Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Democratic Management of Cultural Diversity: the challenge for cultural policy.

Fastanefnd Íslands hjá Evrópuráðinu

Représentation Permanente de l}Islande
auprès du Conseil de l}Europe

Democratic Management of Cultural Diversity: the challenge for cultural policy.

Chairman in office of the OSCE, ladies and gentlemen.

First of all I would like to express my pleasure in being able to participate in the opening of this seminar as Chairman of the Council of Europe together with my colleague Knut Vollebaek, Chairman of the OSCE. I would also like to thank Minister Vollebaek, the Norwegian authorities and the city of Bergen for their welcome and for the excellent facilities.

People tend to believe their own customs are best and prefer them to all others, said Herotodus in the fifth century BC. We protect our cultural identity from the threat of the "other" by defending our culture against that which is foreign, and a threat to our homogeneity. This has had increasingly violent consequences over the centuries. But it is in the twentieth century, the age of extremes as one historian has called it, that cultural conflict expressed through violence has become a major threat to modern society and a challenge which must be met.

Until the twentieth century, the great majority of peoples lived in homogenous societies. Foreigners lived elsewhere. The "us" and "them" model allowed for two possibilities for dealing with threats to culture: the first was that of protection and defence by shutting the "other" out; the second was violent attack to re-establish the status quo. Conflict was expressed through violence. The status quo was peace, which was defined as the absence of conflict.

When the world was a vast space where communications between peoples were difficult and very limited and isolation was an easy condition to maintain, the "us" and "them" model worked. But today's world is very different; it has been calculated that more people moved across frontiers in 1994 than at any other time in world history.

We are involved in a period of cultural confrontation of overwhelming proportions. Homogeneity cannot be maintained through measures of exclusion and isolation. While cultural homogeneity no longer exists, the myth, on which the model of "us" and "them" depends, persists. And it is this myth which creates the continuing dynamic for recourse to violent resolution of conflict. The war now raging in South-eastern Europe is a dramatic illustration of the very real threat to global security that exists precisely because of the persistence of the myth that cultural homogeneity and separateness must be protected.

At this time in our history it is important to consider what is required to enable a society to choose the path of creative management of diversity, rather that the path of violent ethnic cleansing. How can we replace armed and violent conflict with creative conflict?

If conflict is the result of the meeting of different cultures, perhaps it is time to refine the tools in our democratic workbox and reformulate our policy mechanisms. Democratic cultural policy should be developed so that diversity rather than homogeneity becomes the norm. Such democratic cultural policy could emerge to become the means through which cultural difference can be reconciled.

The Cultural Policy and Action Division of the Council of Europe has, since the mid 1980's, carried out an activity called National Cultural Policy Review. This programme enables member state governments to gain access to information regarding innovative approaches in cultural policy development. With the increasing importance of global and regional integration, national cultural policies are converging more and more and are increasingly confronted with the shared problem: how to administer diversity horizontal.

Significantly, the Culture Committee has undertaken to implement a multilateral process of cultural review on the theme of cultural policy and cultural diversity. This review process will take place in two phases and will include:

· Legislative and policy provisions for cultural diversity
· Fighting prejudice and stereotypes
· Citizenship education for media programming
· Cultural diversity and cultural expression
· Principles for managing cultural diversity in the cultural industries
· Cultural diversity and access and partipation in new media and technology

The overall objective of this new phase of cultural policy review, is to discover whether our new and challenging reality of cultural diversity assumes that there is a new role for cultural policy.

It is an important question, which is being asked from within the heart of the Council of Europe, an organisation whose mission is to strengthen and protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Since 1989, the Council of Europe has been at the forefront in searching for innovative strategies to provide for political stability and cohesion in a continent, which is, with great difficulty, reconstructing a common history.

Clearly the search for a new role for cultural policy is the search for how the Organisation can further the development of principles and norms for fairness and justice in the context of cultural diversity. Democratic cultural policy can perhaps contribute, in a new way, to creating those conditions of cultural cohesion, creative peace and productive stability which arise when all cultural feeling is fairly represented and justly treated.

When I am speaking about Culture and Conflict Prevention here in Bergen, I feel it appropriate to mention that next year marks the 1000 year anniversary of Christianity in Iceland at that time our Parliament the Althingi was divided between the followers of Christianity and the old Norse religion and armed conflict seemed inevitable. It was then decided that one man, Thorgeir chieftain from the Lake Ljósavatn, should conciliate on the issue as it happened he was of the old religion. His decision was that Iceland should adopt Christianity but that the old religion should continue to be tolerated, with the following argument:

"It appears to me that our affairs will be hopeless if we don't all have the same law, for if the law is split then peace will be split, and we can't live with that". "This will be the foundation of our law" he said, "that all men in this land are to be Christians and believe in one God. Three years outlawry will be the penalty for open violations but if these things are practised in secret there should be no punishment".

The Parliament accepted this advice and an armed conflict was avoided. This was probably the finest political compromise in the history of Iceland, and shows us the importance of respect for different cultures and Icelanders are today always reminded of this advice in time of crises. Today this kind of a attitude and tolerance is needed in many parts of the world.

I am very pleased that this seminar is arranged with the Norwegian OSCE Chairmanship and I hope it will inspire new ideas and strengthen our belief in the peaceful and creative resolution of conflict.

Thank you.


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