Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
French Ministry of Culture and Communication
Mr Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should first like to apologise for the absence of the Minister of Culture and Communication, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, whose obligations have kept him in Paris today. You all know his attachment to the Council of Europe, which he has demonstrated on several occasions since he took up office, particularly at his meeting in Strasbourg last February with the Secretary General, Terry Davis, and when he addressed the Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in September 2004.
The Minister is particularly pleased at your choice of the theme "diversity and identity”, an issue this Ministry considers decisive for the future of cultural policies and one which, in more general terms, illustrates the new place occupied by the cultural dimension in the economic, social and diplomatic affairs of our time.
The first conference of Ministers of Culture organised to mark the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe's Cultural Convention, in Wroclaw last autumn, strongly highlighted the Council of Europe's interest in these matters. Recent events have confirmed the dangers linked with lack of openness to other cultures and the increasingly violent irruption of intolerance and terrorism, merely underlining the urgent need for more thorough research into this theme of identity and diversity.
Culture is indeed one of the keys to war and peace in the world. The identity crisis which has spared neither France nor Europe today largely explains the upheavals in the world. One of the main challenges facing us today is to convince our fellow citizens of the strength to be found in a solid identity, to help them live with globalisation and open themselves to others without fear of losing their own identity.
The Council of Europe has an eminent part to play in this debate. Having an essential role in promoting respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe, and in conflict prevention, it has taken into account, along with many others, the essential role of culture and intercultural dialogue in conflict prevention, for example in the declaration of the ministers of culture in Opatija in October 2003 on intercultural dialogue and conflict prevention.
It is thus in phase with the new role of cultural diplomacy, which is no longer merely a question of promoting the heritage and creation, but also of reviving and bringing out the strength of identities, in a spirit of peace and respect for others, in a world where most conflicts are first and foremost conflicts of identity.
As the programme of this conference rightly points out, this debate concerns both the international diplomatic level and the domestic social sphere.
In the international sphere the challenge is to develop exchanges between all cultures on a reciprocal basis. It concerns not only culture in the traditional sense of the term but also as expressed using modern communication tools. In all our countries we must foster a model of dialogue that strikes a proper balance between respect for the identities of origin and adhesion to shared values.
The globalisation of culture is a fact of life. It is at once an extraordinary opportunity for the circulation of ideas, people, works and products, but there is also a risk of everyone falling into the same mould, and their cultures and languages disappearing. Let me briefly remind you of the figures quoted at the conference in Wroclaw: 85% of the films produced in the world are made by Hollywood studios, four firms share the bulk of the world's music market, and 60% of the fiction programmes shown on television in many of our countries are made in the USA.
Europe, on the whole, is well aware of the dangers inherent in these trends, and we welcome the fact that the draft convention on cultural diversity elaborated last June by the UNESCO committee of intergovernmental experts met with the approval of all the member states of the Council of Europe which are members of UNESCO. This continent-wide consensus, which came as no real surprise following the declarations made by the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe both in Opatija in 2003 and in Wroclaw, was one of the key factors that made it possible to move these difficult negotiations forward.
There is nothing unusual about this if one considers that one of the characteristic features of European civilisation throughout history has been exchange, openness and curiosity about the outside world and different cultures. Indeed, in order to continue building itself, Europe needs cultural diversity.
If, as we hope, the draft international Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is adopted at the UNESCO General Conference in October, and subsequently ratified, the specificity of cultural and audiovisual goods as sources of identity and therefore not to be treated like other goods will at last be recognised, and governments will be able to set in motion the support and co-operation machinery necessary for cultural diversity to survive.
So this text is not an end in itself, but rather a starting point: it invites us in to preserve respect for cultures and cultural diversity; and I think that in this new phase, the Council of Europe, with its pioneering role in heritage co-operation and its particular awareness of the role of culture in conflict prevention, has a prominent role to play.
Beyond this international dimension, however, and the consolidation of an international law on culture along the lines of the international law developing in the health and environment fields, the question of cultural diversity in our own societies is becoming increasingly topical. While some countries know the subject well because of their traditionally multiethnic character, the consequences of immigration within Europe and from outside make it a question which concerns us all.
In this context, the policy of cultural exchanges cannot be limited to encouraging exchanges of works of art and being open to other-cultural input. It is also a matter, in more general terms, of encouraging cultural practices which promote tolerance, dialogue and respect for differences, which help fight all forms of exclusion or even segregation, and make us want to live and build something together.
The opening of a national centre on the history of immigration at the Porte Dorée in Paris in 2007, where all French people will be able to appreciate the valuable contributions made by the successive waves of immigration in France, will be an emblematic example of this new approach.
This combat only makes sense, however, if we give education in culture and the arts its rightful place.
Transmitting a common heritage of works, and the cultural values attached to them, to the greatest number is absolutely essential to the protection of cultural diversity. The genuine democratisation of culture, however, as we all know, means making culture present throughout the education system. There must be more culture in education, in both scope and intensity, and those in charge of our education systems must be constantly reminded of this essential dimension of their work.
What is more, education policy in culture and the arts must allow for the fact that, for most people, access to culture does not necessarily mean practising an art, even as a hobby, or using cultural facilities; it also and increasingly involves the consumption of works produced by the cultural industries.
Education in culture and the arts should help children and young people to find their way through the maze of cultural productions available thanks to the development of cultural industries on a worldwide scale; it should help them to take a critical view of the risks inherent in the standardisation of tastes and cultural practices. This education should include respect for author's rights, particularly with regard to music and pictures.
Against this backdrop, pooling our respective experiences of assessing the effects of education in culture and the arts on integration and social cohesion seems to be an essential line of research. The French Ministry of Culture and Communication will be organising a symposium on the subject next year in Paris. We are confident that the Council of Europe, which has also begun to look into these questions, with its compendium of cultural policies in Europe, will contribute to this research.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is because our strength as Europeans lies in our diversity that we must continue to act and organise ourselves, and that the Council of Europe has its place as a think-tank and a promoter of cultural exchange. The alternative we must avoid is a world of uniform and standardised mass culture, with societies divided along increasingly unshakeable lines of identity which breed violence and conflicts. Because cultural issues also concern the cohesion of our societies and peace on our continent, the fight for a Europe of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue is one we must all wage together.