Vienna, Austria - Three hundred participants and civil society leaders representing more than 40 NGOs gathered in one of the largest NGO conferences ever held in the United Nations building in Vienna, in the UNIDO Board Room, to attend the Austrian event of the Global Peace Tour 2009. More than 20 embassies were represented by the ambassador or a senior staff member. The event was made possible thanks to the support of the NGO Liaison office at the UN in Vienna.
The Austrian Prime Minister, Werner Fayman, sent a message of encouragement which was read by the Secretary General of the Austrian chapter of the Universal Peace Federation, Mr. Peter Haider, who welcomed the participants.
“All people of this world have a right to live in peace, and we have to be ready to take responsibility for that.… We can’t simply accept a negative situation as our destiny; rather we should work for a better world without violence and injustice. Especially events such as this create a platform for those who are ready to do this. Therefore this ‘Global Peace Tour’ is an important step in our endeavors for overall peace and enables us to have hope for the future.” (Austrian Prime Minister, Werner Fayman)
The Vienna Peace Choir sang two songs to open the conference: “The Trout,” an Austrian classic by Franz Schubert, and “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” which inspired UN staff and was a refreshing change to sometimes dry meetings.
The United Nations Year of Reconciliation 2009
Pursuant to the United Nations resolution (61/17) to proclaim 2009 as the International Year of Reconciliation, the first part of the conference, which was chaired by Dr. Christian Bruenner, a professor of constitutional law, dealt with this topic.
The chairman of the UN NGO Committee on Peace, Dr. Klaus Renoldner, spoke about the steps of success his organization, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, has experienced in promoting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization aims to implement the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and is located in the Vienna International Centre. He expressed satisfaction about US President Barack Obama's recent call “to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
Mrs. Lilly Gundacker from the Women’s Federation for World Peace, an active member of various NGO committees at the UN in Vienna, then explained their ongoing project to have “Bridge of Peace” ceremonies as a concrete step to cross the distance between women and also men of enemy nations.
Mr. Stefan Maier, the Middle East coordinator of Caritas Austria, used photos to give a lively insight into his experience in organizing International Peace Camps for children in the Middle East, which he has been doing since 1999 in a different country every year.
Mag. Gudrun Kramer, co-director of the Institute for Integrative Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, spoke about her experience working as a mediator in conflicts in Sri Lanka since the tsunami. She explained how it took one year to find a way to build houses donated by a campaign of the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier for Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu flood victims in the same village. It was much harder to find a solution for members of different religions to live together than to build the houses.
The first session concluded with a speech by H.E. Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, headquartered in Vienna. He spoke about the determination of his country to become a member of the democratic world and about their perspectives on assuming the chairmanship of the organization in 2010.
He explained that people of more than 20 different nationalities live in his country. In the new capital, Astana, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was built in the form of a pyramid, and a “Congress of leaders of world and traditional religions” is held every three years, the next being in July 2009 under the theme “The Role of Religious Leaders in Building a Tolerant World in Conditions of Globalization.”
The second part of the conference dedicated to global peace was chaired by Mrs. Zena Eggough, a distinguished member of the wider Vienna UN community, especially active with the UN Women’s Guild. She welcomed Dr. Yong Cheol Song, Chairman of UPF Europe, who has already visited 15 European countries on this Global Peace Tour, coming from Romania after successful conferences in Paris, Rome, London, and Geneva.
His speech highlighted the theme of One Family under God. He described the focus of the Global Peace Tour as interfaith cooperation, strengthening the family, and a culture of service for the sake of renewing our communities and nations. As a native Korean he brought the spiritual energy of a person born in the Far East to the sober Viennese people.
He also challenged the United Nations, which he said "should be helping the world to live together as one, but has adopted an entirely secularist worldview, excluding the spiritual dimension of human experience. It has focused on the principle of national sovereignty as its guiding value, but with little consideration of a God or the teachings of our world’s great religions. … We say ‘One Family Under God’ because the family is the cornerstone of peace. Regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion we are all members of families.”
As a European counterpart, Dr. Leo Gabriel, a founding member of the World Social Forum, spoke about “From a Global Crisis to Global Peace - The Empowerment of Civil Society.” He mentioned a poster which he saw a few weeks ago in Belem, Brazil, where two barefoot boys spoke about the global crisis, saying that two thirds of the world’s population actually lives in permanent crisis.
He reported that in a recent conference he attended at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, it was postulated that for capitalism this crisis might represent something similar to impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall had on communism. In conclusion he expressed his hope that the Global Peace Tour can be part of a worldwide grassroots movement, just as Obama rose to the presidency based on the support of the ordinary people in the United States.