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Culture is more than the arts and literature.  In its widest sense, culture embraces everything from your choice of what to wear each day to the traditions, beliefs and values of your family and community.  Of course, this includes all forms of artistic expression and creativity.  Culture is also the language you speak, your place of worship, the things that move you emotionally, the sources of meaning in your life.  Culture is all of these elements and the way they connect to make up your way of life.  According to the I982 Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies, culture is "the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group."

Everyone has a fundamental human right to practice the distinctive way of life of their tradition, and to share in the joys of the cultural life of their community.   This is the meaning of Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other articles that affirm everyone's right to freedom of expression and opinion, association, and choice of education for one's children.  This freedom is the basis of the world's cultural diversity, a part of the heritage of humanity as essential as biodiversity- A pluralism that cherishes and nurtures cultural diversity is critical to guaranteeing respect for the freedom of all.


A living culture   is not static or isolated.  To the extent that its members are free to think, a culture grows and develops in response to other cultures and changes in its environment.  Cultural freedom does not give authorities the right to impose a rigid code of conduct on a population, or to suppress any members of their own society because of their gender or any other characteristic.  UNESCO's World Commission on Culture and Development, in its 1995 report, Our Creative Diversity, stated that any national policy of "nation-building" that seeks to make all groups homogeneous - or to allow one to dominate - is neither desirable nor feasible.  A nation that believes in creative diversity needs to create a sense of itself as a civic community, freed from any connotations of ethnic exclusivity.

 UNESCO's programmes in the field of culture include both preservation of the cultural heritage of societies around the world and promotion of living cultures.  The two are not entirely separate categories, because a living culture draws on its heritage, depends on it for nourishment and inspiration.  A society's heritage, both tangible and intangible - from national monuments, museums, and galleries to a people's language, history, and religion - is an essential source of meaning and fulfilment to people living now.  Hence, the importance of protecting and preserving this heritage, and of restoring it in the aftermath of destructive conflicts and natural disasters.

 UNESCO's programme to preserve world heritage sites, guided by the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage, is working to make sure that future generations can inherit the treasures of the past.  Almost 600 sites of extraordinary natural, cultural and historical significance have been designated worldwide.  One such site is Anthony Island, located at the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of British Columbia.  There the Haida village of Ninstints stands as a unique example of the richness of the coastal Aboriginal cultural heritage.  The Council of the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and the British Columbia Provincial Museum are working in partnership on the site.  Their aim is not only to conserve the totem poles, mortuary columns, longhouses, and other heritage sites on the island, but to make the living culture of the Haida people a contribution to the heritage of humanity.

 The organization of United Nations Volunteers in partnership with UNESCO has created a Cultural Heritage Volunteers programme to mobilize skilled professionals from all over the world in areas as diverse as archaeology and conservation of monuments and buildings, care of manuscripts, revival of traditional crafts and craft employment, protection of indigenous languages and promotion of traditional medicine.   They work on UNESCO projects in such meaningful places as Angkor Wat, Copan, Lamu and Samarkand, Bokhara, Quito, Zanzibar, Phnom Penh and Tegucigalpa in their efforts to rediscover, enhance and preserve the cultural heritage of peoples and nations.



 UNESCO is the only world-wide organization developing rules of international law to protect cultural heritage.  The organization is now working with its member states to update and enhance the 1954, Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.  In an era of increased ethnic and intercultural conflict, cultural property monuments, monasteries, archives, historic sites - is especially vulnerable.  It may be damaged or destroyed not only by accident but by direct targeting.  When a conflict is over and people begin to rebuild their society, the cultural heritage serves as an important link with the past and a critical element in re-establishing their identify.


 Not all cultural heritage is tangible.  The history, traditions, songs, and beliefs of a people, and their language itself, are integral parts of a society's identity.  It is in this area that the homogenizing effects of the global media are especially strong.  For example, the World Commission on Culture and Development found that as many as go per cent of the languages spoken in the world today may become extinct in the course of the next century.  The disappearance of a language, the Commission observed, is every bit as much a depletion of our resources as is the extinction of a plant or animal species.  Linguistic diversity is a precious human asset.  The loss of any language represents an impoverishment of the reservoir of knowledge and tools for intra- and inter-cultural communication.


 UNESCO is proposing a World Report on Languages to take stock of the current situation and to consider strategies for maintaining linguistic diversity while promoting wider facility in more than one language.  UNESCO is encouraging the revitalization of local languages by assisting member states that wish to formulate policies favouring multilingualism.  The priorities are saving languages in danger of disappearance, promoting languages of wider communication, and encouraging countries to adopt multilingual language policies so that every individual may speak a local, a national and an international language.   This will encourage linkages with the past that will also be heard in the present and future.


At the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, held at Stockholm in i998, Canada was recognized for its cutting-edge policies promoting cultural diversity.  One example of this is the effort of the Canada Council for the Arts to bring Aboriginal artists into the mainstream of its programmes.  In each of its six programme areas - dance, music, theatre, publishing and writing, visual arts, and media arts - the Council is reaching out to strengthen the capacity of Aboriginal people in arts production.  The Council has found that there is no shortage of excellent Aboriginal artists but that more support is needed in such key areas as skill development for Aboriginal publishers, gallery curators, and theatre company administrators.  The Aboriginal communities in Canada are remarkably diverse; their artists serve to strengthen the capacity of their people to know themselves and to express themselves to the world.

 Understanding and appreciation of one another's cultures help us live together and build a more inclusive society based on common civic values.  Encouraging cultural diversity can, paradoxically, help us to find the common ground for living together in the same nation.  When people are secure in their right to live their lives according to their cultural values, they are better able to enter relations of dialogue an@ co-operation with their fellow citizens.  All of us have a responsibility to know and understand more of the cultures that make up Canada - the history, values, languages, and symbols of the peoples who make up this country.

 The International Forum For Solidarity Against Intolerance and for a Dialogue of Cultures, held in Tbilisi, the Republic of Georgia in July 1995, alerted the international community to the urgency of counteracting and eliminating aggressive intolerance in its various manifestations.  The Forum proposed the creation of an international association or network to be called "For the Dialogue of Cultures for Peace and Tolerance," with a view to promoting a culture of peace, tolerance, and democracy.  Its focus is to be regions and zones of conflict as well as contacts between major cultural and religious areas.

SUCH AN INTERNATIONAL association should contribute to the creation of groups and clubs for dialogue in support of tolerance, and for dialogue on culture, particularly where there are different settings, for example, in schools, universities, scientific research institutions, sport clubs, and associations of journalists, writers, musicians, artists and sculptors.  Would you consider taking such an iniative?
If you are a cultural worker, or even if you have another profession, you can help to contribute to building a culture of peace by strengthening the capacity for cultural expression and creativity.  UNESCO’s 1980 “Recommendation concerning the status of the artist” provides and support their role in society.  We could still go much further in Canada to implement these recommendations.


World Commission on Culture and Development, Our Creative Diversi!Y.  Paris: UNESCO, 1995

 "The Power of Culture," Final Declaration and Plan of Action of the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, held at Stockholm, 30 March- 2 April i998.

United Nations Volunteers - Cultural Heritage Page

Recommendation concerning the status of the artist 

UNESCO Linguapax:

World Heritage Programme

Andrey Grachev, Vladimir Loemiko "The meeting of civilizations: Conflict on dialogue", UNESCO 1996