Conference of the European Ministers of Culture - 20 - 22 October 2003 - Opatija, Croatie 

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Introduction by Prof. Bojidar Abrashev, Minister of Culture of Bulgaria

Opatija, 21 October 2003

Working session 3 : Governance and inter-sectorial cooperation
Preservation of identities

Dear Ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all I would like to express my thanks to our host the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Croatia Dr. Antun Vujic and to the Council of Europe for initiating this conference. Today the issue of protection of cultural diversity and encouraging pluralism and dialogue among cultures is one of the main themes being discussed in the society. Many international organizations and national governments are pursuing their efforts to advocate the crucial role of culture in national and international development strategies. The elaboration of cultural policies aimed at the promotion of cultural diversity for a sustainable pluralism and human development is highly recommended. I believe it is our common understanding and the main reason to be here together today to discuss the new role and new responsibilities of the European Ministers of culture for initiating active intercultural dialogue with due regard for cultural diversity.

Preservation of identities is among the main themes of our conference. That means that the issue of identity is coming back. The more ideologies wither away and cultural homogenization is achieved through the globalization of markets and media, the more assertive the claim for cultural rooting and regional specifity. Today, homogenizing tendencies and heterogeneity are fellow travelers. This apparent paradox globalization and simultaneous fragmentation draw our attention more and more.

What is identity, how to define it, what are its components? It is not easy to answer these questions in brief. Like culture, identity is evolving and is a part of a complex whole where economic factors and power relations interact. The components or ingredients of identity basically are: culture, heritage, religion, language, tradition, but identity is also related to things like social class, territory, common profession, landscape, agrarian heritage, as well as the know-how.

The state has a new and very important role: to recognize identities and to build bridges between them, to protect the cultural diversity of the society. The idea is to channel diversity towards constructive pluralism in order to facilitate the creation of state and societal mechanisms to promote harmonious interaction between cultures. To achieve this goal, both the state and the civil society have an important role to play by promoting equality and inclusiveness, not uniformity, by recognizing the sense of belonging and fostering empowerment, allowing the individuals to enjoy the security of particular identities within an accepted social and democratic framework.

We must learn about to respect other identities, to consider them acceptable and even an enrichment. Only if the state succeeds in doing this will it ensure the co-existence of all these reinforced identities. At the same time it will be offering space for them to flourish. The variety of culture and identity should be encouraged.

What is the Bulgarian policy in regard of cultural diversity and preservation of identities? In 1998, Charles Laundry as a member of the Council of Europe experts’ team evaluating Bulgarian cultural policy states that in Bulgaria there was no specific attention paid to minorities in terms of cultural policy. There were no programs to promote minorities cultures, the minorities were a forgotten, to some extent invisible group.

Today the situation has radically changed. The protection of cultural diversity and preservation of identities has become a priority task of the Bulgarian government. In respect of cultural diversity, the idea underlying the Ministry’s of Culture policy is that the support of its preservation and development does not create problems: on the contrary, it generates exceptional advantages. In support of this view, our activities along these lines are based on the following principles:

- Creating opportunities for wide expansion of the cooperation between uniform cultures, which precludes a relationship of subordination and provides conditions for minority culture development, knowledge of such culture and self-expression of the cultural needs and identity of minorities;

- Supporting an integration process which guarantees preservation of one’s own cultural identity. A special program protecting specific cultural rights and providing equal opportunities and uniform criteria for the evaluation of culture and culture-related products of the majority and the minorities could become a special tool for implementation of this principle.

- It is particularly important to cultivate tolerance towards and respect of differences, as this is the only way to expand cultural dialogue.

- And last but not the least minority culture development should contribute to the general enrichment of national culture. The principle of selective support of activities and products promoting cultural initiative, authenticity preservation, and development of professionalism is already applied.

It is very important to note that cultural diversity can only be maintained where the value of the cultures of those different from the basic population is recognized. In other words, this process can only be realized where it is desired by all actors, majority or minority, state or civil society. This is the only bases of building a democratic cultural pluralism model that will reconcile the traditional cultural differences composing a nation’s culture.

Maintaining cultural diversity of the society is important also because it contains a huge potential for development of creative entrepreneurship and cultural industries. It is because of the individual nature of their creative realization that such initiatives contribute to preserving identities and works for the enrichment of cultural diversity. Another aspect of cultural industries is the fact that individual groups based on their own identity more than give their conception of the world to the products created; they also confirm the originality of the settlement, the region, the country. This is particularly important in a globalize world. The cultural entrepreneurship development is acquiring an increasing political value.

The role of cultural institutions in economic life could hardly be questioned today. Along with economic prosperity, these also become firmly established as one of the most flexible, cheap and effective tools in the social policy field. On the other hand, this economic and social effect becomes a key factor which protects culture itself. Thus the strengthening economic and social dimensions of the cultural sector become a basis for an increasingly wider effect of culture and vice versa starting from confirmation of identities, contribution to social convergence and getting to economic development and improving the standard of living of both individual minority groups, regions and the whole country.

Today we are witnessing the European Union enlargement. Is there such a thing as a European identity? The answer may be yes if we simultaneously accept that this identity is made out of various national identities. The EU reflects and broadens these national identities. We combine in one single person identities based on self, family and group, nation and religion, culture and traditions. Why would the EU not be able to offer space for a similar combination?

To conclude, identity is both a source of hope and a threat. Because it addresses depth and emotions, it contains a lot of energy which may lead either to creativity and openness or, conversely, to defensiveness and exclusion. An open identity can be seen as a narrative process with a concern for relationship, meaning and the quest for common well being. A closed identity is related to the description of a static content leading to isolation, resentful opposition and, possibly, violence. The latter may cause violation of human rights and dictatorship. The former has to do with emancipation and responsible democratic citizenship. And when there is a hope, that changes everything. The focus on identity is not to be confused with traditionalism: it implies a change of mentality.