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

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speaking notes for Joseph Licari, Permanent Representative of Malta to the Council of Europe

20 October 2003

Mr President, Minister of Culture of Croatia,
Honourable Ministers,
Madame Deputy Secretary General
Honourable Representative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have the honour of representing the Committee of Ministers, which is the decision-making body of the Council of Europe.

The message I am to convey to you today is that the Committee of Ministers attaches the highest importance to the content and results of this conference. This is no mere platitude, as can be confirmed by the presence of so many Ministers for Cultural Affairs, decision-makers, experts, observers and partners.

Culture recognises bridges, not borders.

Today we speak about culture and reconciliation, and about culture and prevention. It is, of course, impossible to abolish conflicts. They are part of human nature, and thus, part of society. But they can, and should be, prevented from turning into a violent, murderous outburst. Indeed, the creative tension generated by a conflict can be converted into a source of mutual enrichment, improvement and respect.

That is why prevention requires good governance, that is, good policies and good implementation of those policies.

The priority of the Council of Europe’s programme is the role of culture in policy-making, good governance, identity and diversity, intercultural and interfaith dialogue. It fights against what some consider a human instinct the dislike of the unlike and concentrates on teaching to understand those who are different; to be receptive and respectful; to place events in their objective historic perspective; to seek solutions democratically and creatively and to act with humanity meaning, in full compliance with humanist values, human rights and human dignity.

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome, in particular, the interest shown in this Conference by the League of Arab States and its cultural organisation, ALECSO. We shall listen to their Message in the course of our meeting. This shows continuity in the dialogue opened by the Committee of Ministers at its 110th Session in Vilnius in May 2002. In addition, I wish to recall that the Council of Europe, through its Secretary General, attended, just last weekend, the Summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Kuala Lumpur.

I want to stress that the Committee of Ministers is seeking to strengthen its relations with the southern shore of the Mediterranean. There is no need to invent an instrument for this: in 1999 the Council of Europe set up its Lisbon-based Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity, known as the North-South Centre.

The Council of Europe has paid special attention to the dialogue between civilisations, particularly after the tragic events of 11 September 2001. In the Plan of Action against terrorism, which it adopted in November 2001, the Committee of Ministers put the emphasis on three lines of approach:

- strengthening legal action
- preserving fundamental values, and
- tackling the causes of terrorism.

Laws should be built on fundamental rights, freedoms and values. The Committee of Ministers has formed a Working Group to make them work in synergy. No aspect is neglected. Legal, ethical, social, “economic” and, of course, cultural approaches are all present. What is our aim? Is it to soften “the clash of civilisations”? We do not recognise such notions in the Council of Europe. Our aim is to eradicate the “shock of mutual ignorance”, to create a dialogue of cultures and a culture of dialogue. That’s why we came out in favour of openness towards the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean and Central Asia.

In this approach, the Committee of Ministers cannot stand alone: the support of Ministers of Culture is essential. Our Conference, here this week, should show the positive side of what in the past may have been “a problem”: diversity, seen as enrichment, adventure and potential. The Conference is already a forum for cultural exchange. I hope it will lead to other forms of exchange, including economic ones. And, most importantly, talking and exchanging views is important, but that alone will not change the lives of people.

Thus, the Declaration and its recommendations which you will adopt, should be translated into action, by yourselves and others. The Committee of Ministers will actively participate in that task.

On behalf of the Committee of Ministers, as well as all the bodies represented, I wish you success in your work and trust that your message will have the widest possible impact and visibility.

Thank you, Mr President.