Conference at UN Headquarters in Vienna on Culture and Sustainable Development

Vienna, Austria - While a heat wave had been hitting Vienna for several days and most people were rushing towards the next swimming pool, 120 people gathered on July 6 in the United Nations Vienna International Centre in order to participate in a conference on “Culture as a Basic Element for Sustainable Development and Human Rights.”

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The event was co-hosted by UPF-Austria, the IDEA Society (an organization for the international promotion of art), and ACUNS Vienna (the Academic Council on the United Nations System). ABRASA, an Austro-Brazilian NGO for the promotion of intercultural education and social integration, was the organizing force behind the conference, which brought speakers from different cities of Brazil to the conference.

The event was the result of an ongoing cooperation between the Universal Peace Federation and ABRASA. For several years, ABRASA has been organizing a project "Austria-Brazil em Movimento" that has become a four-day festival, "CarnaViena," that seeks to bring the Afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia, Brazil, to Vienna, the city of classical music. Besides the conference, a meeting of businessmen involved in tourism and creative economy and a Bahian carnival-like street parade were part of the event.

The conference was opened by Peter Haider, president of UPF-Austria. As he himself had lived for one year in Brazil, he shared some of his personal experiences and explained the idea of "Points of Culture" behind organizations such as ABRASA, which was explained in an article by the London newspaper The Guardian:

Twenty years ago, it seemed as if Brazil couldn't stop dreaming about its future. Now the future has arrived; Brazil is an economic and political world leader with a seat at the globe's most influential table. Yet the country still faces the fundamental renegotiations of power – between rich and poor, women and men, black and white, indigenous and immigrant, city and rural communities. Recognising that without a new and radical approach Brazil will never achieve its promise for a just society, engaged artists in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Salvador and in rural areas across the country are pioneering new approaches to giving communities a real voice. But their work doesn't spring randomly from unconnected initiatives – it's part of a strategic plan to create an entire network of socially committed cultural projects.

In 2003, the Brazilian government created an initiative called Points of Culture: thousands of community and arts projects of all sizes and types that would work to strengthen people's involvement in the life of their neighbourhoods and the larger society. The idea came from the legendary musician Gilberto Gil who had agreed to become culture minister for a five-year period under President Lula. The very act of having artists in the centre of government sent a signal of serious intent. Throughout his ministry poets, playwrights and philosophers worked in the executive, bringing a new language of aspiration and inventiveness to that of government.

The first speaker was Dr. Leo Gabriel, a social anthropologist and human rights activist who spent several years in Central America as a journalist and has published several books on developments in Latin America. He showed a short movie, which he had produced earlier for the Austrian national TV, about an alternative banking system in Bahia (a state on the northeastern coast of Brazil), the “Banca Palmas,” which helps people fight poverty. It was founded ten years ago and has spread since then. It provides the people of a certain region with its own money which can be used only locally. Dr. Gabriel commented that economy and culture are connected and that there have to be many different local economic systems in order to develop a region.

Then Dr. Stefan Stoev described cultural exchange as an important foundation for all political relationships between nations. As an economist, philologist, and philanthropist he is also the founder and president of the IDEA Society, an NGO that promotes intercultural exchange by linking artists from different countries and cultures. His speech was followed by a Brazilian artist, Mrs. Marlene Rodrigues, who explained the purpose of an art exhibit with works by Brazilian artists in Vienna under the title: “Before the Apocalypse.” Each of the six artists presents a solution for the “problem” in an artistic way.

Mrs. Queila Rosa Panstingl, president of ABRASA, then explained the purpose and the activities of her NGO. As an Afro-Brazilian woman and professional dancer who lives in Vienna with her Austrian husband and four children, she has lots of experiences adapting to a foreign culture. Her main purpose is to support Brazilians in Austria by helping them find work, learn the language, and solve day-to-day problems. At the same time, ABRASA is a center for Brazilian culture in Vienna, supporting artists from Brazil and other countries. Another important field of activity of her NGO is to connect and support different groups of performing artists. Mrs. Queila Rosa is also making connections between culture and economy by helping artists earn money through their creative work, and she talked about her vision for a “creative economy.” Fortunately, the city council of Vienna is becoming supportive of her endeavors.

Dr. Emilton Rosa was the final speaker of the first panel. He is the director of the “Instituto Alianca” in Brazil. This educational institute is widespread in Brazil and support adults in getting a better education. Dr. Rosa was highly appreciative of Mrs. Queila Rosa and promised to promote her activities in Brazil and find more support for them.

After a break, the program continued for the second session with another short movie: “Treze Tílias” (The Three Lime Trees). This is the name of an Austro-Tyrolean town in the Brazilian state of Santa Catharina. The movie showed the traditions which the Austrian emigrants have been maintaining for the past 60 years. After the movie Mrs. Dirlei Barbieri Rofner, municipal Secretary of Tourism of Treze Tílias, whose ancestors emigrated from Austria in 1933, gave more information about her hometown and her experience coming back to Austria and all the complicate circumstances she encountered in the country of her ancestors.

Then Mag. Peko Baxant, representing the Vienna City Council, congratulated Mrs. Queila Rosa for establishing her NGO and carrying out so many activities; he urged her never to give up pestering politicians and forcing them to view culture from another viewpoint: economy is a result of culture, as can be seen in the production of almost every item, even a simple pencil whose production story he used as an example.

The next speaker was Mr. Erivaldo Cruz from Salvador de Bahia. He reminded the audience that an Austrian Habsburg princess, Maria Leopoldina, married Dom Pedro I , founder and first ruler of the Empire of Brazil, and became the mother of Dom Pedro II, its second and last ruler. She fought for Brazil’s independence, which created a natural connection between the two countries. Mr. Cruz emphasized that Austrians are always welcome in Brazil with open arms, and he hopes that this will become a tradition between all countries and cultures around the world. The barriers between the first and third worlds need to be torn down, he said.

Ing. Lothar Ernest Wolf, Honorary Consul for Brazil from the westernmost part of Austria, Vorarlberg, talked about his experiences in Brazil: he went there to help develop a textile company but soon realized that he could learn so much from the people there: their concern for each other and their warm-heartedness. He married a Brazilian woman and moved back to Austria later. His determination is to bring this spirit of warm-heartedness and caring back to Austria.

To conclude the program, Peter Haider spoke about the goals of UPF: "In this place we have to remember the purpose of the UN and do our utmost to contribute for the realization of a world of lasting peace. That’s the driving force behind the activities of UPF." One expression of UPF's contribution to peacebuilding is appointing Ambassadors for Peace. Peter Haider, together with Queila Rosa, who had received the appointment last year, presented certificates to five persons: Dr. Emilton Rosa, Mr. Erivaldo Cruz, Mrs. Dirlei Barbieri Rofner, Ing. Lothar Ernest Wolf, and Mrs. Lucia Neves (representing Bloko Afro Bankoma). Her group led the Bahian carnival-like street parade the following day through the busiest shopping street of Vienna, which was blocked off for this expression of Afro-Brazilian culture for several hours with more than 1000 people watching.

Many photos were made to keep the memory of this event alive. The German language was translated into Portuguese (neither of which are official UN languages) and only then into English. But the perfectly installed translation system of the UN building did not protest against it. When everyone left the building it was raining, and the heat wave had finally cooled a little bit down.


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