Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies
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Speech by Lourdes Arizpe
Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO, France

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Allow me at the outset to congratulate you on behalf of both Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, President of the World Commission on Culture and Development, and Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, for taking the excellent initiative of organizing this conference. The key principal objective of UNESCO's task in the follow-up of the report of the World Commission is to generate a vigorous process of debate nationally, regionally and internationally, using the report to drive home a simple message: that without culture there can be no lasting development. And this conference is a landmark on that path.

As Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO and as a member of the Commission and later a participant in the Commission's deliberations, I speak from a double vantage point. This is a special privilege, although a challenging one in respond-ing to your comments, criticism and questions.

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General Introduction
Opening Address by Aad Nuis
Speech by  Lourdes Arizpe
A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
Concluding Address

For all of us, mobilizing the power of culture – the title of your conference is particularly well chosen – is a challenge in itself. We are more than ever aware of the power of culture to change the course of development, indeed, of history itself. Ours is an era of unsettling and unbalanced change, full of new opportunities as well as growing inequities. It is urgent – indeed indispensable – to move ahead in rethinking development. People and their communities across the world have put culture squarely on the public agenda, since they realize &– and I quote the opening line of the Executive Summary of the report – that 'development divorced from its human and cultural context is growth without a soul'. Development thinking and practice has already brought in environmental, gender and social concerns. But this is still incomplete. Recognition of the intrinsic role of culture in development within the context of a new vision of human development must be reinforced.

I believe that Our Creative Diversity does take us forward in this direction. As Jan Pronk has pointed out. 'it pinpoints the many links between culture and development and, in doing so, provides an excellent frame of reference for both research and debate – a debate which should not be confined to policy-makers alone'.

In what context should we see this power of culture? In what dynamic sense is it a power and what kind of power is it? What is it that awaits us in the coming years?

Bert Mulder

Clearly, the notion of development itself had to be broaden, as people realized that economic criteria alone could not provide a programme for governance, solidarity and well-being. The search for other criteria has led UNDP to elaborate a notion of human development: 'a process of enlarging people's choices' that measures development in a broad array of capabilities, ranging from political, economic and social freedom to individual opportunities to be healthy, educated, productive, creative and to enjoy self-respect and human rights. Culture is implied in this notion but it was not explicitly introduced. It was, however, increasingly evoked by several distinguished groups, such as the Brandt Commission, the South Commission, the World Commission on Environment and Development and the Commission on Global Governance. Building culture into the broader development strategies, as well as a more effective practical agenda, had to be the next step in rethinking development.

Across the world, as peoples mixed as never before in history, imaginatively, through telecommunications and now telematics, and geographically, through migration, all began to be drawn into more empowering and participatory frameworks. But for most the world system itself appeared increasingly unbalanced, indeterminate and incoherent, leading many to turn to culture as a refuge or, even worse, a weapon for extremism.

As Secretary of State Aad Nuis aptly described it, culture can be turned into armour. Armour protects yet it also imprisons. And the more people imprison themselves in a world that is accelerating human interactions, the more it will only create self-imposed marginalisation and exclusion.

The other metaphor which he used to describe the role of culture, that it is the backbone for development, is equally appropriate. We find many instances of culture being used to foster economic growth, for example, craft production providing a livelihood for many communities, or to foster social cohesion, what is now called social capital, as an asset that enhances success in development projects. One such example is the commercial success in international trade of the Otavalo Indians of Ecuador.

Let me begin by sharing with you some of the core ideas in Our Creative Diversity, the report of the World Commission on Culture and Development.

The first key message is that development embraces not only access to goods and services, but also the opportunity to choose a full, satisfying, valuable and valued way of living together in society. Culture cannot be reduced – as is generally the case – to a subsidiary position of a mere promoter of economic growth. Its role is not to be the servant of material ends but the social basis of the ends themselves. In other words, culture is both a means to material progress, and the goal of development seen as the flourishing of human existence in all its forms and as a whole.

It is therefore important both to acknowledge the far-reaching instrumental function of culture in development, and at the same time to recognize that this cannot be all there is to culture in judgements of development. There is, in addition, the role of culture as a desirable end in itself, as giving meaning to our existence.

Introduction report 'Our Creative Diversity'

This is why the Commission was also convinced, and this is a second key idea, that issues of development cannot be divorced from questions of ethics. Views about employment, social policy, the distribution of income and wealth, people's participation, gender inequalities, the environment and much else, are inevitably influenced by ethical values. What it is true for development is true with greater force of cultural issues. None of the important questions concerning culture and development can be addressed in an ethical vacuum. Values are always present, either implicitly or explicitly.

The Commission also saw that the intense cultural interaction caused by globalization can be a source of conflict, just as it simultaneously opens new spaces for cultural exchange, borrowing and lending. Global telecommunications are fostering a perception of homogenization in cultural value and life-styles worldwide. As a result, a politics of differentiation has emerged with great force leading to a search for distinctiveness among individuals and peoples. People position themselves within this new unitary system by turning to the most immediate, familiar collectively shared instrument at hand to mobilize: inherited culture. In many countries there has been a convulsive ingathering, a return to past traditions and a resurgent assertion of peoples and their leaders.

Can culture bridge the gap between local identity, ethnic or religious affiliation, national citizenship and, in some cases, macro-regional allegiance? Violent conflicts at each of these levels all over the world give the impression that we are facing a chaotic scramble for identity. The pressures straining the social and political fabric of nation states throughout the world have become one of the major new challenges to the United Nations concept itself.

The reverse of the cultural coin, as it were, is the potential, stressed by the Commission, of creating a tiered system of cultural allegiances, one that would allow people to belong to a local or micro-regional cultural group, as well as to a civic community. The Commission viewed culture, the foundation spring of remembrance and identity, as the major source of energy for creating new senses of belonging as well as new ways of living together.

If culture is to give strength and cohesion, and provide the structure that allows individuals to cooperate, then cultural pluralism is not an end in itself. The recognition of differences is above all a condition of dialogue and hence of the construction of a wider world of diverse people. As Mahatma Gandhi put, with incomparable simplicity:

'I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.'

The Commission and its work

Before I explore some of these ideas further and relate them to the themes of this conference let me say something about the genesis of the World Commission on Culture and Development and about the way it worked.

As you all know, the United Nations boasts a long tradition of independent commissions established to address global policies and challenges. And as you also know, by the late 1980s it had become clear to many people that development was a far more complex undertaking than had originally been thought. It could no longer be seen as a single linear path, for this would inevitably eliminate cultural diversity and experimentation, and dangerously limit humankind's creative capacities. To counter this, a vigorous cultural diversification had already taken place across the world, fed by the awareness that human civilization was a mosaic of different cultures. This evolution in thinking was largely the result of political emancipation, as nationhood had led to a keen awareness of each people's own way of life as a value, as a right, as a responsibility and as an opportunity. It had led each people to challenge the frame of reference in which only one system of values generated rules assumed to be universal and to demand the right to forge different versions of modernization.

It was in the framework of the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-97) that the idea emerged that it was UNESCO's responsibility to clarify the issues and launch an international dynamic in much the same way that the Brundtland Commission had done for environment and development. From the start, countries such as the Netherlands gave full and generous support to this ambitious project. Let me take this opportunity therefore to reiterate our deep gratitude to your government for its past and continuing support.

In 1991, the General Conference of UNESCO requested the Director-General, in co-operation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to establish 'an independent World Commission on Culture and Development to prepare a World report on Culture and Development and proposals for both urgent and long-term action to meet cultural needs in the context of development'.

This independent Commission was established jointly by UNESCO and the United Nations in December 1992. Chaired by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, who was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1983 to 1991, the Commission included distinguished specialists from all parts of the world. Among its Honorary Members, were four Nobel Laureates. UNESCO and the United Nations provided the secretariat. Between March 1993 and September 1995, the Commission held nine meetings in different regions. On each occasion, scholars, policy-makers, artists and NGO activists presented specific regional perspectives and concerns. These exchanges allowed the Commission to test its own questions and working hypotheses. It explored different lines of inquiry, consolidating some, abandoning others, and opening up paths not originally envisaged.

After some thirty-one months of work, in November 1995 the Commission presented its report, Our Creative Diversity to the General Conference of UNESCO and to the United Nations General Assembly.

Our Creative Diversity presents a composite vision of the world at the turn of both century and millennium, and a call to action in a selected number of problem areas. Its ten analytical chapters analyze, from a cultural perspective but with a development twist, as many policy areas.

While all these chapters of our report provide a wealth of policy recommendations to governments and other national actors, as well as specific ideas that UNESCO and other international organizations could implement, if they so choose, the Commission also recommended a series of activities that it called its International Agenda. This is a selective agenda, designed to launch a process through which key issues can be tackled at international level.

With its 10/10 structure, the report of the Commission seeks to address a diversified audience across the world ranging from community activists, artists, creators, consumer's organizations and women groups to government officials. It also seeks to inform opinion-leaders and inspire policy-makers. This of course is one of the main reasons why it is so important for me to be with you here today.

Let me turn now to the Commission's analysis. At the head of its concerns, the Commission placed the notion of a global ethics that needs to emerge from a worldwide quest for shared values that can bring people and cultures together rather than drive them apart. It then explored the challenges of cultural pluralism, reaffirming a commitment to fostering coexistence in diversity both nationally and internationally. It took up the challenge of stimulating human creativity, in order to inspire as well as empower people, in the arts, in the field of science and technology and in the practice of governance. It explored the cultural implications of the world media scene, focusing on whether the principles of diversity, competition, standards of decency, and the balance between equity and efficiency, often applied nationally, can be applied internationally. The commission also addressed the cultural paradoxes of gender, as development transforms the relationships between men and women and globalization impacts both positively and negatively on women's rights. It was deeply concerned by the potential needs of children and young people and sought ways to bolster their aspiration to a world more attuned to multicultural values and to inter-cultural communication. It cast a fresh eye on the growing importance of cultural heritage as a social and economic resource and built on the groundwork laid by the Brundtland Commission to explore the complex relationship between cultural diversity and bio-diversity, between cultural values and environmental sustainability. Finally, it set out a research agenda for interdisciplinary analysis of the key intersections between various aspects of culture and development issues.

Given the tripod of themes on which this conference is constructed, I return in this final segment of my presentation to the Commission's commitment to the search for a global ethics, to its commitment to cultural pluralism, and lastly to its concern with the challenges posed by a media-rich world.

Towards a new global ethics

There is a profound need for a new global scale of values; our futures will be increasingly shaped by the awareness of interdependence among cultures and societies, thus making it essential to built bridges between them and to promote cultural conviviality through new socio-political agreements, negotiated in the innovative framework of a global ethics.

The role cultures may play in the search for a global ethics is complex and often widely misunderstood. Cultures are often regarded as unified systems of ideas and beliefs, with sharply delineated boundaries. But cultures overlap. Basic ideas may, and do, recur in several cultures with common roots, build on similar human experiences and have, in the course of history, often learned from each other. Cultures usually do not speak with one voice on religious, ethical, social or political matters and other aspects of people's lives. What the meaning of a particular idea or tradition may be and what conduct it may enjoin is always subject to interpretation. This applies with particular force to a world in rapid transformation. What a culture actually 'says' in a new context will be open to discussion and occasionally to profound disagreement even among its members. Finally, cultures do not commonly form homogeneous units. Within what is conventionally considered a culture, numerous differences may exist along gender, class, religion, language, or other lines. At the same time, ideas and clusters of beliefs may be shared by people of the same gender and of similar ethnic origin or class across cultural boundaries, serving as bases for solidarity and alliances between them.

What about recurrent themes that appear in nearly all cultural traditions? Could they serve as building blocks for a global ethics? The first such source, in the opinion of the Commission, is the idea of human vulnerability and the impulse to alleviate suffering wherever possible. This idea is found in the moral views of all cultures. Similarly, it is part of the fundamental moral teachings of each of the great traditions that one should treat others as one would want to be treated oneself. Some version of this 'Golden Rule' is expressed in all faiths. In this context we should recognize the work of Dr Hans Küng, the distinguished theologian, a pioneer in the search for common ethical ground, whose ideas have influenced many groups, including the World Commission, and who is also a speaker at this conference.

But what basis can be given to an 'ethical dimension of the world political order'? Here, too, it is worth noting that this document gives the Golden Rule as the main basic principle: 'People should treat others as they would themselves wish to be treated.'

Hans Küng

Many different sets of values would have to be brought to a common ground. It is not necessary to agree with all or give them equal weight but a minimum set of core beliefs would appear to be essential. This minimum set constitutes a point of departure, not a final destination, and it is possible and greatly to be hoped, that this common ground will increase.

The Commission identified five ethical pillars:

    There is set of universal rights which establishes a standard against which international conduct can be judged.
    Beyond the rights of individuals, the interests of cultural minorities and other minority groups must be protected and respect for cultural diversity promoted.
    In the political arena, democratic processes should prevail so that people's needs and wishes are taken into account in determining how collective life is organized.
    All those living today are entitled to the basic necessities for a decent life and those who came after us should inherit a world of equal or greater choices and opportunities.
    When conflicts arise, as is inevitable, and to some extend, the parties concerned should resort to peaceful resolution through negotiation.

With regard to each point, however, the Commission recognized the difficulties inherent in the diversity of viewpoints, no more clearly visible perhaps than in the notion of human rights. Let me quote therefore a very powerful passage from its report that qualifies the notion of human rights:

'At the same time it should be recognized that rights have to be combined with duties, options with bonds, choices with allegiances, liberties with ligatures. Bonds without options are oppressive; options without bonds are anarchy. Modernization has widened choices, but destroyed some connections. Indeed, choices without bonds can be as oppressive as bonds without choices. The aim should be a society in which liberty is not libertine, authority not authoritarian, choices more than actes gratuits, bonds more than painful restrictions.

There has been little examination of how different people perceive human rights or of the dynamics between the rights of individuals and collectives. In many cultures rights are not separable from duties. In South Asia, for example, human rights activists have discovered that indigenous people often find it difficult to respond to a general question like 'what are your rights?' in the absence of a contextual framework (such as a religion, a family, or some other institution). Second, they have found that in responding, people begin by explaining duties before they elaborate on rights. Third, people may resist speaking of rights with reference to instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are either unknown or perceived as remote from their own experience'.

Cultural Pluralism

The second chapter of the report affirms a deep commitment to the idea of pluralism. The Commission recognized that not only is the world pluralist, but that pluralism characterizes almost all the 190 nations that make up the world community. But ethnic and other forms of group identification can act as triggers for violent conflict when mobilized and manipulated. Hence 'nation-building' that seeks to make all groups homogeneous – or by allowing one to dominate – is neither desirable nor feasible. How, rather, can a nation create a sense of itself as a civic community, freed from any connotations of ethnic exclusivity? How should it deal with issues such as the cultural rights of minorities, xenophobia and racism, religious revivalism or fundamentalism and the situation of the world's indigenous peoples?

Apartheid was the most determined and systematic attempt at ethnic separation ever undertaken. For half a century a powerful, well-armed, determined and ruthless government tried everything in its power, defying the world, making 18-million pass-law arrests and three-and-a-half million forced evictions. And at the end of it all the South African population was more mixed than ever before.

Allister Sparks

There were some ways in which the Commissioned abandoned the conventional wisdom with regard to the issue of respect for the diversity of cultures. As I have mentioned before, the Commission did not view pluralism as an end in itself but as the necessary recognition of differences for a constructive dialogue to take place. The need for people to live and work together peacefully should result in respect for all cultures, or at least for those cultures that themselves tolerate and respect others. There are some cultural features that may not be worthy of respect because they themselves demonstrate intolerance, exclusiveness, exploitation, or cruelty to others. Whatever we may be told about the importance of 'not interfering with local customs,' such practices, whether aimed at people from different cultures or at other members of the same culture, should be condemned, not tolerated. Even individuals holding such intolerant views should, however, be left free to express their views, as long as their actions do not infringe on the rights of others who do not agree with them.

For the rest, more than tolerance for other cultures is required. We should rejoice at cultural differences and attempt to learn from them. Governments cannot prescribe such attitudes and behaviour as respect and rejoicing, but they can prohibit attacks on people from different cultures and their practices and they can set the legal stage for mutual tolerance and accommodation. Intolerant views become particularly pernicious when they become the policy of intolerant governments. Discrimination, segregation and exclusion based on cultural traits then become official polbe used to denounce and punish such policies, including all forms of racism, persecution of people because of their beliefs, and the curtailment of basic freedom.

Cultural diversity is as important as bio-diversity. Pluralism pays attention to the accumulated treasure of all human experience, wisdom and conduct. Any culture can benefit by comparison with other cultures, as it discovers its own idiosyncrasies and peculiarities.

This openness does not imply moral relativism: it is entirely consistent with an assertion of the validity of some absolute standards. Liberalism, tolerance and pluralism incline us to find pleasure in the idea of a multiplicity of visions; the desire for objectivity, and universality, on the other hand, leads us to desire that truth be one, not many. The difficulty with such relativism is that it must also endorse absolutism and dogmatism; absolutism does not have to endorse relativism. Since many past and alien visions are intolerant, if we endorse them, in our tolerant, liberal way, we endorse intolerance. There is no room for the assertion of relativism in a world in which relativism is true. Cognitive relativism is nonsense, moral relativism is tragic. Without an assertion of absolute standards, none of the recommendations of the Commission would have been possible, indeed no reasoned discourse could be conducted. Let us rejoice in diversity, while maintaining absolute standards of judging what is right, good and true.

Challenges of a media-rich world

With regard to communication, the Commission viewed the creation of a transnational, commercial media environment in a positive light. Clearly, it enlarges choice, creates opportunities for diversity and promotes more and freer information flows across frontiers and cultures. On the other hand, it can concentrate ownership, limit access and standardize content.

In many parts of the world, these policy issues have been confronted on a national level. The Commission felt that if the new global information highways and old media pathways are to serve as a true platform for plural voices, similar approaches may eventually be needed internationally.

Considering national efforts to encourage a mixed private/public media system, the Commission's starting point was to suggest that the world's airwaves should be seen as a collective asset, a global commons. A similar concept has increasingly been invoked in debates over the management of sustainable world development. For the global media, it could help provide a new basis for national governments to co-operate with industry in allowing many different electronic voices and points of view to be heard.

Commercial satellite services use the earth's airwaves without reference to the concept of a public space. The global space defined by the radio frequency spectrum of satellite orbital slots, is there to be used by all. As Alvin Toffler has stressed, "the the ocean floor and the planet's breathable air, belongs – or should belong – to everyone, not just a few." Yet the use of this global spectrum is allocated through international agreements managed by the ITU in which the concerns of individual governments have so far prevailed.

Report 'Our Creative Diversity'

Content is one thing, but in building the emerging global information infrastructure, the Commission was also sensitive to the question of global equity. How can a communication world of two speeds be avoided? How best not only to open up the system but also ensure that it encourages an equitable global society? Opening up really implies government deregulation: in reducing intervention and relinquishing state monopolies, governments can encourage the private, often foreign, investment that is necessary. At the same time, the Commission recognized that in an open market, public policy is required to ensure that competition is maintained. Moreover, this pursuit of diversity of choice, content and development requires new forms of partnerships to be established between governments, international agencies, industry and civil society.

What is absolutely essential, the Commission felt, was that such co-operative initiatives be launched across the board and not only in the media-rich world. Otherwise the empowering force of communication could well result in accentuating the gap between North and South.

As the work of the Commission proceeded, an abundance of information, viewpoints and analyses accumulated, much of it on the front line of research and reflection. Our Report could not be a treatise, nor a work of original research, nor a handbook on cultural affairs in the world. So we decided to focus our analysis on those areas in which the interactions between culture and development appeared especially strong and pertinent. In doing so we aimed to address a diversified audience across the world that ranges from government officials and politicians, to scholars and artists, community activists and field workers. We wanted the Report to inform the world's opinion leaders and to guide its policy-makers. We wanted it to capture the attention of intellectual and artistic communities, as well as the general public.

Whether we are able to reach such a broad audience will greatly depend on this conference, on the interest in the Report, and if it is critical interest, all the better, since only a world-wide debate will allow our analysis and recommendations to crystallize into meaningful policy or voluntary actions. It is for these reasons that it is so important for the work of the Commission that this Report be presented at this conference.

Leadership, both ethical and intellectual, is required at global level in order to carry out these tasks and translate ideas into actions along culturally diverse paths. The Dutch people, by providing government support for this project, have shown this leadership and we thank you for that, we now need feedback from you for the follow-up to this report. Already the Report has been translated into Dutch, French, Spanish, Swedish, Japanese and Arabic and is now being translated into Russian, German, Portuguese, and Hungarian. Other translations will soon follow.

I would like to conclude with an observation on the analysis and recommendations contained in Our Creative Diversity. Some of them are visionary, others are pragmatic, yet others are based on a strong moral stand. When formulating them, the Commission was conscious of the difficulties, but equally conscious of the paramount need to outline a vision for the long term. In the words of the distinguished Brazilian economist Celso Furtado, a member of the Commission, 'the challenge we face is to conceive a new Utopia without which the survival of humanity will not be possible.'

In the short year since the report was presented, the international debate which the Commission hoped to stimulate has begun in earnest. As this conference bears eloquent witness. The ideas and the actions are now in your hands. Let us use the power of culture, in all its manifest forms, in striving towards this Utopia for the next millennium.

our creative diversity