Tolerance and dialogue

Check against delivery

Your Royal Highnesses, Ministers, Rector,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak here at your university. I am so glad to be here.

Norway and Indonesia are two different countries, with different histories, geographies and cultures, but still there are many values that we share.

Our bilateral relationship is ambitious, and Norway is proud to be Indonesia’s partner.

I told the President when we met on Monday that my experience from seven years in the Foreign Ministry is that when Norway and Indonesia put their minds and hearts together they can achieve great things!

As I was preparing for my visit here, I learned about the important work of the University’s Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies.

Yogyakarta – the cultural capital of Indonesia – is itself a symbol of cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

A meeting place for people of different heritage, culture and religion. Here stand ancient Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu temples and places of worship side-by-side.

***

What better place to discuss today’s topic: tolerance and dialogue?

And for me, an important aspect of dialogue relates to what His Royal Highness just said about human dignity.

My main message to you today is this:

  • To defend and to use dialogue in foreign relations is neither a naïve nor a utopian strategy.
  • It is not a sign of weakness to be willing to talk your enemy, your opponent.
  • On the contrary it is shows strength and takes courage.

And Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Al Gore has reminded us that political courage is a renewable resource.

***

Let us take a brief look back:

More than two decades ago we saw uprisings – but quite peaceful transitions – in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Then we witnessed the inspiring South African experience of ending apartheid through engagement, dialogue and reconciliation.

But then, what has happened over the past decade?

The tragedy of 9/11 (in 2001) started the war on terrorism and – in my view – a lost decade for dialogue.

The political climate since 9/11 has been marked by “either you are with us or against us”.

Dialogue came under attack. Not talking became a virtue.

Many governments had strong reservations against engaging with states or non-state actors with whom they fundamentally disagreed.

States shied away from dialogue as a tool of conflict resolution.

But now in this decade, I believe we can see positive signs of change.

And this is one of my messages to you: I am optimistic, but at the same time we should be realistic.

***

Let me continue with some more questions, some food for thought:

  • What do we mean by dialogue in international relations?
  • Why must we talk?
  • Can we tolerate all views?
  • Should we tolerate all views?

For me, this discussion is fundamental, fascinating – and it is complex. Why?

Because there are some big dilemmas her, questions where precise answers are hard to find.

Tolerance and dialogue relate to every one of us. And they engage every one of us: at home, on the university campus, in the whole fabric of a nation. And these concepts are just as relevant when applied in foreign policy.

I have devoted much time defending and using dialogue as a tool in foreign policy. There is no question in my mind that we must talk.

***

Two trends – or facts – explain this:

Firstly: the urgent need to find of political solutions in many conflicts around the world.

The fact is that very few conflicts can be fully resolved with military means. They must be resolved politically. If we want political solutions we need to talk.

Secondly: the immense costs of wars and violent conflicts.

Over the past decade more than 740 000 people have died every year as a result of violence associated with armed conflicts or criminality. Even more have been wounded, raped or assaulted.

To me, these numbers are a reminder of why we must do all we can to resolve conflicts peacefully. Why we must talk.

It is painful for those who have suffered to talk to their enemy.

Can you imagine how difficult it must be to face someone who may have been behind an attack on your village, who may have taken the lives of people close to you?

How painful it is for people to see even a third party talk to their enemy.

This was the challenge Nelson Mandela faced after two decades in prison, when he insisted on resolving apartheid by talking to his opponent – as a human being.

It was difficult, but it saved South Africa.

But now, remember: Dialogue does not mean accepting the other parties’ positions, views and actions. Or automatically making concessions, for that matter.

The reason for talking is precisely what Israeli Prime Minister Rabin said at the start of the Oslo Process in the 1990s:

You don’t make peace with your friends; you make peace with your worst enemies.

Resolving differences is the aim of dialogue.

Listen, talk, see if it is possible to find a bridge, explore whether there is common ground on the other side.

This means that you can engage with your opponents without compromising your core values or interests.

You don’t need to be neutral to talk.

Nelson Mandela was never neutral. And diplomats who took part in the Oslo Process saw how Rabin defended Israel’s interests.

  • But dialogue means that you are willing to see whether there is a platform to work from.
  • It means that you want to find political solutions that can prevent or end human suffering.

And – of course – you must accept your counterpart’s fundamental right to have a completely different point of view.

This may be difficult – as we all know – at home, at university, in a country, and in international politics.

***

So what is the clue, the beauty, the challenge of dialogue?

Let me use a few examples that show in different ways both how we can talk, and why we should talk.

Firstly: Myanmar.

Why Myanmar?

Because it is an example of how dialogue may lead to further positive steps, literally step-by-step.

We have all been struck by the swift changes taking place in Myanmar.

A year and a half ago, it was controversial to even talk to the political leadership.

For Norway it was important, in the early stages, to meet with the leaders.

We wanted to find out, first hand, if their intention of moving toward democracy was genuine.

We found that there was reason to engage with the country's government.

I believe we would not have been where we are today without countries taking the political risk of believing that the regime was sincere in its willingness to shift from military to civilian rule.

Let me take another example: Colombia.

Why? Because it shows how dialogue takes courage.

For more than 50, years Colombia has had an internal conflict with enormous consequences for its people.

Thousands have been killed. Grave violations of human rights have taken place. Millions have been internally displaced.

Last month, in Oslo, the FARC and the Government of Colombia met officially with the ambition of reaching a negotiated peace agreement.

Norway is facilitating these peace talks, together with Cuba.

For the first time in over a decade, representatives from the two parties – who have been trying for years to kill each other, also on an individual basis – sat down around the same table to talk.

A brave decision by the parties. It has taken a lot of courage.

And let me mention a third example: the Middle East.

When looking at the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, there are many examples I could take from what is sometimes called the “mother of all conflicts”.

Norway is a strong supporter of a two-state solution.

This is also the reason why we are supporters of internal Palestinian reconciliation.

The reason is obvious: It is a tragedy to be occupied, but it is an even greater tragedy to be a divided occupied people.

That is why Norway decided – back in 2006/07 – to normalise our diplomatic relations with the coalition Government that included Hamas.

As you may remember, most of the other Western countries decided not to do that. One of the consequences we see today is a continued split.

Prior to 2006/07, the fact that Norwegian diplomats talked to Hamas representatives was a debated issue.

But they did – because it is our policy to talk to all stakeholders.

This does not mean that we accept Hamas’s policies on various issues. Talking to someone does not give them legitimacy.

But interestingly, those who don’t talk ask us what we speak about with these different groups.

So they want someone to talk – but they do not want to take the political consequences themselves.

Likewise it was right of us to start talking to the Muslim Brotherhood five or six years ago. Why?

Because it has improved our understanding of the developments in Egypt and other countries that would later experience the Arab Spring.

But more importantly, through our discussions, the Muslim Brotherhood may have gained some new perspectives. It is about nurturing tolerance.

***

Dear friends,

Indonesia has also experienced serious incidents when dialogue has been difficult or has even seemed irrelevant.

Especially in the face of people who are willing to use terrorism, fear and violence for extreme political views.

Or in the face of the atrocities that struck our capital Oslo and the island of Utøya – were the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth organisation had its annual summer camp.

The nation was attacked by a single heavily armed man.

Before I started working for the Norwegian Government in 2005, I was the leader of the AUF – the youth organisation that was gathered on Utøya.

I knew many of the victims and their families personally.

First the terrorist placed a huge bomb at the government buildings in Oslo, later he went around the island shooting young people. He killed 69 of them.

The youngest was a 14-year-old girl.

These attacks were by far the worst Norway has experienced since the Second World War.

The “lonely wolf” terrorist was a 33-year-old ethnic Norwegian – "one of us", you could say.

He has now received his sentence, after an open trial – in an ordinary public court – this summer, following the rules and procedures of our judicial system.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s reaction immediately after the attacks was clear.

He said that Norway’s strongest weapon against terror was more openness and more democracy.

The Norwegian public responded with immense grief, of course, but they did not call for extraordinary measures.

Many outside Norway – among the press, the public, and various experts – were surprised that his case was heard in an open trial, and that he is serving his sentence in a regular Norwegian prison.

People ask: Why not establish a special, closed legal setting?

I have been frequently confronted with this question.

I understand very well that it has been raised.

I believe this is a key issue: How should we – as independent nations and as an international community – fight violent political extremism.

This is at the heart of domestic and international politics.

I also believe that experience has taught us important lessons that may be relevant for others – even though I would like to stress that every terrorist attacks is unique.

One important lesson for us is this:

  • We must stick to our values, our convictions in the face of extremism.
  • Extremists want to lure us into betraying our values.

I think it is a mistake to treat crimes committed by extremists as exceptions, subject to special procedures.

Extremists must be held accountable in accordance with the law.

Hiding extremists from public view can de-humanise crimes that have been committed by real people.

By contrast, prosecuting extremists who have committed crimes in a public courtroom makes it all the more shockingly clear that it was as human beings that they undertook their horrific acts.

It also makes it clear that we must all work every day to combat extremist ideas and views.

Another lesson is this: It has been remarkable to see the confidence that young Norwegians — and especially the survivors of the massacre on the island — have expressed in Norway’s judicial system.

They know that a transparent political system – that is independent and based on the rule of law – cannot turn its back on its standard procedures.

I believe that these same basic principles hold true in the global fight against terrorism.

Now, is this a "soft" approach? I do not think so.

I believe it is only in a diverse and well-functioning democracy that such a position can be taken.

Furthermore: is it naïve?

No. I do not believe that our response to the tragedy has made it more likely that anything like this will happen again.

***

Dear friends,

I would like to sum up by underlining that democracy, tolerance and transparency are our best defence.

It seems that many of those who oppose dialogue in international relations wish they lived in a world that does not exist.

My point is this: We must face the world as it is today – with all its global challenges.

Some take the view that a so-called “clash of civilizations” makes it necessary to build higher walls to protect our society from global threats.

Some maintain that the willingness to talk and find compromises is a sign of moral or military weakness.

Neither represent a good way forward.

As defenders of dialogue, we still retain the option of walking away rather than talking.

But we also believe that we shouldn’t be too quick to do so.

Dialogue and tolerance are more important for our globalised world than ever, and I believe they are the starting point for finding political solutions.

This is why, dear friends, we must continue to talk.

Thank you. Trimakasi.

 

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