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President of the Republic of Slovenia as keynote speaker at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna

Bologna, Italy, 12. 9. 2021 | press release, speech

At the organiser's invitation, President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor held the opening address at this year's G20 Interfaith Forum on intercultural and interfaith dialogue. President Pahor was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremony. The main topic of this year's Forum was "time to heal".

The Forum took place between 12 and 14 September 2021 in Bologna as part of the Italian G20 Presidency. The Forum was established in 2014 as a space for regular dialogue between high religious representatives and political leaders on the current international situation with the view of achieving peaceful coexistence in accordance with the UN's sustainable goals.

The invitation extended to President Pahor to hold an address at the main event of the forum was a testament to his dedication to the European values of tolerance and coexistence, echoing his regular and impassioned calls for dialogue. President Pahor was invited to the Interfaith Forum as a devout European. The letter written and signed by all presidents of EU Member States celebrating Europe Day and the start of the "Let's talk about Europe" Conference on the Future of Europe was drafted at his initiative and at the initiative of Italian President Mattarella. His participation is part of Pahor's efforts to nurture a culture of dialogue and peaceful and respectful resolution of open issues.

The opening ceremony of the forum was preceded by a prologue by David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament. President Pahor and President Sassoli had a short meeting where they discussed the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the current EU issues and its future.

The previous night, President Pahor attended the memorial service for victims killed during prayer in places of worship of different religions all over the world. The memorial service took place at the basilica of Santo Stefano. Mass was given by cardinal and Archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi.

President of the Republic of Slovenia as keynote speaker at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Below is the text of the keynote address by President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor. Check against delivery!

Respected Professor Melloni,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to have been invited to give the opening speech at this year's G20 Interfaith Forum.

The G20 Interfaith Forum has quickly established itself as one of the main venues for dialogue within and between religious communities, as well as between representatives of religious and political circles. It seems that this dialogue could not have come at a time more critical than now.

This year's Forum is dedicated to healing the fractures of society. In my speech, I would like to highlight the role of dialogue in this very process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the fractures of society that badly needs to be healed is its dividedness. Here I primarily have in mind the political and ideological rift. This phenomenon arises when the usual social differences in political and ideological views evolve into structured dividedness, which inhibits the achievement of social consensus or compromise.

One of the principal reasons for this is the deteriorating quality of dialogue. A dialogue should have at least the following three dimensions:

a) A presentation of one’s own views
b) Respectful criticism of another's views
c) A willingness to reconcile views

Differences in political and ideological views are therefore not a problem. The problem is the dwindling sense of responsibility to confront and reconcile them in a tolerant and inclusive way.

Recently, the understanding of dialogue has become restricted to the right to express one's views, and there is no sense of respect for different points of view, of considering them and making an effort to reconcile them. Such a deterioration and lack of understanding of dialogue only underlines the growing political and ideological differences.

This gives rise to a rift in society, which makes it increasingly impossible to consider and reconcile different views. Through exclusionary and hate speech, without recognising the responsibility for reconciliation, political and ideological differences cause a rift in society. This increases the risk of serious social conflict.

We need to breathe new life into dialogue as a way of confronting and reconciling different views. We need to raise the level of the culture of dialogue, which has dangerously deteriorated with the widespread intolerant, offensive, even exclusionary and hate speech. Without this, we risk making democratic decision-making less effective and dangerously losing people's trust in democratic institutions.

We must therefore do everything within our power to emphasise the other value of dialogue, respect for and consideration of different opinions and their reconciliation. Constructive cooperation is possible only through such dialogue, and cooperation is the only way of reaching peaceful solutions to all problems.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Adherence to dialogue and cooperation has been and remains the guiding principle of consensual politics, which has recently found itself in serious crisis both in the Western world and globally. It has its weaknesses and shortcomings:

sensible compromises that have been its hallmark have been replaced by senseless ones. This has damaged its credibility. People have become aware of this and started rejecting it, along with its excessive political correctness.

This has given rise to divisive politics. Politics that makes no effort to overcome differences, but rather exploits them. This creates a situation where it is no longer noble to try to appeal to, or even to cooperate with, those who think differently. Moreover, it increasingly seems to be enough to appeal to your own supporters, while stigmatising or even excluding your rivals.

The implication of all this is that social rifts can only be overcome through the persistent and consistent pursuit of a culture of dialogue that takes into account all its dimensions, including a respectful attitude and efforts to reconcile different views.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In particular, I would like to emphasise that social media is not to blame for hate speech. That is an erroneous simplification. The fact is that hate speech has existed before, and the sensitive relationship between freedom of speech and hate speech has been discussed before. However, hate speech has always been understood as an enemy of the culture of dialogue, as something unbecoming, dangerous and even forbidden.

It is also a fact that with the advent of social media, hate speech has become much more widespread. This gives the impression that it is even prevalent on social media.

The prevalence of hate speech on social media has a major impact on lowering the level of dialogue culture. The issue still lacks legal regulation. Until then, however, it will be necessary to resist the temptation to respond to intolerant, hostile and exclusionary speech in the same way, according to the eye for an eye principle.

I believe that, despite the spread of hate speech, most people remain moderate and tolerant. They need to be won over to political views and beliefs with a high culture of dialogue. And not only that. It is the high culture of dialogue with which we will spread our political and ideological beliefs that will be a credible indicator of a true alternative to social division and hate speech as its agent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am an advocate of an inclusive society. This means that no one is excluded from the dialogue on all relevant social issues. In the context of this conference, I find it particularly worth emphasising the benefit of dialogue between religions and between Church and State.

The constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State does not prohibit constructive dialogue between the political institutions of the State and ecclesiastical authorities. I believe that, particularly in the current situation, such a dialogue is of utmost importance. Open dialogue and day-to-day constructive coexistence can only further strengthen social cohesion and inclusion.

In this regard, let me express my idea of a meeting of high representatives of different churches in the Western Balkans. You may be familiar with the fact that I have been co-leader of the Brdo-Brijuni initiative ever since its establishment 11 years ago. It is an initiative involving all heads of successor states of former Yugoslavia and Albania.

This initiative is dedicated to accelerating the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union, reconciliation and a peaceful solution to all issues.

I believe that the time has come and that we are witnessing a situation in the region where it would be extremely beneficial for high-level church representatives in this part of Europe to meet and consult on issues of reconciliation and coexistence as part of this initiative. I am aware that this is a sensitive issue, and I have been discussing my idea with other leaders of the countries in the region with due sensitivity.

Finally, I would like to share with you the feeling that the organisation of such a conference, and in particular its possible conciliatory conclusions, could make a significant contribution to the dialogue in the Western Balkans and consequently to peace, security and prosperity of the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would once again like to thank you for your kind invitation and your attention.

President of the Republic of Slovenia as keynote speaker at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA