University of Aberdeen – A report on the conference on Cultural Diplomacy in 2012

Conference on Cultural Diplomacy. Berlin - 13th-61th December, 2012; The conference covers a range of topics relating to Substainable International Development. A Number of guests who Include Mr Piere Nkunziza and Ferddous Ara Begus spoke on topics ranging from Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ( CEDAW) and the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
  March 16th, 2014

CSID Report on the Conference on Cultural Diplomacy 2012

University of Aberdeen, UK – January 25th, 2013

From 13th -16th December 2012 the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy held the annual Conference on Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. This report aims to give an overview over the conference topics and explain to what extend the conference was related to Sustainable International Development.

Generally speaking, the topic of the conference is not directly related to Sustainable International Development. Despite this, the two fields are closely related to each other and some of the conferences topics, such as peace building, integration, human rights, responsibility to protect, CEDAW, and poverty, are certainly also crucial for international development. Approximately half of the talks fell into this category whereas the remaining half was more focused on cultural diplomacy itself—a subject that may be related to development but cannot be fit under this category.

One of the conference speakers was Mrs Katalin Bogyay, the current president of the general conference of UNESCO. Talking as one of the first speakers at the conference,she stressed how the UNESCO—with its goal to build and maintain peace through culture—is a very good example for the concept of cultural diplomacy. She admitsthat the UNESCO (like most UN institutions) “doesn’t have the power to ensure agreements, but it has the ‘power of consensus’”. This “power of consensus” is based on the fact that the UNESCO creates its agreements through consensuses rather than voting procedures. Therefore, she sees the UNESCO as a body that creates universal principles which can contribute to the peace process.

Mrs Bogyay also talked about another problem that was often discussed throughout the conference: the idea that cultural diplomacy is mainly influenced by “the West”. For her, the reason for this imbalance results from a lack of knowledge about other cultures in the western hemisphere. As a solution she suggests that we improve our effort to understand other cultures. As an example of another culture worth looking at, she described is the philosophy of Ubuntu, originated in southern Africa, which focuses on relations between people and mutual understanding.

In his talk entitled “Is Prosperity or Poverty in the hands of Fate? Can Cultural Diplomacy and Trade change the inevitable?” Stockwell Day, the former minister of trade of Canada, explained how cultural diplomacy can bring prosperity to other cultures. His idea is that “we”, as the more developed countries, should use cultural diplomacy to communicate three very basic principles to
other cultures: the idea of free trade, the freedom to choose ones religion, and the freedom to choose ones government. With regard to the first principle, he stressed his believe that economic growth is essential for the two following points because it ultimately leads a society to more freedom. As examples for a successful communication of these basic principles Day named Korea and Germany, and also referred to the successful integration of indigenous tribes in his homeland Canada.

Moving on to more practical approaches, it was a very positive surprise to see an Aberdeen alumnagiving a lecture in the conference. During discussions on genocide prevention as peace building,Laura Collins co-presented the ideas of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. The institute has the mission to build “a worldwide network of leaders with the professional tools and the
personal commitment to prevent genocide.”According to Collins and her co-presenter Samantha Horn, the relatively new institute has already build a large network in Latin America and is now approaching a similar network for Africa, while moderating a south-south exchanges between those two continents. Propagating methods like weapon control, the rule of law, and the power of education, the institute aims at giving leaders the right means to compact the emergence of mass atrocities.

The journalist Rebecca Tinsley later illustrated such mass-atrocities. Her stark presentation on the Darfur genocide led to standing ovation and to what I would call a turning point during the conference. She illustrated the on-going genocide with her own pictures and with drawings from children she interviewed, showing the brutality faced by the black minority. Both, the failure of the
UN Security Council and the unwillingness to enforce human right laws and UN conventions with the same effort used to enforce economic treaties led her to the conclusion that the responsibility to protect has become the “failure to protect.”

One of the many distinguished guests of the conference was Mr Pierre Nkunziza, the current president of the Republic of Burundi. During his speech, the president advertised his country as a good example for peace building and reconciliation in Africa. After shortly describing the peace process that took place in Burundi, he emphasised the role of the on-going dialogue, in which Nelson Mandela, among other African leaders, helped negotiating. “After 50 years of conflict Burundi now builds a strong state and is a successful model for peace building in other African states”, he said.

Nkunziza agreed with many other speakers in saying that diplomacy is very important for the peace building process—especially in Africa where problems of independence, dictatorships, and armed conflicts require long-term solutions. Highlighting the importance of the social and economic value of peace, he expressed his perception that “we only lose in war”. As the most important methods for
solving conflicts he named negotiation, diplomacy, and cultural diplomacy. His examples for the latter were the World Cup, where many African conflicts were paused, as well as his own observation of guerrilla warriors that came into towns to watch musicians from Haiti during the Burundi conflict.

The last of the interesting speakers (of which there were just too many to address them all) I want to comment on is Ferdous Ara Begus. Ms Begus is a former member of the committee that created the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). During her talk she explained the contents of the convention, gave examples of successful implementations, and
described the challenges she sees in a further implementation. Her main examples of a successful implementation were Turkey and China, both of which saw a huge increase in gender equality in recent years. However, Ms Begus sees challenges for a further implementation not only in those countries, but globally. Namely, she thinks that certain cultures have problems excepting laws that
don’t fit their traditional views, but even in more developed countries she sees problems. One example she gave are quotas. Albeit being implemented on some levels, there are still hardly any women in top level positions, she argued.

Apart from the regular conference agenda it is worth mentioning that the ICD spared no efforts to give the participants an impression of applied cultural diplomacy during the evening events. Guest visitors included Ian Gillan (Deep Purple), Marcia Barrett (Boney M.), and David Soul (“Detective Kenneth Hutch”). These artists all shared with us their notions of how much influence Western
culture had in countries they visited. Mr Gillan, for instance, gave a beautiful example by describing his trips to communist countries in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. He told us how surprised he was by how much the people in those countries knew about Western cultures solely by listing to his music.

In conclusion, I must say that the ICDs conference on cultural diplomacy was an amazing and highly educating experience. It successfully demonstrated many historical and contemporary methods and examples of peace building and other issues can be approached using culture. In addition, I believe that peace building is crucial for, if not aspect of, sustainable development and therefore gives these points and the conference as a whole a very high value in terms of tightening the links between the two fields.