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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Discussion on A Commitment to Pluralism

Participants: Allister Sparks, Josette Féral and Dragan Klaic real audio file

Audience: A question for Mr Sparks about the South African situation. His point of view on cultural relativism and cultural pluralism is interesting. Relativism means that you are not interested in the other and pluralism means you are. The basis in South Africa is the constitution that in turn is founded on the Declaration of Human Rights. One should be tolerant towards other cultures. My question is, does pluralism go together with human rights globally, or can it also exist without human rights?

Sparks: Pluralism and human rights certainly do go together. Pluralism - unlike relativism - accepts that different cultures can exist side by side without ignoring the differences between them. In South Africa the various populations were economically dependent on each other, while they lived separately. There was no contact, no empathy. Globalism in its extreme form ignores cultural differences; people are beginning to see the importance of cultural differences. You can't pretend they don't exist, because that leads to conflicts, as in former Yugoslavia. This is also something you see in the former Communist bloc where people also did their utmost to play down any differences. In South Africa people did the opposite; they emphasized the differences. In the cause of repression.

Audience: You haven't answered my question about human rights. Are they absolute or must pluralism tolerate cultures in which human rights are not acknowledged?

pijltje_beneden.gif (179 bytes) november 9, 1996
A commitment to pluralism
Introduction (Dragan Klaic)
Allister Sparks
Josette Feral
Discussion panel
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) A new global ethics
pijltje.gif (179 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
General Introduction

Sparks: My answer is no. I don't have to tolerate your intolerance. Pluralism is not incompatible with human rights. The Declaration of Human Rights is in fact one of the great achievements of our age. Prior to it there was never any global idea. Yesterday in the discussion with Mrs Hassan we avoided this point a little. I think it is a pity that there is a trend towards relativizing the value of human rights. About 190 countries signed it, including nations that were not involved in drafting the declaration. That is surely quite a remarkable feat. Countries still don't like being accused of violating human rights. From yesterday's discussion the idea emerged that we should start all over again. More religiously. I think that's a pity. Let the religions look after their own affairs.

The diversity and plurality of cultures has benefits comparable to those of bio-diversity. Pluralism has the advantage that it 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.

Report 'Our Creative Diversity'

Audience: My interpretation of yesterday's discussion is a bit different. Mrs Hassan did not deny the value of the declaration, she just wanted to go a step further.

Audience: My question had to do with the culture of negotiations. What advice, Mr Sparks, would you give to a European who is working for an international body. How would negotiations be entered upon?

Sparks: How about having dinner together?

Audience: Many people regard UNESCO as a laboratory. The organization should use the report of the World Commission to promote a culture of peaceful negotiation. Can we take South Africa as a model or is it a special case? What lesson does South Africa have to offer the rest of the world, Mr Sparks? Where did it go right and where did it go wrong?

Sparks: In some respects South Africa has definitely been successful, but let me start by mentioning an example where things didn't work out well - the Zulus. The most important lesson of South Africa is the therapeutic effect of negotiation. In South Africa there was no choice but to negotiate. None of the parties involved dared to break off negotiations, because there was no alternative. What we learned in South Africa is how the process itself can lead to understanding and empathy. The negotiations began in secret and lasted nine years. At first people thought of each other as monsters, but they still had no choice but to meet each other. Even though people weren't friends - although sometimes that happened too - an understanding of each other's point of view did eventually develop. South Africa has become a model of a revolution achieved by negotiation.

Chief Buthelezi was drawn in to the Government of National Unity as Minister of Home Affairs, a coalition regime also functions at the provincial level in KwaZulu-Natal, and Mandela succeeded in drawing the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, out of Buthelezi's sphere of influence and neutralizing him as a constitutional monarch. But factional violence in KwaZulu-Natal continues and political tensions between the ANC and IFP remain high.

Allister Sparks

Klaic: South Africa really is a very special case.

Audience: It is a matter of the political context of interculturalism. People often say that a dialogue between European and Arabic countries is not possible because they are too different. The imbalance in the power relations is too great. Europe is always raising the issue of human rights. Mrs Féral, what's the solution to this problem? Oughtn't we to be talking about neo-liberalism and about democracy instead?

Féral: You are putting this question to someone who is concerned with art. And surely art doesn't have any power? I am talking about art, because the concern with art is disproportionately small, compared with that for the media. In art the discussion still continues about Art with a capital 'A' on the one hand and the crafts on the other. Artists are trying to get beyond that discussion. Interculturalism is the situation in which one person responds to another. In art the different forms of practice stand in opposition to each other. There is a power imbalance, and the solution is to integrate the foreign culture with one's own. By ceasing to see a foreign culture as foreign.

Klaic: Art by definition provides a common basis for the barriers being pulled down. But outside the context of art, it is easier to establish common ground in small matters; this is easier than finding a common basis for solving the big questions, at a national level. In the case of the Yugoslavian conflict I once thought that many things could have been prevented if, for instance, Croatian and Serbian postmen could have met and talked to each other as one postman to another.

Féral: India had few resources for confronting the British colonial power directly. What Gandhi did was to mobilize the power of culture. Countries with little economic power set great store by the power of culture. Economic and cultural power however are two different worlds.

Audience: In the discussion yesterday Anil Ramdas said that the report was irrelevant for artists and that they should not bother to read it. What do you expect from art education and cultural education over the next five to ten years? I don't just mean in the West.

Klaic: UNESCO has published and translated the report, but it has yet to distribute it. Unfortunately UNESCO has a bad reputation when it comes to the circulation of important documents. I suggest you look at a complementary report on which the Council of Europe is working. (You can order it from DECS) Once ideas are put on paper, they run the risk of eventually gathering dust in an office drawer.

Art does have a function; there is a movement that goes from art towards the social context. Many of the more vulnerable groups in Europe - the unemployed, refugees, addicts, the elderly and the sick, to mention but a few - can use theatre as a means of stating their problems. Theatre can ensure that their importance is acknowledged by other groups in society. What we need is a different attitude towards theatre and cultural institutions in general. The profession of artist needs redefining. In Western Europe people have hardly started to do so, but they ought to. Compare the situation here with that in Eastern Europe where the normal repertoire is in decline and there is an increasing interest in social debate.

Féral: I agree with Anil Ramdas: an artist does not need the report, although it can't do any harm to read it. Art is always multicultural by definition. Interculturalism moreover is not confined to Europe. I've come across it in Asia too. There you see Western culture approached from an Oriental perspective. For a Westerner that isn't always pleasant, but it's certainly interesting.

Klaic: Artists are looking for new forms of intercultural productions. To put a production from Amsterdam or Rotterdam on the stage in Poland or England has its limitations. More complex forms of collaboration are now the order of the day, such as productions with foreigners and in different languages, in which the language barrier is raised as an issue.

Audience: Anil Ramdas forgot three important words yesterday. He should have said that the report is not important for the artist 'as an artist'. Artists however are also members of society and in that capacity they have a political task. I would also like to point out that, like religion, art can also play a negative role. There are different ways of using art, so artists should definitely read the report.

Artists are the people who should read the report. It deals with the ability of the human spirit to transcend cultural and historical differences. Artists have a responsibility – through their art they reflect their age.

Lourdes Arizpe

Klaic: Historians, linguists and artists are among the groups that sowed the seeds of the war in Yugoslavia. Other groups waged it.

our creative diversity