Barcelona’s Forum 2004 opens its doors to the general public today.

Yesterday King Juan Carlos of Spain officially opened the Forum, an event which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors between now and its closing date in October.

The official Forum web site describes the project as “A new and creative space for reflection and experimentation in relation to the main cultural and social conflicts that humanity is faced with at the outset of the 21st century”. The organisation has designed exhibitions, conferences, lectures and other events centred around three main themes:

Cultural diversity: An understanding of other cultures is an essential precondition for any constructive dialogue between peoples. Such an understanding is gained through reflection not only on that which is common to all human beings but also on that which makes us different. As long as we consider diversity as an enriching element and part of our shared heritage rather than as an obstacle, we will be capable of reducing tensions and turning them around into positive forces.

Sustainable development: It is now more pressing than ever to find ways of growth that not only respect natural resources but also consider the need to administer them in an optimal manner. It is to the benefit of all and, particularly, of generations to come. Sustainability should also be seen as a concept whose importance goes beyond ecological concerns: it is one of the factors that will enable us to create the conditions required for coexistence, dialogue between peoples and peace.

Conditions for peace. The creation of a peace culture must be based on respect for other cultures, on social and political justice, protection of human rights, and ways of living in harmony with the environment. These elements, among others, essential for establishing conditions more favorable to human progress and development.

Because, after all, lasting peace implies more than just the absence of conflict.

Barcelona has been preparing this mega event for the past 5 years, and the local authorities, the Catalan Government, the Spanish Government and UNESCO have worked together to produce what they hope will be a unique experience for visitors. Yesterday President Rodriguez Zapatero and the President of the Catalan Regional Government, Pascual Maragall, attended the opening ceremony. Names such as Nelson Mandela, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Jacques Delors, Mikhail Gorbachov, President Lula da Silva, Jose Saramago, Joseph Stiglitz will speak at some of the 44 international conferences, dialagues and debates lasting from one to seven days over the coming weeks.

305 institutions have been involved with the programme which includes 141 days of activities. The Forum 2004 has set up 4 mega exhibitions in the Plaza built for this purpose, occupying an area of over 14 000 m2, and 20 parallel exhibitions are being held in other areas of Barcelona. 44 national and international conferences, dialogues and debates lasting from one to seven days will be held over the coming weeks.