Thursday, 21 May 2009


“Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.” - Jawaharlal Nehru

The 21st of May has been declared by the United Nations as the World Day for Cultural Diversity and for Dialogue and Development. This is further to the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity by UNESCO on November 2001. This day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to learn to “live together” better. UNESCO continues to promote greater awareness of the crucial relationship between culture and development and the important role that information and communication technologies play in this relationship.

In these days of globalisation, increased urbanisation, massive shifts of the world’s population to countries away from their origin, and the effects of a unifying and aggressive cultural imperialism (for ideological, imperialistic or economic purposes), it is important to remember the great richness that is there to be discovered for all who are interested in the great diversity of cultures around the world. Many of these cultures are under the risk of extinction.

I personally have seen it occurring in the country of my birth. Greek culture has been a vast storehouse of traditions, beliefs, folklore, observances, religious practices, music, dancing, art and even social mores that has been preserved for thousands of years. In the last few decades, this rich storehouse has been depleted and is at risk of bankruptcy. The European Union, of which Greece is now a member, has exerted a massive pressure for economic, social and cultural integration. This is aided and abetted by the export and avid consumption of American “pop culture” through a very efficient worldwide marketing and communication machine.

One of the major challenges of the 21st Century is to convince people around the world that their indigenous culture, however meagre it is in terms of propaganda or number of its followers, is as worthy as any widely publicised and popular culture followed by many billions and which is imperialistically subsuming all others in its path. The challenge to make diversity out of difference, to promote unity by cultivating (not by reducing) human complexity will be one that is hard to accept and champion.

Forces of unity up till now have tended to subject our planet to a simplified order. Each of these efforts has missed the target and left bitter traces. Instead of unity there is often an increased division and prolongation of distrust and intolerance. Now is the time to build kinship on the basis of plurality, which has as its raw material the rich diversity of humankind. Culture is essential to this endeavour, as witnessed by the scope of world heritage sites and artworks and by the originality of creations which keep uniformity at bay.

The Diversity Festival organised by UNESCO in many regions of the world, from 11th to 22nd May 2009, to celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity, for Dialogue and Development has the rich cultures of all people around the planet at its core. The Festival is made up of extremely diverse events, held in a multiplicity of places and countries from Paris to São Paulo.

Culture in all of its forms and diverse expressions enriches our life and surprises us with its delightful difference from the culture that we are brought up with. The independence, integrity and fruitful diversity of the culture of all the world’s countries promote the democratic principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect. This can be achieved through education, the sciences, culture and communication. Cultures are not monolithic and preserved through isolation, but they need be interdependent, enriching each other through mutual exchanges and borrowings, and that this diversity is a source of strength and unity.

culture |ˈkəl ch ər| noun
1 The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively: 20th century popular culture.
• A refined understanding or appreciation of this: Men of culture.
• The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group: Caribbean culture | People from many different cultures.
• [with adj. ] The attitudes and behaviour characteristic of a particular social group: The emerging drug culture.
2 Biology: The cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients: The cells proliferate readily in culture.
• A preparation of cells obtained in such a way: The bacterium was isolated in two blood cultures.
• The cultivation of plants: This variety of lettuce is popular for its ease of culture.
verb [ trans. ] Biology
Maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.
ORIGIN: Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): The noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’. In late Middle English the sense was [cultivation of the soil] and from this (early 16th century) arose [cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)]; sense 1 dates from the early 19th century.

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