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

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

“The new role and new responsibilities of Ministers of Culture in initiating ntercultural dialogue, with due regard for cultural diversity “

Opatija, 20 October 2003

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week, speaking at the Islamic Conference Summit in Kuala Lumpur, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe stated: “Civilisations do not clash. Ignorance and prejudice do”. This remark followed a speech by the Malaysian Prime Minister who, while claiming that 1.3 billion Muslims could not be “defeated by a few million Jews”, nevertheless referred to the need to avoid antagonising everyone.

History has shown how culture and religion may be used, misused and abused to justify or fuel conflicts. The worst crimes and sins have been committed in the name of culture or religion. How and why can this happen? What can we do to prevent such things to happen?

This conference is, first of all, about Responsibilities.

You are today here to confirm that you feel not only concerned and responsible, but also capable of addressing important challenges. When taking office in your ministries, you certainly were challenged by an important objective: the protection and promotion of culture and cultural heritage.

I am sure that you were also all confronted with the complexity of this task, as you have to find difficult balances and make sure that the rich diversity of your cultures is preserved. European identity is based on diversity. The declaration of cultural diversity of 2000 is a text of reference in this field.

Diversity is an asset, a resource for sustainable development in the “knowledge society”. Throughout history, diversity has characterised our societies. Cities, which were tolerant, cross-cultural and democratic, were the most innovative, productive and peaceful. This in turn, as in a virtuous circle, was for the benefit of the socio-economic and cultural development of their inhabitants. Sarajevo comes to my mind as an excellent example of the recent past and it is not by coincidence that this city has been chosen to host the first intercultural forum in December of this year.

There has never been a mono-cultural society. Consequences of the 19th century attempts at nation building, which were based on mono-cultural ideals, inevitably linked to concepts of superiority and inferiority of civilisations, are well known to all of us.

Against this background, we ask you today to move a step forward. We ask you to acknowledge your responsibilities and identify your role in initiating and promoting intercultural dialogue.

As I stated at your last meeting in Strasbourg, the co-existence and cross-fertilization of multiple cultures need intercultural dialogue. That is why this conference is also about Dialogue, about talking to each other, about getting to know each other.

The Council of Europe is uniquely qualified to host and develop this dialogue, since our very raison d’être is to seek constructive and peaceful alternatives and lasting solutions to conflict and violence. As a multidisciplinary Organisation we have at our disposal a variety of tools ranging from binding legal instruments to political fora and technical assistance programmes. We possess proved expertise and experience in fields that are at the heart of our discussions today: human rights, democracy, social cohesion and indeed, in the fields of education and culture. I call on you to make use of all these instruments and expertise to achieve your (our) goals.

In this context, I am particularly pleased to welcome here the representative of the Arab League and the messages, full of hope that this organisation and ALECSO bring to our conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Minister Vujic,

Places of meetings can in themselves carry a message. I should therefore like to thank the Croatian government, and you personally, for inviting the Conference to meet in a part of Europe, which has for many centuries been an example of both the best and the worst consequences of different cultures living together. Holding the Conference in Croatia is highly symbolic of the new direction countries in the region wish to take after the tragic conflicts of the early 1990s.

But we should not only focus on this part of Europe and forget the divides, and sometimes conflicts, in other European regions. “Wounds and walls” exist elsewhere in Europe. Some are more obvious and well known, like the tensions which in many countries exist between the majority population and migrant communities. Others seem to attract less public interest, such as the dramatic plight of the Roma people and the socio-economic divisions which are increasingly acquiring a cultural and religious component. There is always a potential for conflict, whether open and violent, or hidden and sweltering.

The goal of this Conference is precisely to contribute to the prevention of such conflicts, and, where appropriate, to the initiation of reconciliation. We wish to identify the new role and the new responsibilities of Ministers of Culture as agents of change by initiating intercultural dialogue and actively promoting cultural diversity.

In our multicultural societies and in an increasingly global cultural environment, Ministers of Culture are called to:

- advocate core values fostering tolerance, respect, understanding and peaceful coexistence;

- promote cultural identity and diversity;

- promote cross-cultural knowledge in order to help develop positive attitudes and prevent negative stereotypes.

The policies, strategies and actions corresponding to this new role have to fully take into account the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular with respect to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and of holding opinions and that of receiving and imparting information and freedom of association. These rights have been qualified by the European Court of Human Rights as essential foundations of a democratic society and as representing basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Guaranteeing these rights is also the prerequisite for enjoying cultural rights.

A holistic cultural policy, enlisting all parties concerned in the spirit of good governance, created at central level, should be echoed and adapted at all other levels, thus respecting the democratic principle of subsidiarity. Indeed an effective promotion of dialogue cannot rest upon top-down legislation: it needs guidelines and examples of good practice.

Here again, the Council of Europe provides a very useful platform. With the help of the web-based Compendium of Cultural Policies, we intend to collect and disseminate examples of good practice.

One example of good practice, which was developed in the framework of the Council of Europe, is the Cultural Routes programme. Cultural Routes highlight links and create networks between examples of our outstanding European cultural and natural heritage in a manner which is accessible to all. They draw attention to our common past which is the basis for the values uniting us for a common future. They also encourage the revival of traditional crafts and trades, as well as of tourism, and they provoke encounter and dialogue.

This project is currently being discussed by the Committee of Ministers, and your views should most certainly be taken into account. I count on your support, Ministers, for our endeavours to further develop and extend this programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The draft Declaration on Intercultural Dialogue and Prevention of Conflicts, which I hope you will adopt at the end of your Conference, is a result of a multifaceted approach.

We consider the adoption of this text of the greatest importance as it will be:

The first European Declaration on intercultural dialogue and conflict prevention to be adopted by all Ministers of Culture whose States are party to the European Cultural Convention.

- The first concrete initiative to respond through common policy development to the most dramatic challenge of the 21st century: how to build bridges over the cultural, ethnic and religious divides which are a constant threat to peace and development.

- The first European text indicating the new roles and responsibilities Ministers have to assume in their field to promote dialogue and avoid use, misuse or abuse of culture.

- The first text to include a set of principles and shared values agreed in common as a basis for a common European policy for Dialogue.

The Declaration contains a strong appeal to politicians and all those involved in cultural policies making and in their implementation to initiate cultural policies which enable cultural, ethnic and religious communities to work with their differences constructively, and to learn about and from each other through active communication and dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The subject of the Conference is certainly most topical for our common future: namely, the crucial need for dialogue among civilisations, cultures and religions, both in Europe and between Europe and other continents.
At the end of this Conference, you will have adopted a Declaration on Intercultural Dialogue and the Prevention of Conflicts. But this is only the beginning. While the declaration is of course a strong political message, it also entails a lot of extra work for you since an assessment of results is already expected in 2004.
Keeping in mind that in 2004 we shall also commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the European Convention for Cultural Co-operation, you may wish to reflect on elements of cultural policy you should like to see included in cultural co-operation in the future.
It will be paramount that throughout this process, you actively co-operate with each other and also with other countries and organisations in order to reach out across boundaries.

In this 21st century, boundaries have become increasingly porous. The global economy and the internet have created the “knowledge society” which knows no frontiers but those of ignorance and poverty. This, the deepest divide of our times, is the most powerful potential source of conflict. I look at your work and at your commitment as a way of facing this challenge, a contribution to bridging the gap and to avoid a clash of ignorances.

It is my firm belief that a lasting peaceful and truly democratic Europe can only be achieved if we take into consideration its cultural dimension. In the next two days, you will prove that I’m right.

I thank you very much.