Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Christian TER STEPANIAN, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Armenia tothe Council of Europe
Five key words stand out from the discussions held over the past two days, which are Europe, culture, identity, diversity and dialogue.
Where “Europe” is concerned, we have seen once again what a complex concept it is and how difficult it is to define. To the public at large, Europe means the 25 European Union member countries. We at the Council of Europe know that Europe is much wider than that. Eleven years ago, in October 1994, the Parliamentary Assembly, in drawing the Council of Europe’s territorial boundaries, based itself on the political concept of the desire to participate in the European process, rather than on a strictly geographical reality. This concept, reminiscent of the “wish to live together” on which Ernest Renan and Charles Péguy founded the French nation, made it possible to realise the original political project conceived in the post-war years. It also made it possible for my country, Armenia, to accede to the Council of Europe in 2001.
With regard to “culture”, there have been many attempts to define this notion, which is just as complex as that of Europe. The definition adopted by this colloquy, namely that culture is “the set of values which give human beings their reason for being and doing”, is based on the Council of Europe’s basic aims, so I fully subscribe to it.
As for the concepts of “identity” and “diversity”, they are often presented as opposites. Our proceedings have shown that this is not the case. For us Europeans, cultural diversity is an inherent part of our historic heritage, which has not prevented our peoples and nations from forging a strong identity. Through European integration, we have learned to combine identity and diversity in order to join together in building a plural identity.
Lastly, where the concept of “dialogue” is concerned, this is the key instrument which we can use to blend Europe, culture, identity and diversity into a harmonious whole. Dialogue must be understood in the sense that the humanists of the Renaissance gave to it, namely “accepting that the other has a share of truth which I do not have”. It is no coincidence that the great philosopher Erasmus was chosen as the figurehead for the Cultural Convention’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Our colloquy is drawing to a close. Allow me, as Chair of the Committee of Ministers Rapporteur Group on Culture, Education, Youth and Sport, to attempt to draw a few conclusions from it.
The colloquy has been particularly interesting. The intellectual riches that have emerged from the contributions will “fuel” the discussions of the Committee of Ministers and steering committees in future and lead to new approaches.
Although it is dealt with at the Council of Europe as an administrative unit, “culture” (with its education, culture and heritage, youth and sport components) sometimes seems a very mixed field. This colloquy has shown, however, that there are a number of main thrusts which link together all these themes and programmes: the paramount importance of individual and collective values; cultural practices and expectations; political and social challenges. The discussions have shown that there can be no culture without education; that formal and informal education form a whole; that past and future are closely linked; and that dialogue with other cultures is both enriching and necessary.
The framework offered by the European Cultural Convention, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has enabled us in the past to collaborate on a large number of activities and programmes. Needless to say, our resources were not always in keeping with our aims. But we have progressed. Reading the convention today, we realise that the world of culture has changed significantly. Having said that, what new directions will our cultural co-operation take in the years ahead? This colloquy has provided some valuable pointers which will need to be assessed in the weeks to come to produce practical proposals and priorities.
The colloquy forms part of a political process and schedule which started with the ministerial conference in Wroclaw last December and will end with a further ministerial conference in a few weeks’ time, in Faro in Portugal. The Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe has meanwhile been held on 16-17 May in Warsaw.
Further work will, at all events, be based on the series of decisions taken at the Summit, in particular those relating to the objectives in the Action Plan concerning culture and intercultural dialogue: “Protecting and promoting cultural diversity” and “Fostering intercultural dialogue”.
I should like to take a closer look at these two objectives. Our heads of state and government expressed their profound conviction that respect for, and promotion of, cultural diversity on the basis of Council of Europe values are essential conditions for the development of law-based, democratic and socially cohesive societies founded on solidarity. The Council of Europe will therefore develop strategies to manage and promote cultural diversity. In this context, our governments undertook the task to foster dialogue on the role of culture in contemporary Europe and define ways to support diversity and artistic creativity, defending culture as a purveyor of values. Steps will be taken to enhance access to cultural achievements and heritage by promoting cultural activities and exchanges.
Where intercultural and interfaith dialogue is concerned, it will be systematically encouraged at all levels. This dialogue will be based on universal human rights and serve as a means of promoting awareness, understanding, reconciliation and tolerance, as well as preventing conflicts and assuring integration and the cohesion of society. Civil society will be actively involved, and women and men will be able to participate in it on an equal basis.
At the Council of Europe, we will strengthen co-operation and co-ordination both within the Organisation and with other regional and international organisations. A co-ordinator for intercultural dialogue will be appointed for this purpose. We will also make use of the North-South Centre, whose mission is to foster European awareness of intercultural and development issues.
The Summit decisions form the framework for our action over the months and years ahead. As I have already mentioned, the next stage will be the ministerial conference in Faro at the end of October, whose main theme will be intercultural dialogue not only within European societies, but also between Europe and the neighbouring regions. Special emphasis will be laid on the southern Mediterranean, and the culture ministers of the five North African countries will join their European counterparts on this occasion. The results of this colloquy’s recommendations will be on their agenda. I am sure that they will not fail to arouse their interest. Beyond that, they will provide material for the future Council of Europe white paper on intercultural dialogue, which is to be launched at the Faro conference.
I am sure that you will be interested in following future developments, and both the Director General, Ms Battaini, and I will be ready to assist you in this.