Vienna, 29 June 2009 Press release

Spindelegger: "Utilize cultural diversity as an economic and social potential"

Foreign Minister opens a symposium on the topic of "Identity and Participation: Cross Cultural and Muslim Youth in Europe"

Vienna, 29 June 2009 – "People are losing their interest in politics. Especially young people are becoming increasingly distrustful of political institutions. Yet democracy cannot exist without participation. Therefore, it is a common challenge for us all to encourage the active involvement of youth in society and politics. The United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations is an important ally and partner in this“, said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at the opening of the symposium at the Diplomatic Academy in the presence of the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio.

In view of Europe’s ambition to develop a common identity, the event is examining the participation and contribution of multicultural and Muslim youth to the society and politics in Austria and Europe. The often inadequate integration of immigrants in the areas of education and labour market, but also in civil society, public institutions, and the political system constitute increasing challenges. The two-day symposium will feature discussions between prominent politicians with a migration background and experts from Austria, the EU, Turkey, and the USA. These include the Austrian Professor of contemporary history, Oliver Rathkolb, Iranian-born sociologist and Middle East expert Professor Asef Bayat and the Muslim social worker and journalist Humera Khan from Great Britain.

"Austria has a long-standing tradition of dialogue, especially with the Islam in our country and with the Muslims in Europe. We want to encourage young people with a migration background and young Muslims to help shape Europe’s development in an active, constructive, and forward-looking manner", said the Foreign Minister.

A clear basis for this is the acceptance of the common European values as they are formulated, for instance, in the European Charta of Fundamental Rights: "Young people, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin, have very similar expectations and aims – they want education, jobs, and future perspectives. This is where we must begin. Cultural diversity must no longer be primarily seen as a social problem. It is our common task to utilize it as an economic and social potential", the Foreign Minister concluded.

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