UNESCO at 60: more necessary than ever“What we are celebrating today is not so much the commemoration of a past event but pride in our capacity to respond with courage, energy and commitment to the challenges of our time,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura in his welcome address to the more than 1,000 guests who attended a ceremony at Headquarters today marking UNESCO’s 60th anniversary.
The President of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, French Foreign Affairs Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, and former UNESCO Director-Generals Federico Mayor and Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow also participated in the ceremony, along with the President of UNESCO’s General Conference, Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan, and the Chairman of the Executive Board, Zhang Xinsheng.
UNESCO today, Mr Matsuura continued, must “remain on alert on all fronts: from the defence of human rights to the safeguarding of humanity’s common heritage; from the provision of quality education for all to the promotion of sustainable development that respects life and the biosphere; from delicate questions concerning bioethics to the denunciation of discrimination against women.”
Taking the floor, President Yushchenko said: “The intellectual experience of this Organization allows to solve successfully the most complicated problems.” For President Yushchenko, the “preservation and increasing of public moral heritage” must become “one of UNESCO’s key tasks. This concerns, in particular, shaping of common values acceptable to all people […]. Widespread recognition in the world of cultural diversity concept is a vivid example of such approach (sic),” he said.
The President emphasized the importance of “continuing universal humanitarian dialogue,” taking into consideration social, cultural and moral traditions. He also urged UNESCO to “more actively influence the process of taking principal political decisions regarding humankind’s development.” “UNESCO,” he continued “must have in its arsenal effective instruments of influence for preventing kindling of inter-ethnic and religious intolerance, inhuman application of technical progress outcome (sic), destroying sites of cultural heritage.”
For France’s Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, one of the main challenges facing the Organization is Education For All, which he considered the “key to development and an essential rampart against against all intolerance and inequality.” He also stressed the importance of the life sciences: “Faced with the derivations of science without conscience that the exponential development of the life sciences exposes us to, UNESCO must, more than ever, keep watch on human dignity,” he said. In conclusion, the Minister spoke of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. “In all of UNESCO’s history, no other standard-setting instrument has provoked as much interest and enthusiasm,” he said, adding that France would ratify the Convention as quickly as possible.
Claude Levi-Strauss spoke of “the profound reasons for which an ethnologist could feel in connivance with UNESCO’s missions, despite the apparently diverse domains.” He also spoke of the evolution in the concepts of civilization, the human condition, cultural diversity, biodiversity and race.
“In the wake of the Second World War and the horror inspired by the racist doctrines that gave rise to the massacre of entire populations and concentration camps, it was only normal that UNESCO give top priority to the scientific critique and moral condemnation of the notion of race,” said Mr Levi-Strauss. Since 1951, UNESCO has prepared and adapted several declarations on race. “A task made all the more necessary by certain recent and worrying publications from biologists attempting to give new recognition to the notion of race – albeit with a different interpretation than in the past – but which nonetheless must be handled delicately,” said the author of “Race and History” (Paris, UNESCO, 1952).
Federico Mayor (Spain), who served as UNESCO Director-General from 1987 to 1999, stressed the important contribution made by UNESCO in setting universal standards within its various areas of competence. “In 1995 […] UNESCO adopted one of the most precious documents in (the Organization’s) history: the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance that should be read and reread in schools, parliaments and municipal councils so that cultures become vehicles of cohesion and not of discord,” he said. He also stressed the importance of texts on the human genome and cultural diversity which, he said, serve equally as signposts and ethical defences for UNESCO and the whole of the United Nations System.”
Talking on the theme of “UNESCO: development ambitions put to the test”, Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow (Senegal), UNESCO Director-General from 1974 to 1987, retraced key moments in the Organization’s history. “All of UNESCO’s activity contributes in one way or another to development. Social peace and peace between nations depend largely on development,” said Mr M’Bow, adding that “it is artificial, in UNESCO’s practice to separate intellectual activity, standard-setting actions, and operational activities.”
At the close of the ceremony, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura presented a gold medal, minted for the 60th birthday, to Mr Levi-Strauss, Mr Mayor and Mr M’Bow.
The event was followed by the inauguration of an international colloquium, “60 years of UNESCO’s history”, bringing together more than 60 historians, anthropologists and philosophers.*