Space for debate
This is an ongoing process because culture, policies and circumstances
are constantly changing. Civil society needs to engage with government
in a positive ongoing manner in negotiating partnerships, measures
and campaigns that foster cultural diversity. The need is to talk,
communicate and convince. It is an effort on behalf of all citizens
to keep an open space for debate and an open space for diversity
in culture. Ideas can be disruptive and threatening. Organising
for change is difficult. Sensitive communication of ideas is essential
in developing global respect and democracy. It is important to find
common aims that are central to the people in general, of whom artists
are one group involved.
It is important that
cultural workers and activists are self-questioning, keep open to
others' ideas and are careful not to exclude possibilities or dismiss
suggestions, and above all, not to close up access to their patch
exists and, despite avowals, there is still a deeply ingrained assumption
that what is happening in the west is best and that the rest of
the world should follow. People living within the western paradigm
are sometimes unwilling or unable to give it up. The South must
press ahead, decide which measures suit their circumstances and
articulate their ideas clearly. International understanding and
support will be more likely if there is a practical, democratically
formulated, local document, based on the convention and related
measures, as a starting point for debate. Regional groups need to
meet, discuss, share information and set their agenda.
Contract, antitrust, copyright and competition laws are useful for
comparisons in formulating measures to strengthen culture and foster
Debate is needed on
copyright. Current copyright law facilitates control of historical
material. Most rights are claimed on people who are long dead. It
is suggested that the time factor needs review and that such material
should pass into the public domain. Corporations should not be allowed
to buy up material and prevent people's access to, and creative
use of, knowledge.
The profit motive has
undermined ethics and there are numerous abuses. People do research
and then claim patents and copyright over material with no benefit
going to the communities whose knowledge they are using. There is
a need for legally binding control of people claiming patents on
material from outside their country and prescribed international
negotiation before any such patent right is given. The right to
claim the return of illegally obtained community cultural goods,
particularly of heritage value, should be included in the convention.
International data and information on actions in this regard could
be part of the convention's monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms.
The cultural sector's role in the anti-globalisation movement has
so far been effectively sidelined and many cultural operators don't
see the connections between their concerns and the treatment of
agriculture, investment policies or the environment. Culture is
not just a decorative addition or useful tool for social action
- not just the band and posters at the demonstration. Culture needs
to rise to the centre of political action, culture ministers should
have power in governments. Cultural diversity is important for the
economy, for tourism, in international relations and for national
identity and social cohesion. One persuasive argument is that successful
cultural enterprises bring in tax revenue.
Finding common cause
People working on their own projects are part of a greater whole;
their interests relate to other sectors. The cultural sector needs
to join the struggle of other sectors in the battle against homogenisation
and dominance by either government or corporations. It is important
for cultural workers to get involved in various bodies whose agenda
impacts on culture.
In the struggle for cultural diversity, dominant players such as
governments, transnationals and local monopoly corporations are
quick to manipulate whatever challenges they meet. They seek to
retain and even increase their control. There are attempts to co-opt
and re-brand any opposition. Recently, attempts have been made to
homogenise 'civil society' and to use NGOs as camouflage for their
activities. Some NGOs find themselves restricted in their actions
because they receive funding from government and corporations. In
some countries, NGOs have been commandeered by the middle classes
with the aim of keeping control of resources and are used as covers
to work against grassroots movements. All cultural change is created
by real local needs, but these needs should be made public to prevent
abuse. !For this reason the objectives and agendas of NGOs and 'civil
society' bodies need to be assessed and questioned regarding their
attitudes to cultural issues and their perspective on diversity.
All NGOs should be encouraged to include diversity in their agenda.
Some social movements have strong nationalistic or conservative
agendas which may have both positive and negative effects. Women
fled from Guatemala during the civil war. Many went to Mexico where
they encountered and lived with greater gender equality. On their
return, the traditional macho society of their home villages found
the women's new outlook unacceptable and the social fabric was threatened.
Such situations pose dilemmas that have to be worked out through
local negotiation and adaptation. The questions are how to know
what to keep and why, and what are the consequences of maintaining
some cultural practices? It is important not to let an 'us against
them' attitude develop and to stress that we are all participants
with ideas, beliefs and lives to lead.
In cultural politics
there are inherent difficulties that arise from diversity. Cultural
practices that are abhorred by some people may be traditional, for
good reason, among other groups. Sensitivity is needed to engage
with such issues. Cultural practices and human rights need to be
communicated, discussed and understood. Some cultural practices
die out in time; some dialects fade from use. Only people themselves
can encourage or defend their cultural practices. In previously
colonised countries, cultural identity and national cohesion are
important and often fragile. 'Diversity' can appear threatening
to local producers. People may wish to retreat rather than seek
diversity and interaction. Ideas from dominant groups, no matter
how good or friendly or well-meant, may still appear threatening.
The problem is that while such groups worry there is delay; the
dominant players and the profit-driven corporations encroach further
and use the time to their advantage. In addition, accusations of
'nationalism' are used by dominant trading countries and corporations
to manipulate and persuade small countries to open their markets.
Ideally, each country
should articulate its vision, what it is working to achieve. How
would the people like to live and see their culture and cultural
activities change? When the goal is described in as much detail
as possible, in consultation with as many people as possible, then
policies and measures can be found to achieve it. Other countries'
experiences and models may or may not suit the local vision but
they are useful for comparisons and brainstorming.
Methods of operating depend on the local circumstances. There are
places where people have very little freedom to make suggestions
or to take practical steps; where there is little space to challenge
the authorities or the existing scheme. In some countries social
movements have to remain careful and act within the political regime
or else they will be closed down. Lawyers need to be made socially
responsible and not just allowed to play a detached game for their
clients. Lawyers can be very useful members of social movements.
Vigilance is necessary to keep the vision and principles in focus.
In a repressive context, working with international networks and
NGOs to get support and protection is an option.
The cultural sector
can use the actions of the environmental sector and the human rights
lobby to model their actions. Culture is integral to many other
arenas, such as education and tourism. Separating culture with its
own convention brings risks. Policies on culture need to work with
and match policies in other sectors, such as trade and tourism.
A social movement is
a gauge of the environment in which it arises. Sometimes a cultural
association may find itself propelled into confrontation with government
or taking on all sorts of social issues that appear to be beyond
its scope. In non-democratic states, a new organisation is a vehicle
are concerned with their image so companies that dominate culture
can be shamed. This can only happen if there is a space and channels
for expressing such challenges. If a newspaper or radio programme
presents facts to show that diversity is being reduced, information
reaches the public and stimulates open debate. The corporation may
then have to do something to regain a good reputation.
History shows that
there is always capacity in people to create knowledge and to drive
forward for their needs. They create their own information and networks.
They don't occupy dominant space or sanctioned space - they can't
expect to occupy or have access to the dominant space because they
are asking difficult questions, but they can find a way. Civil disobedience
is a power of the people to express their needs. People use whatever
means they can to achieve their ends if it is needs driven.
It is important to act through small local campaigns but to get
support and strength by combining with others and by getting outside
solidarity. Sharing information and making alliances with those
countries and bodies that are seen to be working towards the same
outcomes are positive actions.
Social movements may
need to present their case in another place, because of repression,
and international networking and support has proved effective. For
example, the Chilean people were not able to do anything concrete
about Pinochet but through outside representation and international
support Pinochet was indicted. International moral indignation protected
Salman Rushdie. However, international pressure can also have negative
effects where a regime feels so threatened that it increases repression.
An international index
on diversity would be useful. The UNESCO Convention on Cultural
Diversity could establish an international database to record and
compare information, a mechanism to assess violations of cultural
diversity in different countries, and a body to intervene and ensure
There is an international
instrument on academic freedom and, although it operates within
an institutionalised context, there may be useful precedents to
employ. Such instruments create discussion and a model or standard
which social movements can use to base their proposals on and to
take actions that have proved successful for other issues.
It is important to communicate well, to use language that is clear
and simple. Sharing expertise and knowledge is essential. Keeping
in touch with trends in other countries and with worldviews helps
to position the country and to develop policies that can interact
The process of making
policies is the mandate of the people of a country and their role
can be enhanced through education, information and networking. People
everywhere need to become more involved in policymaking.
Diversity not 'progress'
The last 20 years have shown that the concept of 'progress' is a
myth; that countries are not following a uniform line to some common
state of being 'advanced'. There are no grounds for believing that
the western way is the 'right' way for everybody. The western 'progress'
narrative is producing violent and negative results, and causing
increasing poverty and injustice. Many western intellectuals have
not yet accepted this or, if they accept it intellectually, they
are not able or willing to put it into practice within the western
model. We are always in process; culture and identity are fluid.
No vision of the world is 'final' or 'true' or 'right' but is always
open to variation and adjustment according to what people need.
Activists need to understand
how their proposals may affect countries where people do not have
the space to articulate their needs, or have completely different
views and do not want to be co-opted no matter how much a policy
is considered 'best' or 'right'.
problems when they propose an alternative path. The western paradigm
always asserts its own interests. Funding is sometimes used as blackmail;
such threats constantly occur. The Caribbean wants to establish
free movement of artists within all Caribbean countries but the
US wants to prevent this and is threatening the individual governments
that, if they sign, funding for HIV/aids programmes will be reduced
in their particular country. So, there are difficulties in sustaining
regional co-operation in the face of such divisive tactics by foreign
governments that are promoting their own agendas.
The challenge is to
maintain and negotiate preferences with mutual understanding. Regional
and South-South connections, and collaboration with countries with
similar aims, can be potent methods as the recent Cancun challenge
has shown. The important thing is to keep open space to question
and not allow it to be taken over or closed down.