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Speech by Director of UNESCO Bangkok - The Handover Ceremony of World Book Capital

23 April 2013, Maha Chetsadabodin Pavilion, Bangkok

UNESCO Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education Director Mr Gwang-Jo Kim opens proceedings. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra accepts the World Book Capital symbol sculpture passed on from last year's capital Yerevan in Armenia. The sculpture is made of an alphabet in differing languages. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Mr Gwang-Jo Kim and Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra after the presentation of the World Book Capital Sculpture. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Members of the public outside the Rattanakosin Hall at the Loha Prasat temple. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Classical puppeters mingle with guests. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Classical Thai Dance enthralled the dignitaries and invited guests. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Detail of classical Thai Dancer. (©UNESCO/W.Field)

Mom Ratchawong Sukhumpan Baripat, Governor of Bangkok,
Mr. Trasawin Jittidecharak, representative of International Publishers Association (IPA),
Professor Khun Ying Manmaas Chawalit, representative of International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA),
Mrs. Françoise Dubruille, Director of International Booksellers Federation (IBF),
Mrs. Hasmik Poghosyan, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, representing Yerevan World Book Capital 2012,
Mrs. Koko Kalango, representative of Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014,
Members of embassies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, it gives me great pleasure to be present here today for the launch of Bangkok World Book Capital 2013.

April 23 has also been declared World Book and Copyright Day each year, and UNESCO has celebrated this for 17 years now. The day provides an opportunity to reflect together on ways to better disseminate the culture of the written word and to allow everyone, men, women and children to access and enjoy it.

UNESCO is committed to this work in the spirit of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, along with all its partners, including the International Publishers Association, the International Booksellers' Federation and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

This year, the city of Bangkok has been designated as the 13th World Book Capital in recognition of its programme to promote reading among young people and underprivileged sections of the population. The theme of this programme “Bangkok Read for Life” captures the essence and importance of reading in a simple and powerful manner. This is because:

1. Books are a major tool in spreading education, science, culture and information worldwide.

2. Books are a vector for creativity and imagination

3. Books and the book industries can create jobs and contribute to economic development

4. And most importantly, books provides pleasure and entertainment

Last year, Yerevan, as the World Book Capital, celebrated the 500th year of Armenian printing and empowered children and young adults as carriers of knowledge into the future.

Books have been an important resource for Thailand for several centuries already.  Thailand has a vast repository of antique scriptures that embody valuable traditional wisdom and that have contributed to the status of the kingdom as a cultural hub in the region since ancient times. Some of these have already been recognized by UNESCO as priceless archives of knowledge and human history, in its ‘Memory of the World’ programme. For instance, the Memory of the World list includes  the   Archival Documents of King Chulalongkorn's Transformation of Siam, which recorded important innovative social policies from 1868 until 1910.

Obviously, the quality and accessibility of books will play a major role in the development of literacy.  Literacy is essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world. It is remarkable and appreciated that the Government of Thailand has been committed to promote literacy and reading habits through formal education, non-formal and informal education with adequate budget allocations. In addition, the Thailand Knowledge Park is an example of this country’s strong focus to promote a literate and learning society.   Thailand has, indeed, one of the world’s most successful Non-formal Education systems -- including over 8,000 community learning centres for literacy and lifelong learning.  These centers are located in villages to serve young people, adults and children for their lifelong learning through reading. These centres illustrate the Government’s work to provide literacy and lifelong learning opportunities to adolescents and adults. Due to the commitments of the government, the literacy rate of Thailand was 88% in 1980 and 93.5% in 2005.  The gender parity for the adult literacy rate is 0.96.   

Intimately linked to literacy is the capacity of books to enhance people’s creativity. By sharing ideas beyond the boundaries of space and time, reading books allows us to discover new universes, enrich our vision and knowledge of the world while reflecting on the intangible values that should guide us. Books can also offer a window on other people’s vision, culture and lifestyle, encouraging a better understanding of the other and a growing respect for cultural diversity.

Thailand has no shortage of creative writers and thinkers. Thai writers regularly participated in the South-East Asian Writers Awards, with Khun Wipas Srithong winning the first prize last year. I hope that Bangkok World Book Capital programmes and activities undertaken during this coming year and in the future will encourage a new generation of writers to express themselves in new and creative ways.

Of course, while enthusiastically promoting the spread of books, we may not forget that copyright and neighboring rights protection is essential for enhancing individual creativity, for the development of cultural industries and the promotion of cultural diversity. Rampant piracy and low level of enforcement of copyright laws destroy the incentives for the creation and distribution of local cultural products.
Indeed beyond their intellectual content, books are objects with an economic value as well. Book and publishing industries are one of the 12 pillar industries identified under the Creative Economy programme. They offer careers in publishing, book shops, libraries and schools. They also increasingly contribute to the economic wealth of the country. For instance, between 2000 and 2010 the value added for the printing industry in Thailand has grown steadily, increasing by over 60% from 46,900 million THB to 74,900 million THB.

Committed to promoting copyright protection since its early days (the Universal Copyright Convention was adopted under UNESCO’s aegis in 1952), UNESCO has over time grown concerned with ensuring general respect for copyright in all fields of creation and cultural industries to maintain the fair balance between the interests of authors and the interest of the general public of access to knowledge and information.

This remains particularly true at a time when digital books offer new opportunities for access to knowledge, at reduced costs and over wide geographical areas, but also present new challenges in terms of copyrights protection.

Finally, beyond policies, programmes, statistics, and other rational arguments, this day is the day to simply celebrate the pleasure of reading. There are hundreds of ways to enjoy books: on your tablet or on a classic paper version, in a park, in public transportation or at home, from serious essays to novels and practical guides, alone or in a book club,  books have the power to carry you away in a timeless universe.

I thank all past, current and future writers and readers for making this day relevant. And more specifically, I take this opportunity to congratulate Bangkok once more for this excellent initiative. I wish you a successful year of activities around books, with books and for books.