Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO: “A first major victory for Québec diplomacy”

Christian Rioux, LeDevoir correspondent in Paris, October 22, 2005 – 2005/10/22

In the October 22 edition of LeDevoir, journalist Christian Rioux writes “the long-awaited adoption of the International Convention on Cultural Diversity in Paris on Thursday was met with long and joyous applause. We rarely see such outpourings in the usually more staid UNESCO plenary hall. The 148-to-2 vote adoption (with four abstentions) of this convention was a first. When it is ratified by at least 30 countries, it will become the first international treaty guaranteeing peoples’ right to subsidize and protect their artists against international cultural dumping. This is what prompted the newspaper Le Monde to write, ‘for once, the world’s greatest cultural power, the United States, found itself naked and alone’.”

The journalist adds that “This convention could also go down in history as Québec’s first diplomatic victory on the international scene (…). As much for its diplomatic efforts as those by its experts, artists, and simple supporters, Québec was a pivotal force without which this convention probably could never have been adopted. Québec constantly pressed Canada and France to do more than pay lip service to the idea.” In this regard, he points out that one of the very first international committees to be truly dedicated to discussions on a treaty was created jointly in 1998 by the Québec premier and French prime minister at the recommendation of Québec’s international relations minister. This committee helped raise awareness in France and produced the first comprehensive document setting out the need for an international treaty, Évaluation de la faisabilité juridique d’un instrument international sur la cultural diversity, a study prepared on behalf of the France-Québec Working Group on Cultural Diversity, cosigned by Ivan Bernier of Québec and Hélène Ruiz-Fabri of France.

Meanwhile, the journalist affirms, the Canadian government also entered the fray. In July 1998, the Canadian heritage minister called together culture ministers from the 22 countries represented in the International Network of Culture Ministers (INCP). Fresh off a crushing defeat by the United States over the issue of Canadian magazines, the minister took up the same torch as Québec, whose intervention had led to a first cultural diversity coalition bringing together some dozen organizations representing over 15,000 members. As the journalist reports, “They will say that this diplomatic victory was the result of a successful collaboration between Québec and Ottawa, and they will be right. Ottawa spared no effort, and we have to give the Canadian heritage ministers the credit they deserve.”

In this chronological report, the journalist also stresses that for the first time, at the 2002 Francophone Summit in Beirut, cultural diversity was taken up not only by the governments of Québec, Canada, and France, but also by an international organization (OIF). In the face of such concerted efforts—not to mention those of Europe, which France had brought onboard—it was a difficult situation for UNESCO to wriggle out of. It was also a unique opportunity for it to take on a new role as the United States returned to the organization. Moreover, he adds, this treaty wouldn’t have come to pass without the pressure by cultural organizations and artists from numerous countries. The fact that today cultural diversity coalitions exist in 31 countries is also thanks to efforts by two Quebecers, Pierre Curzi and Robert Pilon, who not only formed the Québec coalition (which later became the Canadian coalition), but also spent the last three years criss-crossing the globe. Nor is it surprising to note that the two Canadian ambassadors to UNESCO who moved things forward—Yvon Charbonneau and Louis Hamel—were also from Québec.

In conclusion, the journalist maintains that “If Québec diplomacy made it possible to get to this point by urging Canada and France on time and time again, Québec’s role could be just as crucial in the coming years. The treaty must be ratified by at least 30 countries to come into force. But for it to have any real weight, it must be ratified by many more. Then, the effectiveness of the Convention will depend entirely on the initiative of the signatory countries. Without leadership, absolutely nothing will happen.”