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Religion and Society

A cross-cultural rule for safeguarding diversity

The ever-growing level of interdependence between countries and the many existing social situations on planet Earth, the rising fragility of international agreements after the end of bipolarism, the new waves of immigrants, all these tend to place the superimposition and cohabitation of different cultures in a completely new context. Furthermore, multiculturalism currently seems to be characterised as much by the absence of a specific model for a dominant culture as by the rise of cultural regionalism and local cultures. In a world that is constantly becoming smaller, meeting and dialogue between different religions and different cultures are presented in a different manner than in the past. In fact, until the contemporary age majority cultures only posed themselves the problem of managing and "tolerating" minorities. No one on any side posed the problem of integration and pluralism, or at least no one did so as we do today. This is because the current mixing of cultures is manifested even inside a single country and because the various cultures and religions present in a single geographic area ask for equal dignity. They do not accept the hegemony of one culture or one religion over the others. In this changed context, it is very important to comprehend the reasons that led to the creation of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the 31st session of the General Conference of UNESCO on Nov. 2nd, 2001. It clearly established the value of cultural diversity and the importance of protecting it.

 

Next October, the 33rd session of the General Conference will take place in Paris. It is a particularly significant appointment, the objective of which is to approve a binding juridical instrument which would make the Declaration operative, with the title: Convention on the protection of diversity of cultural content and artistic expression.

 

The main goal of the Conference is to guarantee on an international level the legitimacy of national economic policies which support cultural diversity. The problem is that the norms on international trade which favour competition and free circulation of goods and workforce represent a real juridical obstacle to the possibility of state financial intervention in the cultural industry field.

 

This aims to support, within the sphere of the Conference, the principle of the specificity of value for cultural products in the context of commercial relations: it is based on the recognition of the double nature of cultural expressions, both economic and commercial. A concrete example is the possibility for a state to finance national cultural production directly (without this being considered a distortion of free competition), or the decision to define quotas in the diffusion of cultural products (film, theatre, television, publishing) that establish a space reserved for national production.

 

The theory holds that a regulatory intervention by the state is indispensable for the survival of cultural diversity, since the current "competition" among cultures is not conducted on a level field: the risk is one of progressive standardisation and the loss of a part of humanity's cultural patrimony.

 

 

Three elements

 

The contribution of the Holy See in this Conference consists of defending and promoting unity in diversity, not so much on an economic level, since neo-capitalism has already seen to that, as on a cultural and ethical-religious level.

 

In my opinion there are three fundamental elements to take into consideration. The first is that unity and plurality are not antithetic, as a diamond is not the antithesis of is multiple facets: rather their variety and splendour make the precious stone beautiful. The second is that plurality has unity for its vocation, for unity comes from truth. Truth unites all men in the life of God's love, because only truth and life lead everyone along the only way able to transform human love into charity. Charity knows how to and can welcome the other and the completely other.

 

The third is freedom as recognition and an affermation of the many who are different from us but in reality, according to a more correct expression, "close" to one another in He who made himself "close". This is true not just for Christians. A proverb from Cabila (Algeria) says: «God has varied the heads of men in order to permit peace». On what conditions? Jesus said: "Do unto others everything you would have them do unto you". This is the celebrated "golden rule", found in the Gospel, but also in many other religions. It is a rule that crosses cultural lines and also indicates the method of work necessary for that vital exchange relationship which has as its end the guardianship of cultures. Not only that, but also the thrust in which each culture gives the best of itself without losing itself.

 

Therefore the problem is not cultural diversity as such - diversity is a fact - but rather interculturality, which must be built on a daily basis. Cultural diversity is true wealth if it becomes a fertile and creative diversity, as is written in the UNESCO document from 1997. In this sense, it is necessary to support everything that promotes solidarity and cooperation. All cultures and all religions must recognise the principle of interculturality as well as the principle of reciprocity.

 

How can one reach this objective? I believe that talking about education is indispensable. As the Paris Convention justly will do. My hope is that in the document, the theme of education is considered according to two distinct but complementary perspectives:

 

 

1] Education as a vehicle for the consciousness of cultural diversity, as the transmission of different types of knowledge; one truly respects what one knows and what one knows ceases to be considered "barbaric". The teaching of cultural diversity is therefore the teaching of peace, of gratitude and recognition, of respect that welcomes the other, who is "close".

 

 

2] Education in the sense of the right of an individual or of a community to receive, or transmit, an education according to its own cultural, linguistic and religious sense of belonging. One cannot move towards the other, without starting from one's own home, one's own identity, if one does not have the opportunity to form one's own cultural identity, according to one's own convictions and values.

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