I have the honour of speaking on behalf of the European Union on agenda item 32 “Dialogue among civilisations”.
As the Secretary-General observed in his report on this item to the 54th General Assembly, since we lack a universally accepted definition of “civilisation”, the idea of dialogue among civilisations can be construed in several ways. For its part, the European Union prefers to consider the concept of dialogue among civilisations as a dialogue conducted between cultures in the broadest sense on the basis of a set of shared values, as upheld in the Millennium Summit Declaration.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Throughout its history mankind has developed ethical traditions in the conviction that human beings “are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. The United Nations was established, after the tragedy of two world wars, to take forward that search for common moral and ethical values and undertook the task of codifiying universal legal rules which would embody the universal rights corresponding to human dignity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sprang from recognition of those values and represented the codification of existing fundamental values shared by all peoples, rather than the creation of new ones.
Culture is at once one of the most characteristic traits and a basic dimension of human beings. The culture of any country or a society is formed from myriad components reflecting all areas of human experience: its geography, environment, languages, history, science, arts and beliefs, to name but a few. If there is to be dialogue among civilisations, it must – in the European Union’s view – encompass all these aspects, which are what make the wealth of cultures. To exclude some of them would be a sad narrowing of a dialogue which should be as rich as possible.
The plurality and diversity of cultures, which the world vouchsafes us daily, constitutes one of the riches of mankind. An inevitable corollary of cultural diversity is that people or societies of different cultures have differing sensibilities. Meaningful dialogue between civilisations is the best way of promoting mutual comprehension and preventing misunderstandings that stem from a lack of knowledge and information and insufficient opportunity for the members of different civilisations to have direct contact. The dialogue among civilisations also requires the international community to preserve cultural diversity.
To understand each other we have to create the right environment and to share reference points.
Dialogue, whether among individuals, societies or States, presupposes mutual acceptance and respect. One does not enter into a dialogue with someone one does not regard as an equal, whatever the differences between the parties may be.
By the same token, the European Union believes that States, civil society and their individual members, by promoting tolerance, respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and respect for human rights, are helping encourage dialogue between cultures.
The European Union believes that a vital means of promoting dialogue between cultures is to strengthen the role and means of action of the United Nations and the UN organisations.
The UN Charter set forth the principles for dialogue when it proclaimed the dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, and the commitment of its member states to practice tolerance.
The European Union welcomes the attention paid by the UN Secretary-General to the issue of dialogue among civilisations. We are following with keen interest the initiatives being taken by his Personal Representative for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilisations, Mr Giandominico Picco, in preparation for the UN’s substantive contribution to that event.
With its specific responsibilities within the UN for education and culture, UNESCO has a special role to play in developing dialogue among cultures. The European Union is delighted that UNESCO has been given the main responsibility for implementing the United Nations Year for Dialogue among Civilisations. It welcomes the projects developed by UNESCO for giving tangible shape to this concept of dialogue among civilisations.
Dialogue among civilisations depends on encouraging individuals, whatever their origins, to be curious about other cultures, so that direct exchanges can develop between individuals and groups with shared interests, in the linguistic, artistic, scientific, spiritual and human fields. The European Union would point here to its joint initiative with UNESCO and the Council of Europe to declare 2001 the European Year of Languages.
The process of dialogue among civilisations should open up practical opportunities for encouraging individual exchanges. For the dialogue between individuals to develop and deepen, the institutions representing civil society, non-governmental organisations and international organisations, as well as individuals themselves, must play an active part. The European Union believes that the development of the activity of these different players is a means of increasing exchanges and meetings between individuals from different cultures. It urges the member states to facilitate this process in every way.
Apart from the traditional institutional framework of international relations, globalisation and the rapid progress in the new information and communication technologies hold out new and extraordinary prospects for expression and exchange, which we are seeing today only in their infancy. The European Union heartily welcomes this development, which puts the individual back at the heart of the process of communicating and transmitting knowledge and provides him with unprecedented capability for action. The European Union urges the member states to contribute to the development of the new information and communication technologies and to enable all human beings to have access to them.
Lastly, if there is to be a dialogue among civilisations, one last condition has to be met without fail: the plurality and the diversity of cultures in all their dimensions must be preserved. As the Secretary-General’s report points out, diversity is the very substance of universality and underlies any discussion of the dialogue among civilizations. The European Union is aware that globalization, however great its potential, also bears with it the inherent danger of the standardization of methods of communication, behaviors and cultural codes. What is more, the risk that minority forms of culture will be marginalised, or even disappear, is often aggravated by economic differences and disparities in access to the modern media, particularly to the new information and communication technologies.
Like the Secretary-General, the European Union sees the dialogue among civilisations as the human face of globalisation. It hopes that the member states will set themselves the long-term objective of preserving cultural diversity, in accordance with universal values. The European Union considers that thought must be given to developing the means of achieving that aim. It welcomes the establishment on 5 September 2000 of a Group of Eminent Persons who have been asked by the Secretary-General to hold consultations on the prospects for the dialogue among civilisations and to draw up a report. The Group will hold its first meeting in Vienna from 13 to 15 December 2000.
The history of international relations is, sadly, richer in examples of confrontation than of dialogue. The European Union is glad that the United Nations, in declaring the year 2001 the Year of Dialogue among Civilisations, has set out to shape a new paradigm of relations between nations and cultures.
Thank you, Mr President.