BY H.E. MRS ELEONORA MITROFANOVA CHAIR OF THE EXECUTIVE BOARD OF UNESCO ON THE OCCASION OF THE LAUNCH OF THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR FOR THE RAPPROCHEMENT OF CULTURES
(UNESCO, 18 February 2010)
Distinguished members of the High Panel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me as Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO to participate in the launch of 2010, International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. 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 in all our diversity, collective force for development and peace.
As I have already had the opportunity to emphasize it on the occasion of my election as Chairperson of the Executive Board, in this difficult period the world has the right to expect from us reasonable and weighted solutions in the spheres of UNESCO’s competences, directed towards the creation of confidence, tolerance and mutual understanding, i.e. what our Organization was created for. In my speech, I would like to touch briefly on two convictions:
* firstly, since we live in an ever more homogeneous world on a global level and an ever more heterogeneous one on a local level, in order to thrive, every human group must have confidence in its cultural identity while adopting openness and tolerant attitudes to cultural diversity i.e. 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 does not in itself creates 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. So “rapprochement of cultures” is thus 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 itself 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 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 level.
Considering the matter to require urgent action, the United Nations General Assembly, proclaimed 2010 the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures and designated UNESCO to play a leading role in the celebration of the Year, capitalizing on the Organization’s invaluable experience of over 60 years in advancing “the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples”.
To this end, the Executive Board at its 181st session made the following observations and suggestions in view of a Plan of action for the Year 2010, which must:
* adopt a holistic approach which incorporates those of other agencies in the United Nations system, States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations;
* take advantage of UNESCO’s experience in the field;
* promote positive examples and original projects, particularly on the occasion of political and cultural events, at national, regional and international levels;
* launch a call to raise extrabudgetary funds to finance relevant projects.
The plan of action, inspired by these thoughts, tries to respond to a dual objective to raise the awareness of the international community of the values of diversity and intercultural dialogue, using specific examples to show that all cultures and civilizations derive from and feed into each other, and to fight for human rights and against new forms of racism and discrimination.
The main goal of the International Year will be to demonstrate the benefits of cultural diversity by acknowledging the importance of the transfers and exchanges between cultures and the ties forged between them since the dawn of humanity. This will involve integrating the principles of dialogue and mutual knowledge in all policies, particularly education, sciences, culture and communication, in the hope of correcting flawed cultural representations, values and stereotypes, and demonstrating that diversity enriches humanity.
But how do we convince people that they share common interests, when they experience the stark gap between wealth and poverty, or marginalization, xenophobia and conflict? How do we counter the spread of ethnic tensions, the mobilisation of cultural and religious differences, exploited to justify exclusion? The widespread reality of such problems forces us to take a global, forward-looking, open and imaginative view. It forces us to seek new strategies to make the commonality of human destiny clear to people everywhere, even when fragmentation or division appears to be the order of the day.
UNESCO’s mission remains more than ever relevant in the 21st century: to promote the respect of the “fruitful diversity of cultures”; in other words, to share a positive vision of diversity that goes beyond its simple recognition and celebration as it weaves a web of links among nations, communities, groups and individuals. On this view, the fruitful diversity of cultures is considered as a unique renewable resource to provide meaningful responses to our uncertain future by identifying the dividends of diversity and dialogue in order to build confident intercultural relations for a lasting global peace.
Let me finish by advancing the following quotation of a 13-century Persian poet and philosopher Jalal al-Din Rumi:
"Half of me comes from here, half from everywhere.
Half of me comes from the pearls of the sea, half from distant shores."
I wish you a very productive debate!