Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
Strasbourg, France
8-9 September 2005

Speech by Mr TOUBON

Summary of the debates on 9 September

To close today’s discussion, I should simply like to say a few words. First of all, the point just made by the former Russian Minister of Education is totally obvious, but cannot, in my view, be emphasised enough. Economic and financial resources are essential to realising objectives – national objectives, local objectives or the Council of Europe’s objectives. It is absolutely clear that conventions may remain mere empty scraps of paper unless they are backed by resources.

Now I would like to make four or five comments on some of the things other speakers have said.

First of all, this whole debate is basically about creating or maintaining the possibility of choosing, and the freedom to do so. That, primarily, is what cultural diversity is: freedom, which has often been mentioned, means freedom to choose.

Secondly, freedom to choose may well put an end to segregation – which actually means being confined by others or oneself.

Thirdly, if we have freedom to choose, action against discrimination, which is central to all our discussions, will become real and not merely theoretical. Discrimination, of course, is the inequality suffered by those who cannot escape from a given state or idea. Thus the freedom to choose is fundamental.

I was also struck – and there is nothing surprising about this at the Council of Europe – by the importance you all attached to knowledge, learning and education. It is true, as someone said just now, that there may be educated people who are against diversity and tolerance. On the whole, however, it is clear that knowledge makes for tolerance and acceptance.

I shall give you a topical example: in our own country, at President Jacques Chirac’s suggestion, we are planning a museum of the primary or primitive arts - call them what you will. The idea here is to show that civilisation, art and culture are not just the things you see in the Louvre or the Musée d’Art Moderne. People all over the world have been creating for centuries, and are still creating today, things which are works of art, which are meant to be works of art or which can become works of art. Realising this strikes me as vital.

History (our Greek friend said something very interesting about this a short time ago) is a path we absolutely must follow. Because history is a bit like painting: you put on one layer, then another, then you add another colour, and so on – and all these very different colours add up to give you the final colour. Telling the story of the past is like that too. I am very anxious, for example, to make the history of immigration part of the history of France, which is recounted today as if it were only the history of those who were French from the outset. The fact is that the French include many men and women who were not French to start with. Telling the story of immigration is telling the real story of France, and not the story invented at the end of the 19th century or even since Michelet.

Knowledge makes for integration, but so does language and history. In this way, we can ensure that the colours do not clash, but blend to give us the new colour - the new colours - of our societies. We are fighting to maintain, promote and protect that diversity (i.e. freedom), but also to ensure that the present and future beneficiaries of that freedom, both individuals and groups, use it in a way which allows us to build harmonious societies. Knowledge, education and culture will teach them to use freedom to promote the things which unite, not those which divide.