FW de Klerk Calls for Greater International Recognition of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Language Minorities
FW DE KLERK CALLS FOR GREATER INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION OF THE RIGHTS OF CULTURAL, RELIGIOUS AND LANGUAGE MINORITIES
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation
On 30 August, in a speech to MEDEF (Mouvement des Entreprises de France) Summer University in Paris, FW de Klerk said that one of the world’s greatest challenges would be to address cultural and religious alienation and to devise norms and approaches that would enable different communities to live together in peace.
De Klerk said that throughout the world populations were becoming more cosmopolitan. “The days of the single ethnic group nation state are gone.” “More than 130 countries have cultural minorities comprising more than 10% of their populations. Cultural diversity is being augmented by new waves of migrants seeking economic opportunities and freedom. Everywhere people are on the move - and everywhere they are confronting once homogenous societies with new challenges.”
The preservation of cultural diversity was also one of the central issues in the debate on where globalisation was leading us. Many people believed that the identity, purpose and dignity that they derived from their cultural heritage were being threatened by the global tidal wave of English-language mass culture.
De Klerk said that humans were complex social beings with many important concentric relationships. “We are individuals. We belong to families. We pursue our economic interests. We belong to clubs and organisations. Many of us have religious affiliations. We often belong to distinct cultural groups. We have gender and sexual orientation. We are citizens of countries and increasingly we belong to the international community.” True freedom consisted of our being able to make lawful choices for ourselves and our families in all these spheres.
In De Klerk’s view, South Africans were richer because of the cultural diversity that they enjoyed. “I am confident that we can show that diversity does not need to be a source of tension and conflict - but can help to enrich our lives by providing differing perspectives of the world in which we live.”
The management of cultural diversity was also an increasingly important challenge in the United States. For most of America’s history, the invariable practice had been for immigrant communities to coalesce around the existing national identity and to learn to speak English as soon as possible.
“On this model the United States was able to develop from 13 Atlantic colonies to a continental power in less than a hundred years. In 1800 its population was only five million. By 1900 it had swelled to 75 million. The existing cultural base of British settlers, American Indians and Afro-Americans was enormously strengthened by the arrival of widely diverse European immigrants.”
Hispanic Americans were now the largest ethnic minority and would include more than 100 million people - or one in four Americans - by 2050. Should they accept the convention that all migrants should eventually become English-speaking - or would the United States increasingly have to accept bilingualism?
The accommodation of diverse immigrant groups had also become one of the most controversial issues in Europe. In France there had been intense debate regarding the prohibition of the use of headscarves by Muslim girls in schools.
Where did toleration of diversity begin - and end?
Toleration of cultural diversity in Britain had diminished as a result of the involvement of some British-born Muslims in terrorist activities aimed at fellow Britons. Increasingly, the view was that toleration of diversity was good - but on the basis that everyone had to accept the core values of the nation.
Failure to manage cultural and religious diversity was already the greatest threat to peace and stability. 36 of the 45 large and small conflicts throughout the world had their roots in ethnic and religious differences. Present or recent conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey and in many countries in Africa were all examples.
According to De Klerk the international community would have to pay far greater attention to this question than had thus far been the case. Few states welcomed international scrutiny of their relationships with minorities within their borders. On the other hand, more than 900 million people throughout the world - one in seven of the human population - belonged to ethnic, cultural or religious minorities. Many of them experienced alienation and discrimination.
There was an urgent need for more intense and informed debate on how the international community should deal with ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.
In De Klerk’s view the challenge was to devise approaches and to establish norms that would enable different cultural and ethnic communities to coexist in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect. “To achieve this, we must reach broad agreement on the cultural, linguistic and educational rights that such communities should enjoy. However, it is equally important to reach agreement on underlying values that can provide a basis for co-operation and unity. A balance needs to be struck between diversity and unity.”
According to the United Nations Development Programme, “policies recognizing cultural identities and encouraging diversity to flourish do not result in fragmentation, conflict, weak development and authoritarian rule. Such policies are both viable, and necessary, for it is often the suppression of culturally identified groups that leads to tension.”
De Klerk said that the international community needed to do much more to define and protect the rights of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities. It should also establish an international norm for minority rights, just as it had already done for individuals, for women and for children. It needed to accept the role that education should play in the preservation of religious, cultural and language diversity and should also establish the principle that states had a duty to support and finance such education.
De Klerk concluded that, increasingly, people from different cultural backgrounds would be rubbing shoulders in the streets, market places and international companies that make up our global village. “The presence of people from so many different cultures is one of the most enriching aspects of our new world. But it will also require us to observe new codes of behaviour and to acknowledge the multidimensional rights of people - as citizens … and as members of communities.”
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation