Réunion informelle des Ministres de la culture: «Le nouveau rôle et les nouvelles responsabilités des ministres de la culture pour initier le dialogue interculturel» - Strasbourg, les 17 et 18 février 2003
(version anglaise seulement)
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to chair our 2nd working session : “Diversity and Dialogue. First of all I would also like to thank the Council of Europe for organizing this important meeting.
As the chair, allow me to say a few words on the topic before giving the floor to my Greek colleague for the introduction.
Intercultural dialogue, both as a concept and process, has been vital area of work for intellectuals, academicians, religious leaders, and the laymen with the aim of defining the root causes of conflicts and consequently finding the right remedies for lasting solutions.
Even though the issue has preoccupied world civilisation for centuries, it has gained new meaning and urgency in the aftermath of the tragedy of 11th September. That tragedy itself being a deep shock for the victims, has also shown how easy it is for deep-rooted prejudices to surface. One of the first temptations that developed after 11th September was to identify terrorism on cultural and religious lines, almost pitting one part of humanity against the other.
Yet, 11th September also resulted in an emerging consciousness: a mutual realization of the inadequate knowledge about each other, of the need for cultural diversity.
History is full of numerous examples where in the past we addressed the issue of “the Other” to determine the dynamics of stability and peace. The trends to ignore or to snub the other, to dominate politically, economically or culturally, only result in confrontation and hostility. Harmony, knowledge and welfare are nurtured when different cultures and nations communicate with each other and when they feel respect for others’ culture. Political understanding and dialogue provide the platform which generates the web of relationships.
By knowing others better, the definition of “the Other” does acquire new references. In the past, confrontational lines were drawn between military pacts, political, ideologies and geographic entities. Unfortunate cases still prevail, they are as dangerous as ever, but the trend seems to be moving towards a “conceptual definition” one based on “values”.
The fundamental logic that lies behind democracy is the logic of “and” but not “or”. In other words, the notion of “and” is a bond that connects individuals. Otherwise, if one starts a process or a chain of thought with the notion of “or” as a concept, that would result in creating differences. By using “you” or “me” one automatically excludes the “other”. The correct way of expressing this notion is to say not “you or me” but “you and me”.
This is the underlying pin of cultural diversity and dialogue. In other words, this is a must for a meaningful dialogue.
In any democratic society and in fact in the whole democratic world, there is no room to coerce the other to change its colour.
The beauty of a democratic society lies in the rich colours of a rainbow.
In Turkish, the word “human being” is “insan”, which comes from the Arabic word “ünsiyet”, meaning individuals who know and live peacefully together and in harmony.
The antonym of “ünsiyet” is “vahşet” which best could be translated as aggression or cruelty.
The logical conclusion of this is that despite the individual and societal differences, men could live together in peace and harmony.
This brings me back to the virtue of democracy which requires accepting cultural differences and to defend societies or individuals when subjected to injustice.
Cultural plurality and dialogue cannot be achieved by eloquent speeches or issuing decrees. Cultural plurality and dialogue requires constant action and application. The famous Chinese philosopher Conficius put this in a nutshell by saying that “if the emperor is just, no laws are required, but if he is unjust, laws have no meaning.”
As an initiative of the Turkish government, Ministers of the Foreign Affairs of the States belonging to the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union along with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the candidate states and observers were brought together for the first time at the OIC-EU Joint Forum in Istanbul in February last year.
At that Forum, His Royal Highness Prince El-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan perhaps put the issue of international dialogue and conflict prevention in a nutshell when he said “cautious prediction and crisis management have proved insufficient to deal satisfactorily with economic disasters and political or cultural conflicts. As human race, we have bound ourselves together in one global civilisation using worldwide technology and communications. Only now we are beginning to realise the consequences of our deeper internal differences. There is an urgent need to find cultural bridges and new foundations upon which to build such bridges.”
He continued by stating that “ Europe cannot be understood as a ‘Christian club’ when its culture is the outcome of the centuries of mutual influence and living together among major communities of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Europe, as it stands today, possesses strengths of diversity, co-existence, innovation and clear cross cultural values which result from its long history of rich relationships between ‘self’ and ‘other’”.
The past century has witnessed great wars and untold destruction as well as very significant progress of the human race.
Yet, the positive developments cannot hide the fact that a number of problems to start with poverty and inequality in the income distribution and in addition, terrorism, pollution, drug trafficking, organized crime, corruption, racism, moral decay and intolerance, all contribute to the conflicts locally and beyond.
In September of 2002, the joint organised meeting of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and UNESCO on the issue of intangible cultural heritage of mankind was held in Istanbul. One hundred twelve countries did take part in this Ministers of Culture Roundtable on the topic “Intangible Cultural Heritage, a Mirror of Cultural Diversity.” The discussion guidelines of UNESCO for the Istanbul roundtable draw our attention to the fact that the extending process of globalisation brings with it not only hitherto unknown potential for expression and innovation, but also the risk of the marginalisation of the most vulnerable cultures.
The subject of international dialogue and conflict prevention is global, yet Europe , with its Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, is the right platform to tackle the issue. Innovative methodologies are needed, more inclusive and integrative approaches should be found. Here, both the Council of Europe, and through the Council of Europe all institutions need to be mobilized. For that purpose, the Ministers of Culture do have a great responsibility to contribute to a new world order that would be free of prejudices, an environment where culture of pluralism is fostered and diversity is respected.
I thank you for your attention and would like now to give the floor to my dear colleague from Greece, Mr. Venizelos for his introduction speech.