A commitment to pluralism
A World Link report stated that humankind, for the first time, "has the sophistication to build its future not on the illusion of a onesided, illconceived ideology but on a set of universal values which we all share, even if their optimal balance may differ from people to people, from religion to religion and from individual to individual and where there is great respect for such a difference."
The ideal is clear enough: the quality of the relations between groups essential to human development can be improved, and the criminally wasteful misdirection of social energies in ethnic and religious strife avoided, only to the extent that ways are devised to protect the right of individuals and groups to manifest their cultural uniqueness and to find acceptance and understanding of it by others. One may legislate against rejection or exclusion on grounds of cultural difference and punish criminal excesses. But one should also go to the roots of the problem.
While the negotiated acceptance of differences will be of the essence, negotiation will never produce a "definitive settlement" - nor should it seek to do so. Identity implies the establishment of limits - and limits generate tensions. This is as it should be. And though we share a common humanity, this will never make us members of a single, universal tribe. It is the splendid and sometimes bewildering diversity of the human race that has its roots in this common humanity. Today, with the end of imperial and totalitarian rule, we can recognize our commonality and begin the difficult negotiation it demands of us.
The reality of the world, however, in which this ideal must be applied is both complex and full of moral pitfalls, and admits of no uniformly applicable solution. Socio-political histories leave their mark on the manner in which conflicts are handled. Thus, many new states are composed of different groups whose common point of reference was sometimes only the colonizer or the hegemonic power. These communities may have had their own social institutions, ranging from local adjudicating mechanisms managed at the village level to the autonomous administrations of local rulers or spiritual leaders. These structures may have a more immediate hold over people than the new state, which represents groups that either had no interaction earlier or whose interaction was as often one of conflict as of peace. There is obviously a need to understand the role of such "informal" social structures -- "informal" in relation to the new states -- that groups rely on for mediating among themselves or between themselves and the state. To promote pluralistic societies and resolve existing conflicts requires the recognition of the variety of structures that acquire legitimacy for different aspects of social life.
The complexity of the world situation today calls for action in different directions. Acts of flagrant disrespect for pluralism, born of conflict and often tantamount to crimes against people and cultures, continue to occur throughout the world. There is a role for the international community in setting out more precisely the obligations of governments. There is a need for standards to ensure protection and effective exercise of cultural rights. The power of the United Nations' moral persuasion or approval and international public opinion can have an effect. "Moral approval" could be granted to states which do not seek to discriminate culturally against some of their citizens while it is denied to those that do.
Pluralism is not just an end in itself. The recognition of differences is above all a
condition of dialogue, and hence of the construction of a wider union of diverse people.
In spite of the difficulties, we are faced with an inescapable obligation: ways must be
found of reconciling a new plurality with common citizenship. The goal may be not just a
multicultural society, but a multiculturally constituted state: a state that can recognize
plurality without forfeiting its integrity. Local forms of autonomy, formerly swept aside
by nation states, should perhaps be reinstated today and offered certain guarantees. Yet
visible national entities are also crucial.
At a time when the United Nations is rediscovering its mandate for the construction of peace and is urgently striving to map out some new approaches, common vision and perseverance will be more necessary than ever. Ways must be found of combating rejection or exclusion of the "Other" on grounds of cultural difference and of promoting the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. No adequate strategies have yet been devised to prevent or at least defuse problems and conflicts arising from the assertion and aspirations of national and cultural identity. The character of the international order now emerging will be determined in great part by how effectively we achieve this and by how successful we are in building a true culture of peace. This task needs the support of all creative and imaginative forces: governments, academic and humanitarian institutions, private, voluntary associations, foundations, churches, individuals and the entire United Nations system.
In our view, the founders of UNESCO had a premonitory vision when they stated fifty years ago that a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments could not secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that it must be founded, if it is to succeed, upon the recognition of the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.
If the communities of the world are to improve their human development options they must first be empowered to define their futures in terms of who they have been, what they are today and what they ultimately want to be. Every community has its roots, its physical and spiritual affiliations reaching back symbolically to the dawn of time, and it must be in a position to honour them. It is crucial that a people's understanding of its values, beliefs and other cultural patterns be developed - in the first place by the people directly concerned. These patterns play an irreplaceable role in defining individual and group identity and provide a shared "language" through which the members of a society can communicate on existential issues which are beyond the reach of everyday speech. But also, as each one goes further and deeper into the unexplored territory of his singularity, we have good reasons to hope that he or she will discover there the unmistakable footprint of a common humanity.