentage of tuberculosis, and of HIV etc., etc. And so I don't think that all the progress that we have can not go back because there is a shortage of funds, and then we will start all over again with all the pain, the death etc., and of course the coming back on things that were already something that we had.


Ipek Cem: US policy is expected to shift majorly in terms of how much the US will be involved in transatlantic relations with Europe, and with the East. Of course the economic crisis has taken over some of the earlier expectations because it is at the forefront of every international effort. Do you believe that the change in administration in the US is going to change the equation with Europe and with the Middle East? Is there going to be... do you expect major policy shifts?


Jorge Sampaio: One has to say, and I say it with great easiness, that there is a lot of expectation, and I think these indications from the new administration have been extremely positive. I do hope that Europe can respond. But one thing I am sure that the Middle East situation, as you put it, is a basic thing to be solved, and if it is not today, then it has to be tomorrow, because I think that is a source of conflict which spreads in the region. So I think that efforts of all those who have good intentions should converge and see that something that has taken place – a conflict of sixty years, or even more – gets to a solution, a viable solution, a sustainable solution. Very difficult, but everyone knows the themes, every man, everyone knows the files, though it takes political stamina to go forward. I am very hopeful that new administration can, with support of others drive in that direction.


Ipek Cem: Basically you have been part of the socialist movement in your country and part of the socialist of Europe. It's a different view of the world than the capitalistic view of the world. The globalization, the global capitalism kind of which was very predominant, let's say, in the past decade. And now that we have the global economic crisis, people are questioning more than just the banks, but people are questioning the ideology behind, you know, kind of going for it, capitalism. Do you feel there will be kind of an ideological shift, as well, questioning how to do business, questioning how to operate it with a new economic framework?


Jorge Sampaio: Well, I think the first thing we have to do is, I don't see really, just speaking frankly, in European times I was social democrat. I belong to labor and social democratic family. We have a specific name in Portugal but that's the family. And I too think that we do not have a system to substitute another system. What is has been shown to an astonishing proportions that this cannot go on like it did with now a world recession, unemployement, danger of (retection), more poverty, etc. So we have to restore trust and learn from this lesson. And introduce elements which in fact would change some perspectives of the business as usual, because business as usual has produced very bad results. So speak of regulations, speak of more important management of globalization, speak of more instruments of a multilateral of that tensions etc. We all need that. I mean, the international society is having, must have, in my view, a new outlook towards what was happening after the first of, after the second world war. It's a different time. So let's see what we can in terms of multilateralism, in terms of international community build as capable instruments of (a dviding) where we fell this time to absolutely unexpected proportions. And we all did not expect that. Some should have, but they didn't. And we have to pay attention as citizens at that want to happen again. But I don't think the system there is already a ready model prepared to substitute another one. But clearly we have to introduce modifications so that at least... We can't be as greedy as we have been. I think that standard of everlasting consumption is a varyingly impossible etc. etc. And we have to speak about the exclusions those who are totally under poverty. We have to continue to aid, we have to have transparency, we have to have good governments. And let's see if something beter really appears in social movements. I'm not speaking wider ideology as such. I think we have many things to do, to see if we can really have a working scheme. Because we do not have something to substitute A from B, you know. It's not at there, let's face it. And don't have the illusion. And that is possible from one day to the other. But we have to take some very seriously lessons from what happened. I think that is essential.


Ipek Cem: Thank you very much for your time.


Jorge Sampaio: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.