Mr. Ivan Bernier, Professor Emeritus at the Université Laval Faculty of Law and member of the UNESCO Committee of Independent Experts , Summer 2004.
Should cultural diversity be the subject of an international UNESCO convention? Or should it remain within the purview of the WTO? The issues at stake in this battle are explained by Professor Bernier in this occasional paper published by the Swiss author’s society (SSA). Starting with the origins and nature of the conflict, Professor Bernier explains why fostering cultural diversity is important, describing how cultural diversity is viewed as an obstacle to trade within the WTO framework, and as an end in itself from a UNESCO viewpoint. He notes that the battle is far from won, but stresses that it is a battle, and not a war. “In addition to denouncing the protectionist character of the draft convention under discussion at UNESCO, the United States may also claim that the draft violates the principle of free circulation of information (exactly as they did in the 1970s and 1980s to discredit UNESCO’s New International Information and Communication Order initiative). However, the goal of the planned convention is not to limit the circulation of information, but rather to allow all people to participate in the cultural life of their communities, a fundamental right recognized in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“If the convention initiative fails, cultural expression will fall solely within the purview of trade-related bodies. Artists and authors will be the first ones affected, as they see the state’s ability to intervene on behalf of cultural development increasingly curtailed due to strictly commercial considerations.” Consequently, it is not surprising that a growing number of national cultural diversity coalitions made up of cultural professionals from a variety of sectors have been established in recent years to defend, at home and abroad, the role of cultural expression as a language of social communication. Professor Bernier warns that it is only with the unswerving support of cultural professionals that the “battle for cultural diversity” can be won.
In an accompanying text, the interim director of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture, Marc Wehrlin, lays out the Swiss position on cultural diversity. ( Available in French and German )