Cultural diversity

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Culture in the broad sense—cultural policies, promotion of cultural diversity, and intercultural dialog—is gradually becoming a leading political concern (Koïchiro Matsuura)

On April 27, 2009, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura opened a symposium organized by Culturesfrance entitled The Convention on Cultural Diversity: A New Era in the World Cultural Landscape?

On its website, UNESCO reiterates that “the purpose of this symposium was to draw up an initial report on the implementation of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted in October 2005. Two roundtables were organized on the following themes: “Has the convention helped change the world cultural landscape into one of plurality?” and “Can the Convention be expected to affect the economy and culture?” A certain number of recognized and respected figures from France and abroad took part in these roundtables, including a number of UNESCO Executive Council members. Former Minister of French Culture Jack Lang presented the closing address of the symposium.

“The choice of this venue (Théâtre National Chaillot in Paris), where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, is highly symbolic,” said the Director-General in his opening address, “and strongly bears witness to the universality of the principles that govern both human rights and cultural diversity. The large number of representatives from the worlds of arts and politics among us accurately reflects the new sensitivity to these issues and the need to rethink the place of culture on the international political agenda. Adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by UNESCO in October 2005 was clearly a major step in this awareness.”

The Director-General reiterated that UNESCO had adopted a global approach in the field of culture by developing a set of conventions, including the three main ones on cultural diversity: the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the 2005 Convention, which came into effect on March 18, 2007, and to date numbers 98 ratifications.

“You know that this Convention aims above all to recognize the distinct nature of cultural goods and services as bearers of identity, values, and meaning,” continued the Director-General, “to define new terms and conditions of agreement and international solidarity, and to reaffirm the sovereign right of States to maintain, adopt, and implement policies and measures that they deem appropriate for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory, while ensuring the free circulation of ideas and works. The primary objective of the convention is therefore to jointly strengthen five inseparable links: creation, production, dissemination/ distribution of, access to, and enjoyment of cultural expressions.”

Pointing to the need for not only States and the public sector but also civil society, non-governmental agencies, and the private sector to consider new roles for new players, Mr. Matsuura also mentioned the challenge of setting up innovative partnerships to strengthen international cooperation—particularly in favor of developing countries—and called to mind the role that the International Fund for Cultural Diversity will be led to play in this regard.

“Culture in the broad sense—cultural policies, promotion of cultural diversity, and intercultural dialog—is gradually becoming a leading political concern. It is important to us, because it is at the center of the latest debates on identity, social cohesion, and sustainable development. In this process, the notion of ‘diversity’ is essential; it reminds us that pluralism is the incubator of freedoms, that cultural pluralism is the political response to cultural diversity, and that it is part and parcel of a democratic framework,” concluded the Director-General.

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