Cultural diversity

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Avignon Forum participant Irina Bokova outlines how the 2005 convention is responding to present-day challenges

The two world meetings at the Avignon Forum opened on November 20. Set to the theme of “Cultural Strategies for a New World,” the two-day encounter brought together some 300 big names from around the world, including artists, producers, economists, Web and media managers, and politicians.

In his opening address, France’s minister of culture and communication, Frédéric Mitterrand, acknowledged the presence of UNESCO director general Irina Bokova and noted that “the recognition and assertion of the dual nature of cultural goods—that is, their quantifiable economic value and their social and symbolic value, which requires that their circulation be exempt from any strict application of market logic—marks an historic step forward.”

Irina Bokova stressed, among other things, the 2005 convention’s importance and continued relevance:

“But UNESCO and its Member States believed it necessary to go even further, beyond [the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity] by adopting a binding legal text in 2005: the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. It is a standard-setting instrument—adopted to date by 103 States Parties and the European Community—that formally commits to meeting the Declaration’s guiding principles. The Convention covers a very broad spectrum, and each of its articles is of great importance.

“I would like to quote two of them, which concern our discussions today. The first more or less sums up the essence of the Convention. ‘Parties shall also endeavor to recognize the important contribution of artists, others involved in the creative process, cultural communities, and organizations that support their work, and their central role in nurturing the diversity of cultural expressions.’ For me, this makes the need clear, especially in this time of great change when the time has come to instill or reinstill humanistic values, to open the way to more just and more harmonious development for all. By strengthening the role of thinkers, scientists, creators, and facilitators, we are paving the way to a fairer, more human future.

“Another article from the 2005 convention responds to the challenge faced by the present Avignon Forum: ‘International cooperation and solidarity should be aimed at enabling countries, especially developing countries, to create and strengthen their means of cultural expression, including their cultural industries, whether nascent or established, at the local, national, and international levels.’ In this case, we are talking about opening up in a broader sense to the world around us, which is what UNESCO is all about. In our globalized world, countries must help one another. Blocking international aid would be a mistake: after all, no man is an island. We are all the richer for these many diversities that coexist side by side. International cooperation is a form of solidarity, respect, and tolerance that I consider to be fundamental to today’s world. These values are at the very core of my vision and that of UNESCO.

“The 2005 convention seeks to give culture its rightful place on the international political agenda, notably by acknowledging its dual symbolic and economic role, which is inseparable from our well-being. It seeks to protect the cultural expressions of various social groups, notably minorities and aboriginal peoples. Of course, it underscores the important role culture plays in social cohesion in general and how it contributes to improving women’s status and role in society, which also plays a part in peace and development.

“Of course, the 2005 convention also encourages the development of partnerships between the private and public sectors. As the new UNESCO director general, I will not only open UNESCO’s doors wide to intellectuals and artists from around the world, I will also promote our organization and foster cooperation with the private sector, showing that culture is a powerful asset that can always be renewed: it is the creativity of each of us, the creativity of entire societies, and precludes all forms of elitism…

“One of my priorities is to develop interdisciplinary approaches in which diversity and cultural expressions will have a strategic place. This is one way we can make sure the 2005 convention thrives. A second way is by encouraging as many states as possible to ratify the Convention in order to universalize the process. A third way is to help countries put in place legislation and policies in favor of cultural expressions. And a fourth way is by letting the whole world know that culture—our social capital and a pillar of development—is key to the present and the future, as shown by the UNESCO World Report Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue published last month.”