Launch of HDR 2004
Mr Administrator, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am delighted to attend this ceremony that marks the official publication of the 2004 Human Development Report. We must be grateful for all the work done by UNDP to foster the development of mankind, and to produce such a fine analysis of human progress.
I would like to share with you today a few remarks inspired by the Report, and also to give you one or two personal views.
2. What struck me in the report is the fact that UNDP recognises that human development depends on how different cultures, different civilisations, will live peacefully together in almost every society. The success of this endeavour is also a prerequisite for the economic development of the world.
I am particularly proud that the global launch of this report takes place in Belgium. I don’t think this is a pure coincidence. We in Belgium are the decision making capital of Europe, which is a laboratory of multiculturalism. But we are ourselves also a country that has tried, and continues to try, to bring together different cultures in one society, having created a federal system that both recognises autonomy and unity.
Unity in diversity is indeed a motto which applies particularly well to what we are trying to achieve here in Belgium. Or, in the words of Mark Malloch Brown : we are trying to build an ‘inclusive, culturally diverse society’, within a federal state that recognises autonomous decision making at sub-State level. Belgium has developed a system of checks and balances through which domination of one group over another is avoided.
3. As I was reading the report, I understood that what matters is people and their ability to make responsible personal choices in order to pursue a happy, fulfilling life. Culture is there to ‘help’ people to make choices in order to lead a life that is responsible because it has consequences for others. Culture is therefore not an end in itself, but it is a means to human development. ‘Multiculturalism’ is that even more. It adds the dimension of cultural liberty. As I said before, multiculturalism is first of all a fact in every society in today’s globalised world. But moreover, it has to be seen as a means and a chance for people to have alternatives. A means to enable people to choose whether to open up to other cultures even if they have to abandon some of their own culture. In this sense, ‘cultural liberty’ is a ‘human right’. And human rights are there to be respected and fostered.
The report is therefore right in stating that cultural liberty has to be further pursued through proper multicultural policies as described in the various chapters.
So far for my views on the report.
4. I would like to add a few personal notes to this. If we want to live peacefully in a world with different cultures, with differences that exist even in one’s own society, fostering social justice is not enough. We need a personal ethical commitment and a sense of responsibility. Our multicultural society needs to become intercultural, that is, to be based on free interchange of people and their views, on a cross-fertilisation of cultures. The basis of the success of an intercultural society lies in our minds, in our attitude towards the other who sees things differently.
First, I believe that human beings are made for diversity, because diversity lies naturally within ourselves whereas unity in ourselves is created by the values that we choose in order to lead our lives. We need to take advantage of the diversity that nature has given us. There is no absolute identity in ourselves, instead there is a uniqueness that we have to cultivate. The idea of absolute identity based on ethnicity or culture is a false and dangerous idea. This idea leads to extremism and fundamentalism.
Second, we need a ‘positive mindset’ that looks at interculturalism as a challenge that enriches instead of threatening us. The success of a truly intercultural society relies almost entirely on the people and their will to make it come true. A ‘positive mindset’ is not naïve optimism but a real sense of responsibility. The worst enemy of this is fear : fear to lose one’s identity or one’s material wealth. The report states that these fears are mere excuses and no valuable causes of failure. I think the fears come from excessive materialism and the loss of the sense of responsibility : this in turn opens the way to racism.
Third, we need to adopt an attitude of recognition towards the others, especially towards the values they choose to lead their life. Recognition excludes all feelings of superiority or arrogance. I believe that a successful culturally diverse society like we have in Belgium develops a sort of psychology where people can adapt to change and to complex situations. Where people are creative and like to live and work together peacefully and refuse all absolute and authoritarian ideas. This is not an easy challenge because it requires hard work every day, promoting culturally diverse societies on the basis of shared cultural liberty.
In his book ‘Terror’s Source’ Vincenzo Oliveti shows what kind of mindset al Qaeda terrorists have. They are the complete opposite of what we have just described. They don’t believe in the coexistence of different cultures and they see their own as absolute and superior. They believe in an absolute culture that doesn’t evolve. The author shows how they even reject all interpretations of the holy Koran and all intellectual concepts of logic and analogy. They finally don’t recognize the other who belongs to another culture, up to a point where they find that they alone are 'keepers of the truth', which gives them the right to kill others who belong to a different culture.
In conclusion, we could say that interculturalism becomes an ethical commitment we choose to make as a person, a commitment to accept and recognize the different cultural backgrounds of the other persons we share our globalized world with. It is a chance for us all.
5. These, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, are a few remarks I wanted to share with you at the launching of this year’s Human Development Report. Let me finish by congratulating the Administrator and all the authors, and especially Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, for their outstanding work. As usual, you have collated the data and presented them in a very convincing and intellectually challenging way. But this year, you have chosen a subject very close to our hearts, a very challenging and sometimes controversial subject.
I am sure this seminar will rise to the challenge you have put before us.
I wish each and every one of you success in your pursuit of cultural liberty and inclusive solutions for our diverse multicultural world.
Thank you very much.
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