Conference Cultural Diversity: what is it really?
A report on the Reclaiming Cultural Diversity conference
held at the end of September in Amsterdam.
Eric Kluitenberg, who helped organise the conference, tells us what
he observed in the article Cultural
Diversity or Cultural Freedom?
De Balie in Amsterdam organised the Reclaiming Cultural Diversity
conference at the end of September. The conference was initiated
by Joost Smiers, author of the pioneer study Arts under Pressure
- Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Age of Globalisation (2003).
Specialists and activists from at least 22 countries discussed
the development of a legal instrument with which governments can
protect their local artistic diversity. The disappearance of trade
barriers as intended by the WTO will smooth the path for a bombardment
of culture from the economically-dominant countries.
This is already evident in the power of the transnational media:
the few conglomerates that control the vast majority of communication
channels. Western culture flows into homes throughout the world,
but the work of local musicians is rarely heard elsewhere. This
is also noticeable in the Netherlands. Nearly every film theatre
is owned by a mega provider. Making it difficult to miss the latest
Hollywood hits but leaving virtually no screens for independent
domestic and foreign productions.
During the closing public debate on 27 September, it was learned
that almost none of the participants actually realised how complex
this matter is. One of the primary obstacles, for example, was the
terminology. What is culture, really? In North Korea it is something
entirely different than in Cost Rica. Does this include traditional
costumes? Or religious works of art?
And why, many of the participants from the southern hemisphere wondered,
is so much emphasis being placed on copyright? According to Alinah
Kelo Segobye from Botswana, in countries with a strong oral tradition
no one owns a copyright on the stories that are told. Even the term
'cultural diversity' presented difficulties. In India, according
to Nilanjana Gupta, this is the war cry of the fundamentalists fighting
globalisation. It even proved impossible for the conference to unanimously
support a mild form of regulation. As one of the participants commented:
"I do not want to have to choose the colour of the police officers:
it is the police officer himself that poses the threat".
Nevertheless, during the 32nd General Conference (29 September
- 17 October), Unesco will present a recommendation for establishing
a protective instrument of this type. This newsflash was announced
by Canadian Garry Neil of the International Network for Cultural