The first session was chaired by Mr Peter Haider, Secretary General of UPF-Austria.

  • Mag. Barbara Prammer, President of the Austrian Parliament (video message)
  • H.E. Sergey Nechaev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Austria
  • Dr. Werner Fasslabend, Minister of Defense of Austria (1990-2000), President of AIES
  • H.E. Dr. Anwar Azimov, Ambassador at Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
  • Dr. Thomas Walsh, President of UPF International
  • Mr. Jacques Marion, Secretary General of UPF-Eurasia

The President of the Austrian Parliament, Mag. Barbara Prammer, in a video message commended the conference organizers for their initiative. She stressed her belief in the importance of the perspectives of youth for the future of Euro-Russian relationships, and as a female politician she expressed her conviction that a focus on the role of women in Europe and Russia would contribute to advancing the common goal of a peaceful and just world.

Then the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Austria, H.E. Sergey Nechaev, spoke about the importance of building relationships between the European Union and Russia on equal terms and the need for a speedy resolution of the issue of visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union, which would have a positive impact both on the economic development of both partners as well as tourism and cultural exchange. Ambassador Nechaev also noted that there are good opportunities to develop economic cooperation in the context of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to promote the implementation of joint projects in the framework of the "Partnership for Modernization." He raised sensitive human rights issues and called for “a dialogue among equal partners who are willing to listen and hear the arguments of each other.” He further stated, “We aren't interested in teacher-pupil role playing. The realities of the modern world, due to global challenges and the emergence of strong new centers of power, demand a new type of relationship between Russia and the European Union.”

Dr. Werner Fasslabend, Minister of Defense of Austria from 1990 to 2000, in his words of welcome to the participants reviewed the history of the relationship between Russia and Europe, which started more than 1000 years ago. Five hundred years ago, after the end of the Mongol dominance, Russia linked herself to Europe and especially Austria as it was the seat of the Habsburg Empire in those days. He mentioned the intensive opening of Russia towards Western Europe through Czar Peter the Great. Russia became a major factor in European history. Czar Alexander together with Metternich dominated the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic period, which set up a balance between five major powers for the stability of Europe. The conflicting interests in the Balkans ended the balance between the major European powers, and finally the two World Wars were tragic for all. The liberation from the Nazis by Russian soldiers in 1945 and the Austrian Independence Treaty of 1955 were milestones in recent Austrian history. He urged the participants not to remain in a mindset of the Cold War but to understand that this era is over once and for all. We should return, he suggested, to an axis connecting Paris, Berlin, and Moscow that would bring peace and stability for Europe.

Dr. Anwar Azimov, Ambassador at Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, stated that Russia has firm intentions to successfully advance towards establishing visa-free travel to the European Union countries: “During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was resisting the principle of freedom of movement, but now we have changed places. Russia is ready to abolish all visa restrictions.” It would be now the turn of the European Union to demonstrate its political will by canceling visa requirements and confirming the strategic character of their partner relationship. The key foundation for visa-free travel should be mutual trust. It is not clear to Russians why the EU, which already allows visa-free travel with 40 countries, is in no hurry to do the same in respect to Russia, one of its closest and most reliable neighbors. It is the major trade and economic partner of Russia, accounting for more than half of the foreign trade; investments from European Union nations will amount to US$300 billion. The number of Russian tourists visiting European Union countries in 2012 will be almost 6 million.

Then Dr. Thomas Walsh, President of UPF International, as an American tried to bring the view of an outsider: “The US relationship with Russia has been a difficult one; and, in some respects, on the geopolitical level, over issues such as Syria, Kosovo, Georgia, and missile defense systems, the Cold War continues. At the same time, Russians and Americans have many similarities and are fond of one another.” Referring to the host city of the conference, he added, “Being here in Vienna I am especially reminded of what was in many ways a major transformational moment not only in European history, but world history, the legacy of which remains with us today. I am speaking of the legacy of Austrian Prince and Foreign Minister Metternich and the forming of the Concert of Europe in 1815 following the horrendous Napoleonic Wars. For, despite its limitations, the Concert of Europe was arguably the first major example of international partnership and cooperation for the purpose of preventing future wars. The Concert of Europe set an important precedent, even for its critics, for the rise of internationalist ideas and movements, including eventually both the League of Nations and the United Nations.”

Dr. Walsh quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s report to the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly: “It is my conviction that the global problems we face today are simply too complex to be solved by governments alone. They require collective and coordinated action by government, by the private sector, by civil society, by academia, and by international organizations and multilateral development banks. Over the next year, I will develop a comprehensive proposal which seeks to harness the power of partnership.” Dr. Walsh concluded by proposing three kinds of UPF programs that could enhance the partnership between Europe and Russia: interfaith cooperation, peace and security consultations, and youth service projects. 

As the final speaker of the first session Mr. Jacques Marion, Secretary General of UPF-Eurasia, reminded the audience that the founder of UPF, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, emphasized that Russia should link Europe not only with Asia but also with the North American continent by building a tunnel under the Bering Strait. This is part of the greater vision of an international highway for peace that would connect the world from Capetown, South Africa to Santiago, Chile, running of course through Europe. It would be like a modern, global version of the “Silk Road,” aimed at stimulating not only trade and regional development but also the exchange of peoples and cultures. This dream to connect Eurasia and North America by a road link at the Bering Strait is gradually taking shape through active discussion and planning, at least on the Russian side.

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