Opening Address at the World Summit of Religious Leaders 2006-07-03 19:39:38 President Hotel, Moscow Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, your Holiness. Dear participants and guests of the summit! It is a great honour for me to have the opportunity to meet with you and speak to you today. First of all I would like to warmly welcome the heads and representatives of the world’s largest religious associations to Russia. I am happy that you supported the proposal of Patriarch Aleksei II and the Russian Interreligious Council to meet in such a format. You are well aware that it was almost a quarter of a century ago that an international summit with such a wide range of unique participants took place. I am referring to the Moscow Peace Conference of Religious Leaders. Without any undue exaggeration we can consider that this summit represented an important step in overcoming international tensions and ending the Cold War. However, today’s world is faced with new threats. There are attempts to divide our planet along religious or ethnic lines and, first and foremost, to drive a wedge between Christian and Muslim communities. The clash of civilisations idea is being imposed upon the world community today, and we must fully realise the catastrophic potential of such a conflict. We are well aware of just how powerful a unifying force religion can be, but we also see the dangers that the words of extremist leaders and ideologues who cynically exploit people’s religious beliefs represent. We see just what a fine line there is between on the one hand peace and, on the other, war and violence, and we must prevent this development by engaging in an extensive dialogue between religions. I am convinced that those who preach confrontation have nothing in common with the valid goals of religious associations. Every world religion has kindness, justice, peacefulness and mercy as its fundamental values. And because they are universal, religions and churches can act as important factors of integration between societies. It is true that different people’s historical, religious and cultural traditions have resulted in different political and legal systems, and for that reason it is important to engage in constructive work to bring our positions on life’s key questions closer together. Our goal cannot be limited to mechanical, heartless unification or, pardon me, what sometimes amounts to pointless and destructive standardisation. The goal of our teamwork must consist in harmonizing our points of view to conserve all of our cultural variety. That is why it is so important to engage in the widest possible dialogue between religions. I am convinced that your summit represents an important step in accomplishing this goal because your summit is not confined to discussing narrow, theological issues but rather is planning to discuss vital issues on the international agenda, issues that affect each and every one of the earth’s inhabitants, independently of their religious beliefs. One of the most topical issues includes preventing international terrorism and extremism. At their root is intolerance towards people who hold different views and a lack of respect for different traditions. Terrorism’s ideologues are exploiting crucial social problems, and also a lack of religious culture, separatist and patriotic moods. Ignorance of fundamental religious culture results in a situation wherein people, especially young men, fall prey to dangerous extremist tendencies. And the lack of morality in a society is a significant factor in producing xenophobia and racial tensions. This is why the mission of spiritual leaders to help people separate true beliefs from attempts to manipulate those beliefs is so important. Such an education creates a tolerant social environment which condemns religious and national hostility. Any attempt to abuse the feelings of believers and defile religious relics is considered inadmissible by society itself. And a spiritual, moral and humanitarian education is a joint task to be accomplished both by the state and by religious associations. I shall emphasize that such measures will allow us to anticipate ethnic and religious conflicts and also overcome other social ills that confront today’s world. Dear session participants! I consider your initiative to hold such an important summit in our capital, in Moscow, is yet more recognition for Russia’s historical role and lengthy experience in engaging in a dialogue between civilizations. It is here, on the huge Eurasian continent, that a unique variety of religions and nationalities have developed. Cooperation between them has played a systematic role in developing and strengthening Russian statehood. And in today’s Russia tolerance and acceptance constitute the basis of social harmony and play important roles in society’s development. Of course we too face all of the ulcers of the modern world, all of its problems. Meanwhile, relations between the state and religious associations in our country are based on principles of freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and of belief, and the equality of all religious associations before the law and the non-interference of the state in their activities. This is the basic principle according to which the state interacts with various religious creeds. Such relations enable us to accomplish crucial, nation-wide tasks. And we deeply value the social, educational, peace-making activities of the Russian clergy and we support the dialogue between various religions and faiths in every possible way. And in this the Russian Interreligious Council that unites representatives from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism plays an important role. We consider that such a constructive dialogue is also necessary at the international level. Russia already cooperates actively with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Interparliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy. We also support Turkey and Spain’s initiative to create a large coalition against extremists and we hope that such an alliance between civilizations will act as an effective mechanism of cooperation between Islamic and Christian communities. Of course, each religious community has its own experience of such cooperation and it is extremely important to use that experience to enhance dialogue between civilizations for the benefit of our countries and peoples. I have no doubt that you are well aware of your responsibility and the fact that each word you say influences millions of people, both their convictions and their moral values. And in this way, as representatives of the spiritual community, you benefit from an advantage that politicians do not have since what you say is not confined by state or terrestrial boundaries but, like religions themselves, addresses all humanity. I wish you fruitful discussions, pleasant impressions and good visit to Russia. Thank you very much for your attention.