Credit : NEWSPRODMedia Manser (In French)
Mr. Secretary General,
Ministers, Ladies, Gentlemen, Dear friends,
A statesman’s responsibilities do not end with his term in office. Beyond political commitment, the man’s commitment remains, the very meaning of his struggles and what he believes in.
If this man is French, he has inherited an ancient culture expressed in the brilliance of the European Renaissance, liberated and enriched by philosophers of the Enlightenment and the Revolution, portrayed by the Romantics and made fruitful through the social achievements of the 20th century.
This singular culture is drawn to the winds of the open seas. Its ideals are shared by many peoples of the word. Though they are always to be reinvented, they form what Léopold Sédar Senghor so admirably perceived as a call to an “universal civilization.”
The fraternal aspiration to serve the world is part of the very essence of France.
I love my country. I love the ideas it embodies in the world. I love this spirit that leads it to believe that men are born free with equal rights and that, despite their differences, they can live in solidarity. The extension of freedom, the decrease of social injustice and the acknowledgement of the dignity of each individual are the driving forces underpinning my public commitment.
This commitment, I know, is shared by the illustrious persons who through friendship honor me by joining with me in the new undertaking of this foundation.
Dear friends, you are all ardent activists for peace, dialogue and development. You all play an eminent role in your respective countries or at the head of international organizations. Together, you represent the diversity of experience and cultures the world needs to ensure its balance. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your presence by my side here today. It is both an encouragement and a promise.
Developing a culture of mutual respect, forging ties between people, building a more harmonious international society are of vital urgency for humanity.
The food crisis and turmoil in global finances remind us that our planet is facing an unprecedented convergence of dangerous trends. All people of good will must join forces to ensure that factors of peace prevail over those of war, solidarity over indifference, sharing over egotism and responsibility over fatalism.
Indeed, the great issue of the day is what sort of world we shall leave to future generations. Because this issue concerns the future of the French and of their children, I wish to do my utmost to participate in this struggle. With them, I want to remain fully mobilized.
While globalization encourages increasing exchanges and has brought historically unprecedented progress, can humanity continue its forward march without resolving the deep crises currently affecting it?
Since the end of the 1980s, a triple danger has troubled our consciences: the danger of the standardization of our cultures, the destruction of our environment and the scandal of poverty. These are a major threat to peace and to the very survival of our planet.
But these threats can be countered through the respect and defense of cultural diversity and the design and implementation of sustainable methods of development.
Thus far, these two subjects, though closely linked, have been dealt with separately.
Each culture has developed in an intimate dialogue with the nature from which it was born. Our planet is one yet everywhere different. This is also true of humanity. Though in the ingenuity of their expressions the world’s peoples are united by their shared condition and destiny, they are nevertheless, and thankfully, also different everywhere.
Technological development has accelerated globalization. It has enabled us to make significant progress in health care and the fight against poverty. However, it has simultaneously endangered the environmental balances essential for our shared survival. Global warming is the most spectacular example of this.
As necessity now compels us to rethink the notion of progress in order to reconcile man with his environment, culture and cultural diversity must be placed at the very center of the human project.
For we now clearly see that our technical civilization, whether one is a full participant or excluded, has created extraordinary tools for liberation as well as perilous impasses.
Thus, we must deal with a twofold crisis: a crisis in nature, which is manifested in dwindling resources, greater frequency and intensification of natural disasters, and a crisis in culture that is manifested in rigidifying identities, the development of xenophobic behaviors and the rejection of others, as well as increasing terrorism.
These challenges cannot be solved separately and each is linked to the issue of development, which, to be truly sustainable, must tap into the holistic humanism foreseen by Jacques Maritain.
Today then, we must go beyond the simple logic of development. We must answer the question regarding the purpose of our concerted action. What is the value of development if it does not give meaning to the human endeavor?
It is my conviction that every people has a singular message to deliver to the world. Each people can enrich humanity by contributing its share of beauty, creation and truth. The attention paid to cultural diversity reflects the value placed on the singularity of all creation. It is the renewed interest in the things of this world, the refusal of standards that would impose an exclusively rational perfectly sanitized, and thus inhuman, universe.
“Humanity is on the verge of producing mass civilization, as it produces beets. The ordinary will contain nothing more than this flatness…” warned Lévi-Strauss, whose visionary thinking is celebrated here in this place where we are gathered today. Alas, his fear has in part become a reality. If we do not want his prediction to be fulfilled, we must act to protect a diverse, plural world, a world which retains intact its ability to create the new and the different.
It is the very act of communicating through our differences that human solidarity is built, and not through the standardization of content and modes of expression. The unity of humanity is a dynamic. It comes from rekindled desire, and does not reflect an immutable state of things.
Our combat in defense of cultural diversity is not about the anxious or nostalgic preservation of what comes to us from the past. Rather it is about spirit, it is momentum.
Cultures are alive and they are constantly evolving through contact with other cultural expressions. And it is precisely this perpetual inventiveness that makes them so precious.
From this perspective, how can we avoid seeing the relationship between the disruption of our economic and ecological model with the impoverishment of our cultural heritage?
We know, prior to the European conquest, the Amerindians of the Amazon basin mastered a way to prepare soils with micro-organisms that naturally regenerated their land, thus ensuring sustainability. By promoting the forest cover, these same Amerindians, whose knowledge is now lost to us, helped to stabilize the climate of the planet. Today, the climate is in danger of irreversible disruption caused by massive deforestation.
Biodiversity and cultural diversity are linked. We know that a weakened biosphere cannot withstand a virus ravaging one of its species. Hyper-specialization results in a situation where no other plant is able to replace the deficient plant, and the entire natural area will perish. Conversely, a biosphere rich in species will resist an invasive virus much better because another plant within the area will be able to fill the niche of the plant under attack, thereby enabling the surrounding environmental area to survive.
The same is true for culture. A diverse society is more mobile, more adaptable and better equipped to prosper with sustainable development.
Thus, humanity’s ability to marshal all its resources to resolve the global crisis it now faces and which threatens its very survival will be determined through a dialogue between cultures.
The “sustainable development” challenge is too often reduced to its technical aspects. Obviously, preserving our natural resources requires, for example, that we build les energy-consuming buildings, invest in water treatment facilities and continue research into new alternative sources of energy. However, this is not enough in itself.
If we wish to guarantee the conditions for existence for future generations and allow humanity to pursue the course of its history, we must place man, his liberty and his demand for justice at the heart of the economy.
Developed, emerging and developing countries alike must together found a new method of global governance that takes account of the urgent need to meet basic needs that are still denied to a far too great portion of the world’s population – a new method of governance that provides beyond the simple horizon of mere survival a way to offer each individual the possibility of doing his or her best.
We must carry out a revolution in our modes of thinking and action, a revolution in our lifestyles.
We must do it now, for tomorrow will be too late.
It is this sense of urgency that led me to orient the first actions of my foundation towards access to medicines, access to water, the fight against deforestation and desertification, the dialogue between cultures and most especially support to endangered languages and cultures.
These are four issues that directly concern culture, health and safety of people and societies and, therefore, peace – four subjects that call out for attention because the first victims of a lack of health care, sanitation or of drought, deforestation and desertification are always the weakest populations whose culture, identity and contribution to the world is the most endangered.
These four issues are in reality only one: the challenge of achieving truly sustainable development, which gives meaning to the human adventure, which leaves no one by the wayside.
First of all, access to medicines is a moral issue as well as a problem of security: pandemics, old and new, threaten the survival of entire societies when preventive treatments and cures are not available at affordable cost to the greatest number and when access to quality medicines is not guaranteed for all.
For this reason, the Foundation will encourage actions aiming to allow access to certified medicines. It is to this end it will lend its support to the Drug Quality Control Laboratory in Cotonou.
Regarding access to water, the same problem prevails: without accessible water in sufficient quality and quantity, there is neither life, nor health, nor agriculture or food. The current food crisis provides us with the tragic proof of this in the states suffering from drought or floods.
This is why the foundation will support, in Senegal and Mali, a plan for strenghthening capacities to ensure durable access to potable water and its purification in rural areas, in partnership with the African Development Bank.
Deforestation and desertification are an issue which concerns us all. These problems are largely explained by haphazard expansion of lands brought into cultivation as the world’s population continues its inexorable path of increase.
We know today, and the Bali Conference only served to underscore this, that these twin scourges are one of the major causes of climate change, whose consequences in terms of security are no longer questioned.
For this reason, the Foundation will support actions aiming to combat deforestation and desertification, in compliance with the sustainable management of resources and income generation for local populations.
Let us not forget, cultural poverty is accompanied most of the time by a decline in social status. The struggle to ensure diversity is also a struggle for dignity and peace. When a culture is negated for its contribution to the universal, violence is never far behind.
This is why my foundation will pay particular attention to the issue of languages and cultures in danger of extinction.
Think about it: of the some 6000 languages spoken in the world today, 90% risk disappearing over the course of this century. Do we really want that? An increasingly impoverished world that only knows how to preserve what is immediately profitable?
I refuse such a future. I call upon the UN and UNESCO, which have proclaimed 2008 “the international year of languages,” to hold a Summit on this subject, for the purpose of finding solutions to our shared disappearing treasure that humanity’s linguistic heritage represents. Thanks to new technologies, solutions do exist. Let’s put them to work. The Foundation intends to play an important role in this effort through the program it is launching today whose International Encounters will be held in this very hall this afternoon.
Through the projects it chooses to support and by facilitating the development of networks, the Foundation will foster the exchange of ideas, techniques and values. It will back positive experiences and contribute to creating an ever broader network of shared knowledge and practices.
In the face of global problems, these projects aim to bring concrete elements of solutions that can be duplicated or transposed with respect for the diversity of situations encountered.
Time is running out.
If each of us mobilizes the way my friends who are gathered here today have, like Secretary general Kofi Annan and President Chissano, Jean Chrétien, my brother Abdou Diouf, Bronislaw Geremek, Enrique Iglesias and Federico Mayor, like this tireless fighter for the human rights of minorities Rigoberta Menchu, like Youssou N’Dour, Rajendra Pachauri, Andrés Pastrana, Andrea Riccardi, Ismaïl Serageldin, and like President Vall, the great defender of democracy, then perhaps together we will be able to build, while always respecting the identity of everyone and openness to the other, this global society of justice and peace that must be our only horizon.