Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Contribution of Ms Katerina Stenou, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue
This session on cultural diversity and social cohesion is of the highest interest to UNESCO which considers that this theme represents one of the major challenges of our time.
These early years of the third millennium have shown noticeable signs of the forces of globalisation and fragmentation working as a duo to produce a more and more standard world globally and a more and more heterogeneous one locally.
In other words, our societies must cultivate the “right to difference”, while communities claim the “right to resemblance”, the builder of their identity. UNESCO is secure in this realisation and from its foundation onwards has sought to promote respect for “the fruitful diversity of cultures” of the world. UNESCO has entered on a new area of work with the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted in 2001, and has prepared a draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions for submission to the next session of the General Conference.
Cultural diversity is more than just a patchwork of multiple identities, it is the power and the principle at work wherever there is transmission of a heritage to be made fruitful by each individual’s and each group’s creative efforts which can be varied ad infinitum. Cultural diversity brings us back to the multiplicity of the forms whereby cultures of groups and societies find expression. It reveals the capabilities of the human intellect for conceiving new forms of truth, beauty, and justice. In this way, cultural diversity becomes the factor that pushes memory, imagination and innovation to the limit of their power.
Culture does not predetermine individuals, much less their behaviour. It can nevertheless become a means of identification a posteriori when economic, social or political exclusion selectively strike certain particular groups. It becomes a haven for “disaffiliated” individuals.
In a final analysis, culture is not intrinsically a factor of division, because it is not a frozen, static entity.
For the wager of “living together” to be won, it must be underpinned by a society adaptable enough to redefine the foundations of its social and cultural contract whenever necessary. Every political community is built on certain common values. These values are not fixed simply because they correspond to a given historical moment; a society must be capable of revisiting and redefining them. What is at stake underneath the issues addressed is the construction of a civic community which is not only plural but pluralist.
The paramount goal of social cohesion is to be attained though dialogue planned along the lines of a major work project. This should take in not only the historical foundations of each culture but also an up-to-date analysis of individual and group aspirations. In this way, the increasingly constant practice of seeking cultural cures for democratic shortcomings or social ills will find its full justification. Culture, with all its diversity, too often regarded as a cause of conflicts when used as a means to factional ends whether ethnic, religious or otherwise, must become an instrument of peace according to a purposive construction founded on permanent dialogue.1