Address by the Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO Ms Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova on the occasion of the Tenth International Likhachev Scientific Conference (13-14 May 2010, Saint Petersburg)
UNESCO’S ROLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND THE RAPPROCHEMENT OF CULTURES
Dear friends, esteemed colleagues,
The annual academic gatherings in the city on the Neva, the initiator of which was the outstanding Russian philologist and Academician D.S. Likhachev, have become acclaimed throughout the world as a discussion forum for representatives of the academic, political and intellectual elites of many countries on current international affairs.
As Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO, and the Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation, I am delighted that one of the main questions on the agenda of this Conference is the theme: “National States and global institutions: cooperation on the path to the emergence of a global culture”. I believe that the activities of our Organization are indeed the best possible illustration of the global processes reflected in the choice of this theme, which we will continue to debate at a section meeting on the second day of the Conference.
I am convinced that in the framework of our section of the Likhachev Conference my colleagues, Ambassadors and Permanent Delegates to UNESCO, will have an excellent opportunity to talk about theoretical and practical approaches to resolving the problems facing our common cultural future, and, if they are so inclined, to clarify the position of their countries on the most pressing international issues.
I have no doubt that, given the number and high level of foreign representatives taking part in today’s debates, the focus of discussion will be how Member States view the prospects for cultural diversity, the rapprochement of cultures and intercultural dialogue, which are among priorities of UNESCO. In the context of globalization, and the attendant migrations, the twin issues of the preservation of cultural diversity and cultural originality on the one hand, and the development of intercultural dialogue on the other have acquired unprecedented significance and relevance.
As I have already noted in various fora, in the current complex situation, the world quite rightly expects of UNESCO reasoned and carefully considered decisions aimed at strengthening trust, tolerance and mutual understanding, which is precisely why the Organization was founded.
UNESCO’s mission is as relevant in the twenty-first century as it has ever been: to further universal respect for “the fruitful diversity of cultures”, that is, to share with all a positive vision of diversity that goes further than simply acknowledging it, in that it establishes a system of links between nations, communities, groups and people. From this perspective, the fruitful diversity of cultures is seen as a unique renewable resource, which is needed in order to find an intelligent solution to the problems of our indeterminate future, fully appreciating the usefulness of cultural diversity and dialogue with a view to building sound intercultural relations based on trust in the interests of sustainable universal peace.
Acknowledging the role of culture in today’s fast-changing world, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures, and entrusted UNESCO with a coordinating role in its implementation, relying on the precious experience of the Organization in strengthening mutual understanding among people and their knowledge of each other.
The International Year is intended to demonstrate the positive features of cultural diversity by recognizing the importance of cultural exchanges and links between representatives of the various cultures that have emerged since the dawn of humanity. It also entails including the principles of dialogue and study of one another in policies, in particular in the fields of education, science, culture and communication, with the aim of eliminating distorted representations of the values of other cultures and stereotypes, convincingly demonstrating the important role of cultural diversity in enriching human society.
The Year will be celebrated by a range of events, including in the Russian Federation. There will be festivals of the music, art and performing arts of the peoples of the Russian Federation and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Baltic countries, and international conferences and exhibitions. These will include the Ninth Youth Delphic Games and the Seventh Youth Delphic Games of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Fourth Forum of Translators, Writers and Publishers of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Baltic countries, and the Fifth Forum of the Scientific and Artistic Intelligentsia of the CIS countries.
The first international event of the Year at UNESCO was the establishment of the High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures.
This international panel, which met for the first time in February 2010 in Paris, is composed of well-known intellectuals and political and religious leaders from every continent. They have before them the task of reflecting upon and proposing new ways for building peace based on justice, respect for human rights, gender equality and solidarity in the context of globalization and emerging issues, such as climate change, the use of finite resources, and the association of ethical and economic factors.
The aim of the High Panel is to spread UNESCO’s ideas of world peace by means of education, science, culture, information and communication.
In that connection, I recall that we once put forward the initiative of establishing a high-level group on interfaith dialogue under the Director-General of UNESCO, which included representatives of the world’s main religions. During the World Summit of Religious Leaders held in Baku on 26 and 27 April 2010, a regular session of the group took place, and a representative of the Director-General of UNESCO took part in it.
The Russian Federation supports efforts to democratize international relations, and does everything to ensure that each State may count on having a worthy place in the community of nations. This approach is dictated by the specific nature of Russia’s history, which includes many centuries’ experience of peaceful coexistence of different cultural and religious traditions within a single State.
Our conceptual vision of the role of the religious element in world politics is connected to the need to associate approaches to current international issues with the fundamental values of the world’s major religions, which form a spiritual and moral basis for universal solidarity. Unless these principles are taken into account, it will be difficult to achieve an equitable resolution of the urgent questions of global development on truly collective and legal bases, and to create an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding in relations between States at a time of globalization, and under conditions of growing multipolarity, as competition is taking on inter-civilizational proportions.
The prerequisite for successful dialogue between civilizations, cultures and religions is tolerance. It is one of the main criteria for the commitment of individuals, societies and States to the values of democracy, sustainable development, and the coexistence of peoples in harmony with each other and showing mutual respect for beliefs and customs which may differ from their own convictions.
UNESCO has made and will continue to make active efforts to ensure that respect for cultural diversity as such and for intercultural dialogue, on whose development we are relying, receive the prominence they deserve on the international political agenda. On this basis, the Organization’s efforts are intended to strengthen universal diversity as a process, rather than as an end, through genuine dialogue which we must constantly support and develop.
Regardless of the fact that the world is becoming increasingly interdependent and interconnected in all spheres of life at the global level, relations between people, nations and cultures still need to be reinforced. In recent times, misunderstanding, mistrust and fear have been on the increase. Against the backdrop of a widespread feeling of vulnerability, there is an acute need to seek new ways of preserving peace at the national and international levels.
The text of the 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity states that “the process of globalization, facilitated by the rapid development of new information and communication technologies, though representing a challenge for cultural diversity, creates the conditions for renewed dialogue among cultures and civilizations”. Also, and I quote: “As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations”. Furthermore, “UNESCO calls for a transition to cultural pluralism which is in dissociable from a democratic framework, and conducive to cultural exchange and to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life”.
I hope that our discussions today will serve these noble aims, and that this stay in Saint Petersburg will leave an indelible impression on the guests of the Russian Federation.
Thank you for your attention and I wish my esteemed colleagues success in their work.