One year has gone since I was invited as Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO to participate in the launch of 2010, International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. A year later, we are now invited to assess the impact of such an ambitious and complex undertaking, in a world that has dramatically changed, from the ecological to the political point of view in many parts of our planet, the effects of which influence not only our every day life but also our imaginary.
In such a troubled period the world has the right to expect from us even more reasonable and weighted solutions that fall within the spheres of UNESCO’s competences, directed towards the creation of confidence, tolerance and mutual understanding, that is, what our Organization was created for. In this three-minute intervention, please allow me to recall two convictions that are very dear to me and some reflexions that I have already presented on the occasion of the launching debate of the International Year:
- Firstly, since we live in an ever more homogeneous world on a global level and an ever more heterogeneous one on a local level, , every human group must, in order to thrive, have confidence in its cultural identity while adopting openness and tolerant attitudes to cultural diversity, that is to say, to everything unusual which is in conformity with human dignity;
- Secondly, the presence of a plurality of cultures in a given society and their juxtaposition do not create the interconnection and bonds which characterize cultural interplay. It is perfectly possible for cultures to exist side by side and yet, to remain ignorant of one another. Thus, “rapprochement of cultures” is less about this coexistence of cultures than about an interaction which leads them to break out of their mutual ignorance and misperception, in order to become part of a wider polyphonic concert.
UNESCO has worked steadily towards making sure that respect for cultural diversity and for the attendant intercultural dialogue is firmly on the world’s political agenda. This conviction has been driving the Organization’s efforts to encourage the flourishing of the world’s diversity regarded as a process rather than a finished product, thanks to a genuine dialogue which has to be always stimulated, maintained and acknowledged.
However, although the world seems increasingly interconnected and interdependent in all areas of human activity and at the global level, relations between peoples, nations and cultures have not been strengthened. Instead, incomprehension, mistrust and fear appear to have grown in recent years. Amid a widespread sense of vulnerability, there is an imperative need to come up with new ways of preserving peace at the national and international levels.
To this end, the Executive Board, since the beginning of this process, was very much engaged and has given observations and suggestions in view of a Plan of action for the Year 2010, respectful of a holistic approach which incorporates those of other agencies in the United Nations system, States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as of UNESCO’s comparative advantage in the field.
I am today thrilled to note that at the end of the process many projects unveiled some great magic moments shared by numerous young people engaged in the advancement of the rapprochement of cultures, engaged in encounters with complexity.
Nevertheless, as the booklet on “Highlights” of the International Year rightly points out, it is still very difficult to gauge changes, mentalities, behaviour and habits as all these are deeply rooted in the human unconscious. Yet, it is very promising that a new empowerment is taking shape under our eyes, which means new consciousness, capacities and skills for fresh perspectives to feel and to think in empathy of our common humanity.
I am very happy that the forthcoming session of the Executive Board will examine in detail the report on the activities carried out to celebrate the Year and will formulate some relevant recommendations in order to give an impulse going beyond the one-year timeframe to the rapprochement of cultures, which implies that greater account must be taken of the close links between cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, development, stability, mutual understanding and, last but not least, a culture of peace. This is the wish expressed by the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-fifth session when, by its Resolution of 16 December 2010, it noted with satisfaction the efforts made by UNESCO as the lead agency for the celebration of the Year and invited Member States to continue to promote beyond 2010 “reconciliation to help to ensure durable peace and sustained development”
I am convinced that this debate will provide an opportunity for scholars and actors in the political, cultural and social fields to explore a combination of theoretical and practical approaches to challenging issues facing our common future: a future which has to be pluralist if we are to live peacefully together.