Tomorrow is the United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development – virtues that are important for Sri Lanka in this post-conflict era.
According to the UN, three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension. Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development. Cultural diversity is a driving force of development, not only for economic growth, but also as a means of leading a more fulfilling intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life.
The UN says this is captured in the seven culture conventions, which provide a solid basis for the promotion of cultural diversity -- an asset that is indispensable for poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development.
At the same time, acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity – in particular through innovative use of media and Information and Communication Technologies – are conducive to dialogue among civilizations and cultures, respect and mutual understanding.
In 2001, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in a resolution, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
The UN says the day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to advance the four goals of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on October 20, 2005. The four main goals are, support sustainable systems of governance for culture; a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase mobility of artistes and cultural professionals; integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks and to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in a message says, just as natural diversity is vital to sustain ecosystems, cultural diversity is the lifeblood of vibrant societies. She says cultural diversity provides fresh ideas and perspectives that enrich our lives in countless ways, allowing us to grow and thrive together. A culturally diverse classroom is not only more inclusive, it boosts student learning and achievement. A culturally diverse workplace is not only more innovative, it is also more productive and economically profitable. Tomorrow’s event is an opportunity for us to celebrate the tremendous benefits of cultural diversity, including humanity’s rich intangible heritage, and to reaffirm our commitment to building a more peaceful world, founded on the values of mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue, Ms Bokova says. According to the UNESCO Chief, with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community has recognized the essential role of culture as a driver of change and development.
Achieving the 17 goals will be impossible without drawing upon the strength and creative potential of humanity’s diversity of cultures, without engaging in continuous dialogue to ensure that all members of society benefit from development. Even as we celebrate cultural diversity, we must remember that it is increasingly under threat. Across the world, violent extremists have targeted cultural minorities and destroyed our shared heritage, to weaken the essential links between people and their history. At another level, unchecked urban development threatens to standardize our cities, depleting their social diversity and identities Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” In this spirit, I believe that we need a new humanism for the 21st century, to renew the fundamental aspirations to justice, mutual understanding and dignity that guide all women and men, Ms. Bokova says.
In Sri Lanka the National Unity Government has committed itself to build a peaceful, just and all- inclusive society mainly through religious, ethnic and cultural unity in diversity. It has already launched missions for poverty alleviation and to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources among all people. Sri Lanka has been blessed with the virtues of the world’s four major religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, all with their own cultures. We also have people of three major races, the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people besides Burghers, Malays and others who have their own cultures. While we accept and practice our own religion and culture we need to grow in our respect for the religious beliefs and cultures of others. That will be a solid foundation for a just society.