UNESCO and the South: Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka at G77 & China Roundtable
Posted on June 18th, 2012

Media Release Embassy of Sri Lanka Paris

On the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Group of 77 and China, Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka participated as a panelist at round table entitled “What future and what challenges for UNESCO?” organized by the group to mark the occasion. The event was attended by scholars, researchers, diplomats and journalists.

The roundtable dealt with the themes among others, of “The moral and financial crisis of UNESCO”, “The reconstruction of UNESCO in the face of current challenges”, and “Reflections on the real priorities of UNESCO”. Ambassador Jayatilleka was selected by the Group to speak on the “Responsibility of the countries of the South to save UNESCO”.

Also participating in this round table were: Prof. Eric GEOFFROY (Professor at the University of Strasbourg, France), Prof. Jean BRICMONT (Professor at the UniversitƒÆ’†’© Catholique de Louvain, writer), H.E. Jean MUSITELLI (Member of the French Conseil d’Etat), H.E. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph YAI (Ambassador/Permanent Delegate of Benin to UNESCO), H.E. Mr. Mohammad RƒÆ’†’©za MAJIDI (Ambassador/Permanent Delegate of Iran to UNESCO), Mr. Michel COLLON (writer, independent journalist), Mr. Sidiki COULIBALY (President of the ISAU), Mr. Ronan GRIPPAY (President of the STU), Mr. Malik AIT SI SELMI (former Deputy Director of Human Resources in UNESCO), Mr. Augustin GATERA (Centre of Languages and African Cultures Studies -Rwanda), and Ms. ChloƒÆ’†’© MAUREL (Researcher, Centre for the Cultural History of Contemporary Societies, Caen).

Looking at it from the point of view of the South, I see that UNESCO has the strength to regain the initiative. This is demonstrated with the vote on Palestine. We did something that almost nobody else has done for quite some time. Let us never forget that potentiality. Let us never be trapped in negativism and fatalism. Recognizing that potentiality, however, does not preclude us from also recognizing the crisis of UNESCO and the crisis the South faces within UNESCO.

UNESCO has become a target. This is not the result of conspiracy but the result of a systemic re-modeling; a byproduct of the world system. UNESCO has been transformed from a subject into an object. We can see this transparently if we examine the dismantling of the institutional spaces for thinking within UNESCO.

Over a period of years, the institutional spaces for the practice of philosophy, of ethics, of reflections, of ideas –the “ƒ”¹…”laboratory of ideas’ function of UNESCO– has been dismantled and dispersed. One could put it up on a chart and track this dispersal, diversion and dismantling.

UNESCO has been and is being gradually lobotomized and we have done nothing so far to challenge this! While the function of reflection, of deep thinking has been atomized, on the other hand UNESCO is been transformed and is sought to be transformed into a soft power accessory, an auxiliary of the hegemonic centers and ideologies. This is why UNESCO identified itself uncritically with the one dimensional conception of the Arab Spring: not a critical one, not a dialectical one, not a deep thinking reflection but precisely a one dimensional conception.

So UNESCO has been politicized but in one sense– and we have not resisted or challenged this. We must stop this transformation of UNESCO, this conscious transformation of UNESCO, into a mere conduit and disseminator of hegemonic ideologies which also appropriate notions of Human Rights and distort them as part of an interventionist project. This global interventionist project has been discussed today by Prof Jean Bricmont and Michel Collon among others.

The philosophical function of UNESCO almost no longer exists. Michel Colon quoted quite accurately from RƒÆ’†’©gis Debray. RƒÆ’†’©gis Debray lives in Paris and I know he is somewhat reclusive but still, RƒÆ’†’©gis Debray is one of the many outstanding intellectuals who we do not see at UNESCO. I do not know if he would come if invited, but has anyone invited him? Why is it that UNESCO in 1951 had Jean Paul Sartre discussing the ethics of violence but UNESCO in 2012 does not reach out, for most of the time, to the outstanding intellectuals within Paris and in France, let alone in the rest of Europe–because there are no budgetary constraints really in doing so, but it is not done.

So the thinking function, the critical thinking function, the function of reflection is deliberately being “ƒ”¹…”disappeared’. Now is this the result of financial crisis? Yes and no because well before the post-Palestinian induction cuts, the budgetary issue has been used in a neo-liberal manner, as it has been in some of our countries at certain times where budget cuts are made. Now who decides on the priorities? Certain programs, institutional spaces are dispersed, are cut back in the name of rationalization. But it is really a counter-reformation that has been proceeding, a long counter-reformation within and of UNESCO, taking it away from the founding values and functions that inspired the organization.

The task for the South is to counter that counter-reformation.

For lack of time I will refer to only one very serious problem. UNESCO has also been subject to a massive ideological barrage as a result of which we do not look at our own history in a balanced and critical manner. I refer to the period in which UNESCO was at the forefront of the battle for a new international information order– and the importance of information, of examining the hegemonic structures of global information as part of the striving for peace and against war, has been mentioned by Michel Collon among others, today.

UNESCO shies away as if Director-General M’Bow was Satan Incarnate! It is possible that there were certain excesses, certain unilateralism, and certain over-emphases during that period, but today while we must firmly uphold the struggle for the freedom of expression and the rights of individual journalists, we must simultaneously look at the hegemonic structures and global information order. This is a critique and project which UNESCO stood at the forefront of, but we are not doing this, we have not done this, we have been almost brainwashed or hypnotized into thinking that this was a dark age of UNESCO and that we must never go back there. But that is surely part of our heritage that we must be proud of, and we must look back at the Sean Macbride report, reflect upon that period where UNESCO put the study of the international information order on the agenda.

So in conclusion, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I propose a few ideas. One, a very prosaic one: closer, structured cooperation between G77 and China and the Non Aligned Movement within UNESCO. There is surely an overlap but there has to be closer structured liaison and coordination. Two, as I said before, we must reexamine or reintroduce into the agenda the theme of information and its unequal sources and structures; the unequal exchange for information between North and South. Three, we must take up the flagship theme of the New Humanism but we should do it from the point of view and perspective of the Global South. In my own reading, the first time I came across the phrase new humanism, not in capitals, has been in the unabridged Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci and I suggest that the countries of the Global South have a session in which the New Humanism would be looked up from the perspective of the regions of the South, and of the South as a whole.

 

 

 

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