Event Summary

By Andrada Filip

Event organized jointly by the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in Vienna and ACUNS Vienna Liaison Office, 2nd of December 2014

HE Ambassador Ayoob Erfani of Afghanistan opened the panel discussion with some introductory remarks regarding the hopeful situation in his country and about the background of the key note speaker, Mr Farhad Daya, who has risked his life to promote tolerance and mutual understanding between the ethnic communities. The purpose of the event was to highlight the positive side of Afghanistan’s immense cultural heritage, and music’s potential to help achieve peace and development. Mr. Farhad Darya, who has been the most prominent singer on Afghanistan’s musical scene, has continuously raised his voice for peaceful conflict resolution and reconciliation. Mr. Darya has been designated twice as Goodwill Ambassador of Afghanistan for UNODC and UNDP. Through his popular music, Mr. Darya has sought to present Afghanistan to the world not as a country of conflict, desperation and war, but as a country of hope and inspiration.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Michael Platzer, Head Officer ACUNS Vienna Liaison.

Mr. Farhad Darya commenced his speech by emphasizing that a modern image of Afghanistan is missing in the international media. The majority of the world’s citizens get their information about Afghanistan through a series of daily news consisting of bombings and destruction. In the meantime however, life and society have been modernizing in Afghanistan, and the young generation has adopted a new lifestyle, whereby art and especially music have an enormous role in this transformation process. All ethnic groups in Afghanistan have a passion for music, and many artists use this medium to convey their messages of peace and hope to the people, since music speaks directly to their hearts. Mr. Darya’s exciting rock pop music brings thousands of young people to their feet, dancing and clapping.

When it comes to extremism and the Taliban, Mr. Darya stressed that they are far from the religion and social values of Afghanistan; they have adopted a backward lifestyle. They also do not belong to one nation or religion. It is spreading across the world, which is deeply alarming. This phenomenon has its roots in outdated cultural values more than in religion. The insurgents from Afghanistan are fully aware of the values and traditions within Afghan life, much more than the international forces. At present the international community is about to lose a cultural war against extremism, because it is acting under the premise that weapons can end all types of conflicts. However, it is important to acknowledge, that this is a ‘blind war’, and no one knows who the enemy is and who should be held responsible.

Ms. Ana Lukatela, OSCE Advisor on Gender Issues, spoke about the contribution of art to peace and development, and the ways in which both men and women can contribute to this goal. She argued that cultural life complements the public life of individuals, as art has the power to create meaning for our lives, since it evokes emotions. Thus, art and songs can be used to mobilize a society for conflict or for peace. The example of Bosnia is indicative of a situation in which art was used for both a negative and positive purpose to inspire individuals. The OSCE, with its mandate for comprehensive security tries to promote the security of the state in the traditional sense, and the safety of the individual, i.e. human security. This implies an understanding of human rights from a political and civil perspective, but it is also necessary to include economic, social and cultural rights.

The recognition that human rights are important for peace and security at the international and regional levels is enshrined in the founding documents of the OSCE. The promotion of the participation of women in public life has an important effect on the process of achieving sustainable peace and security. Available qualitative and quantitative data underlines the importance that both women and men need to be involved in transitional processes towards peace and prosperity. When such processes are exclusive, so that one group is not allowed to actively contribute to these goals, the process cannot be sustainable. In inclusive transitional processes, in which all segments of a society are involved in negotiations concerning the future or the pathway for development, there is more sustainability for the long-term process.

Therefore, it is highly important to include women in public and political life, and create aspirations for everybody. In order to create inclusive development processes, men and women must be represented through art and art making. Their involvement in art is also beneficial according to available data from South East Asia, since art enables people to imagine their future and inspires them. Men’s and women’s roles in art must be balanced and equally represented, as they both need to be allowed to contribute in meaningful ways, since the attitudes of both men and women can contribute to equality and tolerance within society. It is also important to understand the roles which men can play for art, and how masculinities can be conducive towards peace (as gentle lovers), and so avoid falling into the trap of always regarding men as the perpetrators of violence.

Next year the OSCE will be working closely with Ambassador Erfani and the Afghan Permanent Mission in order to bring to Vienna a delegation from Afghanistan to engage in a roundtable discussion and bilateral meetings within the context of the OSCE programmes in Central Asia. The purpose will be to understand national reconciliation in Afghanistan from a gender perspective and ensure that the process of national reconciliation does not reinforce existing inequalities but rather contributes to more equality within society.

Ms. Gillian Murray from UNODC, who was representing Mr. Jean Luc Lemahieu, current UNODC Director for Policy Affairs and former UNODC Representative in Afghanistan and the neighboring countries, made some remarks about Afghanistan’s cultural heritage and about Mr. Darya’s role as UNODC Goodwill Ambassador. She praised Mr. Darya’s civic contribution to ending corruption in Afghanistan by having launched the ‘grass hopper campaign’ in 2012. It was further emphasized that the international community must work together with the average individual in Afghanistan and empower him or her in order to break the corruption chain. This is the theme of this year’s joint UNODC and UNDP global campaign, focusing on how corruption affects education, health, justice, democracy, prosperity and development.

Later on Ms. Murray commended Mr. Darya for having fostered a culture of peace and tolerance in Afghanistan, and praised his work with young men and women in Afghanistan, street children, and the generous donations he has made to NGOs striving to improve the lives of vulnerable individuals in his country.

Ms. Veronika Eschbacher, a journalist from the Austrian newspaper, the Wiener Zeitung, who has travelled to Afghanistan on several occasions, stressed that art and culture have indeed contributed to peace and tolerance. However, she also pointed out that Afghan society should question some of the traditions and customs it is currently practicing, and make an inquiry into their benefits and added value. She argued that the real problems in Afghanistan have their roots in traditions and certain cultural patterns of behaviour. Art could be instructive in this respect, as it could question their usefulness, and convey this message to the larger population.

Additionally, art also has the potential to produce a healing effect on Afghanistan’s population, who has experienced a prolonged period of war. The role of an artist is priceless in this respect, since he or she has the capacity to serve as a role model to the wider population, and prove that there is an alternative, and a different way of thinking, one that is closer to normality, which lastly represents a powerful way to inspire the new generation of Afghans.