“Cultural diversity: opportunities and challenges – the long term plan of ASEM” is the theme selected for the second meeting of Ministers of Culture of Asia and Europe being held in Paris (France) on 7 and 8 June 2005. The Director-General of UNESCO was invited to speak at the opening session on Tuesday, 7 June presided by Mr Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, French Culture and Communication Minister.
Mr Matsuura took the opportunity to recall UNESCO’s unswerving commitment to the "promotion of the fruitful diversity of cultures", a mission that is enshrined in the Organization’s Constitution, and to welcome the chance to participate in the meeting, which offers a place to nurture the dialogue between Europe and Asia and to conduct in-depth exchanges on all major issues relating to cultural policies.
For the Director-General, the fourth thematic workshop, devoted to culture as a factor of development, "seems to be the compass point for essential debate about the future of contemporary societies, many of which are struggling to reconcile their legitimate attachment to cultural traditions and their propensity to espouse progress and economic development. For many years now, UNESCO has been endeavouring to demonstrate that these two aspects are consubstantial and, far from competing with each other, are part of a single future-oriented movement built on the heritage of the past", he recalled.
"It is this strong conviction that has driven UNESCO as it has fought so hard to preserve the tangible heritage – with the 1972 World Heritage Convention – and has in the more recent past prepared its counterpart for the intangible heritage", Mr Matsuura added. He went on to encourage the ASEM Member States to ratify the latter Convention – adopted in 2003 by UNESCO’s General Conference – which fills "a significant gap in the field of heritage, since it enables many traditional cultural expressions, which are particularly vulnerable to the processes of globalization, to enjoy special safeguarding measures that protect them from what would otherwise in many cases be a serious risk of extinction".
Turning to another part of the ministerial meeting’s agenda, dealing with contemporary creativity, as notably expressed through cultural industries, Mr Matsuura made reference to the drafting process ongoing within UNESCO of a preliminary text for a Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions.
After underlining the "remarkable effort made over the last two years since the General Conference placed this new task on the Organization’s work plan", the Director-General commented on the text drawn up by the governmental experts, a text that was "rich and generous, proposing a set of measures designed as much to promote as to protect the diversity of cultural expressions". "During the process", said the Director-General, the governmental experts had shown themselves to be " sensitive to the spirit of fellowship, dialogue and multi-polar exchange" as they sought to "find the meeting point between the demands of free circulation and access, of equal dignity of, and respect for, all cultures, of open-mindedness and equilibrium, and of international solidarity and cooperation, by highlighting the duality of cultural activities, goods and services, in their economic and cultural dimensions". "This text", he added, "considers international cooperation, particularly with developing countries, as a key element of its provisions, and acknowledges culture as a cornerstone of the sustainable development of our societies".
However, noting that "on certain key clauses, it has not been possible to reach a consensus", Mr Matsuura expressed the hope that "in the months between now and the time of the General Conference, these differences can be ironed out so that satisfactory wording can be found for all articles". "It would be most regrettable were those countries that have recorded reservations on some of the key clauses of this Convention finally to decide not to support it, given its crucial importance and urgency for the protection and promotion of cultural diversity. I can therefore only hope that one more attempt is made to allow culture to unleash its full unifying force and succeed in producing a consensus. It would be the greatest honour that could be done to culture!" he concluded.
The Director-General also took part in the luncheon given by the French Minister of Culture and Communication, and on that occasion met many European and Asian Ministers of Culture.