Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Closing remarks by the Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies, Joaquim DUARTE (Portugal)
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Although I have been unable to attend the entire proceedings because of work commitments, I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to make a few comments at the end of this colloquy on behalf of the Portuguese chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
Like several other speakers (in particular my colleague and friend Ambassador Ter Stepanian, who spoke just before me), I think that this colloquy has been held at a particularly well-chosen point in the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the European Cultural Convention. It follows on from two significant events which took place in Poland, the country from which Portugal has taken over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers – the Conference of Ministers of Culture which took place in Wroclaw in December 2004 and the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe, held in Warsaw in May 2005 – and precedes the ministerial conference to be held in Faro, in my own country, at the end of October to mark the end of the 50th anniversary.
The main subject for discussion at the Faro Ministerial Conference will be the need to devise a Council of Europe strategy for fostering intercultural and inter-faith dialogue, not only within our societies but also between Europe and its neighbouring regions, in particular the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This dialogue, the importance of which was already underlined at the Warsaw Summit, is one of the priorities of the Portuguese chairmanship of the Council of Europe, for, like many others, we believe that we must face up to the threat which cultural and religious tensions pose not only to the cohesion of our societies but also to the peaceful cohabitation of the different peoples and countries of this planet. We also believe that, among others, the North-South Centre in Lisbon could play an important role in organising such a dialogue.
On account of its geographical position - at the westernmost point of the European continent, opening on to an ocean which, as the poet Fernando Pessoa said, should unite and not divide the world - the character of its people, its traditional mix of cultures and its long-standing belief in the universality of values, Portugal sees the dialogue between civilisations as a vocation, not to say its main vocation. The Portuguese nation is a composite one, shaped by various influences, all of which we value. Although Portugal belongs to the Neo-Latin family and has always maintained a strong loyalty to Rome (as reflected in the titles given to kings in bygone days), it had close links with Islamic culture for centuries
The Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to arrive in sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, Japan and Brazil, are too familiar with the diverse nature of the world to be unaware of the extraordinary things that peoples from other corners of the world have to offer. We have too many years’ practical experience of interdependent interests to believe in the inevitability of a “clash of civilisations”. We sincerely believe that, beyond the cultural and religious differences that enrich the world while seeming to cause divisions among human beings, there is a common humanity which only mutual knowledge and dialogue can – I would even say must – reveal.
We do no, however, believe in multicultural tolerance without values. The protection of human rights and, in particular, the principle of the rule of law and respect for democracy are European values which we believe to be universal. They are not incompatible with tolerance but, on the contrary, a prerequisite for it. We have a common duty to uphold these “core values”, to use Council of Europe jargon, and this includes fostering intercultural and inter-faith dialogue. I am sure that your discussions yesterday and today, and your commitment, in many cases a long-standing one, will have gone a long way towards answering the question of how this should be done.