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World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

Message from the Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, 21 May 2006

On 21 May 2006, we will be celebrating for the fourth time the “World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development”, proclaimed in 2002 by the United Nations General Assembly, following the adoption of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

This year, the Day of 21 May should be for each one of us an occasion to reflect and take action so that respect for cultural diversity may be embodied in intercultural dialogue in order to become a universal ethical imperative.

Diversity and its corollary, dialogue, are now at the top of the international political agenda. Both are collective strengths, essential for sustainable development which have become guarantees of the world’s cohesion – a world where each culture seeks to preserve its identity and its dignity.

Because cultures include not only the arts and literature but also lifestyles, value systems, traditions and beliefs, the protection and promotion of their rich diversity presents us with a dual challenge: to defend a creative capacity through the many different tangible and intangible forms of cultures and to ensure the harmonious coexistence of individuals and groups from diverse cultural backgrounds living in the same space.

Cultural diversity carries within itself the responses to this dual challenge. By embodying a patchwork of plural, dynamic and diverse identities, it becomes the principle that allows creativity to blossom in an infinite variety: each form of creativity is a meeting-place, opening up new horizons, changing perspectives, enlarging our area of freedom and choice by forging solid links between regions, individuals and generations. It thus issues a call to dialogue, becoming the starting point for fresh encounters and new inventions.

Since it is an open-ended process, culture constantly remodels the legacy of skills, knowledge and wisdom which is handed down and invents new forms of expression across time and space, thus demonstrating its endless diversity.

As the only United Nations organization with a mandate in that field, UNESCO seeks, through its unceasing commitment to culture, to create the conditions that would enable individuals and peoples to live together, with respect for and understanding of each other’s identities.

In this connection, UNESCO is participating in the building of an international environment conducive to dialogue and respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular those of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples. Policies fostering the integration and the participation of all citizens are being promoted to avoid rifts and conflicts due to the sacralization of differences.

In the same vein, the Organization has assigned itself the priority of fostering a world environment where the creativity of individuals and peoples, as it draws on the roots of traditions and re-invents itself in every epoch, can be protected in its rich diversity, past and present. This is found in contemporary and non-contemporary cultural expressions, in knowledge systems and in all cultural contents conveyed by cultural goods and services, which are ideal channels for disseminating creativity and knowledge.

During its 60 years of existence, UNESCO has drawn up several binding and non-binding instruments in the field of culture, including seven international conventions. In this array, three instruments represent the mainstays of the preservation and promotion of creative diversity: the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage; the 2003 Convention on the intangible heritage, which recently entered into force on 20 April 2006, that is three months after its ratification by 30 Member States; and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, adopted on 20 October 2005 by the General Conference at its 33rd session.

Despite having markedly different goals in their specific and clearly defined fields of application, these three instruments call for the establishment of a close link in the policies and measures taken by States, in cooperation with civil society and international organizations, in order to foster a dialogue on cultural diversity at the local, national and international levels, benefiting in particular the developing countries.

In order to embark upon a new stage and enable ourselves to respond effectively to the extraordinary challenges posed by the techniques and the practicalities of “living together” in the era of globalization, we must thoroughly re-examine the conditions in which cultural diversity can reveal its capacities to create many different forms of dialogue. This is the message which this Day of 21 May 2006 seeks to deliver.

Koïchiro Matsuura


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