21 May 2021

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development: the value of diversity as a growth opportunity for a united Europe

Today May 21st is the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development!

This day was first announced in 2001 when UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002 when the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. 

As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human and Citizen's Rights, all men are equal, they all have the same rights, the right to life, health, respect, freedom to realize their desires, the right to express their opinions, to choose their religion. Therefore, being equal means having the same rights. However, it does not mean being the same, thinking, speaking, dressing, behaving all in the same way. Diversity is one of the fundamental values of humanity.

Cultural diversity is not a new phenomenon, especially for the European Union which makes multiculturalism one of its basic principles. Over the past centuries, our societies based on the principles of political pluralism and tolerance have allowed us to live with diversity without creating unacceptable risks for social cohesion. In recent decades, the process of cultural diversification has accelerated. Europe has attracted migrants and asylum seekers from all over the world with the prospect of a better life. Globalization has compressed space and time to an unprecedented degree. Telecommunications and media revolutions, with the emergence of new communications services such as the Internet, have made national cultural systems increasingly permeable.

In this context, pluralism and the spirit of openness have taken on an importance as never before. The strong consensus that exists in Europe with regard to certain values is clearly demonstrated by the EU Treaties. The Treaty of Lisbon attaches great importance to culture: in the preamble of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) there’s the explicit reference to the desire to draw inspiration from the "cultural, religious and humanist heritage of Europe". Among the EU's priority objectives, it is a commitment to respect "its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced." (Article 3 TEU). Article 6 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states that, in the area of culture, the Union has competences "to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States." Article 167 of the TFEU provides more details on EU action in the cultural field: “the Union shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. Action by the Union shall be aimed at encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, supporting and supplementing their action in the improvement of the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the European peoples.” Article 22 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that "the Union shall respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity".

Cultural diversity is a common heritage and a source of innovation and creativity. Cultural diversity is to society as biodiversity is to nature. Cultural pluralism is a value. It is essential to promote expression, communication and the desire for peaceful coexistence among people and between groups. Inclusion policies are not only a guarantee of social cohesion, but also nurture the vitality and renewal of civil society as a whole. It is inseparable from a democratic framework.

Cultural diversity is a development factor. Cultural diversity can become a powerful resource if it is seen as an engine of development, not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means for overall civil, moral and cultural development. The intercultural approach helps to draw positive benefits, transforming the inevitable problems into opportunities for overall growth of the social context. This implies acceptance and respect, recognition and the search for dialogue, in the perspective of mutual enrichment.

The lack of dialogue does not take into account what Europe's cultural and political heritage has taught us. The peaceful and productive periods of European history have always been characterized by a strong desire to communicate with our neighbors and to cooperate across borders. Lack of openness towards others has too often led to human catastrophes. Only dialogue allows us to live in unity and diversity.