Spyros Mercouris, President of the NGO 'Horizons-Actions'
It gives me great pleasure to be here again in Beijing, a city which has offered much to me personally- both in warm friendship and in the positive response to exciting programs and possibilities between our two countries now and in the future.
China and Greece are two countries with histories that go back far in time and have created civilizations which have influenced the worlds of east and west.
In the last decades the world lives in turmoil. Hostility and excessive competitiveness have bred conflict and aggravation. Religious fanaticism, nationalism and racism are spreading. The pursuit of money corrupts and changes the characters of people creating economic hardship. Unemployment is on the rise, the problems of the minorities and the immigrants are growing, nuclear threats, wars and local upheavals are on the increase and without an end in sight.
Thus, the lifestyle been created flattens every cultural creation and by so doing is doomed to wither and decline.
In 2011 I had the honour of being invited by the “Chinese Association for Friendship with foreign countries” to take part in the forum “Friendship of Peoples” here in Beijing. I was much impressed by this meeting and filled with enthusiasm and hope. I, of course, know that without kindness, trust and good faith it is difficult to have a proper communication between people. Without communication there can be no understanding and without understanding there can be no true dialogue, agreement and results. I understood that based on these concepts, China and Greece could and should organize a constructive dialogue between cultures. I made this proposal and it was accepted by the Chinese side.
Since 2011 we have exchanged ideas, suggestions and proposals and together we have combined cultural, scientific, social, art and cultural- touristic events. It has been really important because we have gained valuable experience and the know-how in the way we approach and deal with each other and work together. We have succeeded in reaching a mutual and mature understanding of our abilities and strengths. We now know that a constructive dialogue between cultures is a necessity in our time. A constructive dialogue should apply to contemporary conditions and based on humanitarian values. Have a cosmopolitan character and outlook and remind us of the moral ideas which flourished thousands of years ago. We must never forget that culture absorbs from the past, moulds the present and shapes the future.
More than 2500 thousand years ago two great moral philosophers, one in Lu in China and in the city state of Athens, created two philosophical systems. Confucius (551-479) and Socrates (469-399) they both lived in times of war and turmoil, when military and political power influenced the lives and values of the individual. However, these two thinkers based their philosophical systems on concepts inspired by basic human qualities, namely Ren for Confucius and Areti for Socrates.
Ren signifies kindness and the feeling for moral virtue in human experience and tradition. While Areti can be translated as virtues conduct and moral values. There was a difference between the two systems: Confucius stressed the social dimension of human existence while Socrates focused on the individual effort of each human to reach Areti. The philosophical systems created by these wise men were aimed at Man, his betterment and his happiness.
Confucius taught through Discourse with his students and Socrates conveyed his moral ideas by using questions and a dialogue, thus inventing Dialectics.
The philosophies of Confucius and Socrates examined the spirit and the human soul and suggested ways of living which would contribute to the harmonious existence within societies. Preserved in the writings of their followers (the Analects for Confucius and the Dialogues by Plato for Socrates) and elaborated upon in later centuries, the thinking of the Chinese and Greek philosophers formed the basis of the eastern and the western ways for thousands of years.
Philosophical concepts have proved the inspiration of politicians who apply philosophy into society. Cultural achievement emerges as the true foundation of nations and the center of their identity. The dialogue between cultures becomes the dialogue between peoples.
An effort to implement such a dialogue between cultures was made in the 1990’s by Unesco. Intellectuals and scientists from all countries tried to establish a set of values shared by all peoples. They wished to identify and justify common values from all of the civilizations. However, the project had not the hoped for results. Perhaps the approach was too theoretical and therefore fell on deaf political ears. The problems and conditions that many people had to cope with in different parts of the world at that time were very hard, but after twenty years conditions are harder than ever, there has been no easing up or real improvement, in fact, on the contrary, this unhappy situation is dangerous and can produce perilous reverberations to us all.
Therefore, we have selected certain suggested projects (of course there can be many others) which we believe could be implemented in our programme so that a constructive dialogue can commence. Practical actions are a necessary precondition for moving into a new way of thinking, into a new way of acting – where education, moral values and culture will have a central role in the economy, politics and society. When the level of culture, education and intellectual life rises, governments and citizens will understand their problems more easily. They will evaluate their problems better and will face life with greater understanding and self-confidence and show greater tolerance for the thinking and acting of others.
This initiative is coordinated across five important programmes of action shared between our two countries:
• A digital Living Library of philosophy with protagonists Confucius and Socrates.
• Mathematical thought from Pythagoras to Space.
• Art and Museums: the contribution of Art in social life as well as for Museums, education and the care and preservation of our cultural heritage.
• The Olympic Idea and Truce: the idea of the Olympics is to establish the individual values and the respect for the human being and his achievements. Also, to cultivate respect and the admiration for the mind, for the body and for their balance and harmony. In ancient times the Olympic Truce was Sacred. Today we need more than ever to reestablish the Truce and its value.
• Culture and Tourism which is a modern form of cultural travel and which promotes international collaboration, understanding and the development of regional economies. In archaeology: monuments, historical events, when and why. In history: the passage of history, what happened and happens and why. In culture: what it has offered, and what it is now offering and what influence it has on us. In politics: utilization, promotion to advertise and make known our aims and achievements. The Silk Road is a main cultural project and a shining example on how we must proceed in cultural – touristic programs.
These projects have been elaborated upon by institutions and organizations working together quickly and efficiently towards achievable and easily reached goals. Once these goals are reached we shall move forward to a dialogue on a broader level.
Throughout the ages, mankind has consistently sought progress and renewal. In the long history of human civilization there has been a whole series of renaissances, each one making its contribution to moral and intellectual regeneration.
Man and nature, never set problems that they cannot solve. Humanity always goes forward whatever happens.
Now we are taking huge strides in the development of technology and medicine. As an example, in medicine – DNA – and all that this entails. In technology, the well named pioneer space rocket, the “curiosity”.
As the scientists are opening up new horizons, so, surely, the philosophers, thinkers and political statesmen will help us to find new standards and values for a more just evolution of society and to the betterment of the quality of life.
It is the cultural gifts of music, art, literature and science, which have made us what we are, and the beings which we shall become. To know our true and worthy place on earth and our eventual way to the stars that await us – this is our destiny!
The new way of thinking seems to guides us to wisdom with Ren and Areti and action with knowledge.
Spyros Mercouris, President of the NGO 'Horizons-Actions'