About Vienna

A city rich in culture and cultures

Vienna is known all over the world for its culture. It is associated with important musicians, artists, and scientists that were considered exceptionally progressive for their time.

Austria does not reminisce. It is our conviction that tradition should serve as a solid foundation for shaping the future. We consider it our responsibility to actively contribute to the promotion of democracy and the universal respect for human rights and basic human freedoms, including the freedom of religion and of conscience. In the true spirit of our long tradition as a venue for dialogue, Austria aims at fostering intercultural and interreligious dialogue initiatives to combat stereotypes and polarization and support global peace and security.

A long history of diversity

When Vienna reached its zenith as an international metropolis of the fine arts, music, philosophy and science at the turn of the 19th century, less than half of its population was actually born there. Being the capital of an empire that comprised 15 nations and far more than 50 million inhabitants, the city attracted a vast number of migrants and with them a vast diversity of cultures and languages, alongside a great variety of knowledge, creativity and visions. The multinational empire allowed for a unique and mutually enriching synergy of cultures – the foundation of a lifestyle, which we today call “the Viennese”.

Without migrants, Vienna would have never become, what it is today – a historic, however modern city, ranked “capital with the highest quality of life” for several years. Without migrants, Vienna would not only lack its specific culture, but a considerable part of its economic dynamics and potential for innovation and creativity.

A best-practice example in dealing with religious pluralism

As a result of the Berlin Conference in 1878, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for the first time ever integrated a large Muslim population within its borders. The authorities responded almost instantly to the challenge of establishing a legal framework to safeguard the rights and responsibilities of these new constituencies. Such, the Austrian Law on Islam was adopted as early as in the year 1912.

The law recognised Islam as an official religion in Austria and thereby guaranteed religious freedom for Muslims. Muslims were granted the same rights as other religious communities, including religious education in public schools and independent administration of internal affairs and public worship. At the time, this represented the first effort in Europe to successfully regulate the status of Islam by law. It provided the basis for a lasting partnership between the Austrian authorities and the Muslim community.

The Muslim Community in Austria is granted clearly defined rights and is – in turn – obliged to cooperate with the authorities in facilitating a respectful co-existence of different religions and cultures. Today, this partnership established one hundred years ago makes the Austrian model of cooperation and respect between all religious communities one of the most successful in Europe.

A hub for international dialogue

Due to its history and geopolitical situation, Austria has traditionally bridged the West and the East. Vienna is one of the headquarters of the United Nations and hosts the IAEA, UNIDO, CTBTO and a variety of other international organisations and institutions, including the OSCE, OPEC and the OPEC Fund for International Development, as well as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Vienna has frequently been a meeting place for important international negotiations and the venue of decisive summits that set the course of history. In 1993, the “Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action” reaffirmed Human Rights as a universal and relevant standard, highlighting the significance of social and cultural rights. More recent, Austrian initiatives included peace talks on the Western Sahara in Dürnstein in the summer of 2009 and on Sudan in Baden and Vienna in November 2010.

The spirit of openness, cooperation, and pragmatism makes the city a perfect place to further develop the objectives of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations.

What Austria stands for

The Vienna Forum will focus on issues to which Austria can actively contribute with expertise, namely regional expertise in South Eastern Europe, the Black Sea Region and South Caucasus, matters of migration and integration, Islam in Europe, as well as human rights.

During its third membership on the UN Security Council (January 2009 –December 2010), Austria put an emphasis on the strengthening of the rule of law, the protection of the civilian population in armed conflict, and the role of women in conflict resolution and reconstruction.

Furthermore, Austria is currently (2011-2014) a member in the Human Rights Council - the highest UN Forum of Human Rights. In this capacity, Austria strives to achieve specific progress on core issues, including protection of the freedom of religion and religious minorities, promoting the freedom of the media and the protection of journalists as well as the rights of children and protection against violence and exploitation.


Moreover, Austria assumes responsibility in terms of serving on the UNESCO Executive Board between 2011 and 2014. In line with our conviction that especially in times of growing tensions between religious groups globally, dialogue with and between different cultures is indispensable for peace and security. Thus, we focus on the promotion of intercultural and interfaith dialogue.

 

Last but not least, Austria has been chosen to host the International Centre of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (CIID), which will officially open its doors in November 2012. As a new international organisation founded by Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Austria, the Centre will become a prominent meeting point for religious leaders, so as to foster dialogue, exchange and action.