dialogue, world cultures, cultural diversity
Monument in Sigmund Freud Park. (Credit: Pleuntje, 'europe monument'/Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0) (via: bit.ly)

21 of May has been the world day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development since 2001. Since 2008, the World Public Forum ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’, and now the DOC Research Institute have commemorated this day with different events.

One of the big events to celebrate dialogue has been the intercultural festival, ‘Cultures invited to the table’ (Kulturen bitten zu Tisch in German) held in Vienna on or around 21 May. Initially stated as part of the Anna Lindh Foundation’s common action in 2008 for the ‘1001 Actions for Dialogue’ regional campaign, it is always organised in late May around the occasion of the UNESCO World Day for Intercultural Dialogue.

The objective of the action is to raise public awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue with a special focus on mutual respect, involving opinion leaders as well as the public, and to demonstrate intercultural exchange with practical examples. The ultimate goal is to promote dialogue between cultures, because bridging the gap between cultures is very important for stability, peace, and development, as many of the major conflicts around the globe have a cultural dimension. Target groups are opinion leaders from religious communities, immigrant associations, friendship leagues, academic institutions interested in intercultural dialogue, government and diplomats, and the Viennese public.

This an open-air event held at the Sigmund Freud Park in Vienna, with an intercultural buffet offered by members of partner organisations and a cultural programme presenting music and dance from participating nations. Furthermore, there is the annual ‘Round Dinner Table’ with ambassadors of participating nations as well as representatives from the City of Vienna and the Austrian government, which takes place during the festival. It is organised annually in cooperation with around 25 Austro-foreign friendship societies, with the support of the City of Vienna, the 9th district of Vienna, and the Austrian foreign ministry (cultural department and dialogue task force). Organisers from the friendship societies offer relevant national culinary specialities to taste. Artists and groups from the various participating nations present a cultural programme involving dance, song, musical performances, and even dance or music workshops. Since 2017, the event has been supported by and has had the patronage of the Austrian president, who was himself a participant in 2015.

Other events have also been organised to celebrate and promote the world day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development, such as conferences, roundtables, and various talks. In 2018, the DOC Research Institute is also organising an expert talk on East-West relations in Vienna, Austria, a roundtable in Ekaterinburg, Russia, on the problems faced by migrants adapting to life in Eastern Russia, a conference on Africa-Europe relationships in Rome, Italy, and a roundtable on extremism in Tomsk, Russia.

In 2001, UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in December 2002, the UN General Assembly, in its resolution 57/249, declared 21 May to be the World day for cultural diversity for dialogue and development. This was designed to raise awareness of the issues that surround cultural diversity and dialogue.

As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a message to mark the occasion in 2018, “cultural diversity is not in itself a factor of peace and progress. For this it requires learning, learning about otherness, the ability to shift focus away from oneself, to dialogue and to recognize the value concealed in each culture.”

In its 21 May statement, UNESCO says that “the day provides us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to advance the four goals of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on 20 October 2005:

  1. Support sustainable systems of governance for culture;
  2. Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase the mobility of artists and cultural professionals;
  3. Integrate culture into sustainable development frameworks;
  4. Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The creation of this day was not only to celebrate the richness of the cultures around the globe but also to highlight the essential role of intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development. Diversity can be an agent of inclusion and positive change, which can be used to contribute to dialogue and mutual understanding, and also to the social, environmental, and economic aspects of sustainable development, as former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said. The message of this day is now more important as ever, as in 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development. “The 17 Sustainable Development Goals can best be achieved by drawing upon the creative potential of the world’s diverse cultures, and engaging in continuous dialogue to ensure that all members of society benefit from sustainable development.”

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Diana Orlova

Research Associate, DOC Research Institute, AT

Diana Orlova received her BA (Political Science and International Studies) from Yale University and a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science (European Political Economy). She has worked with the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” for over ten years, as head of the European Headquarters, which she helped set up in Vienna in 2006. Before joining the World Public Forum she worked at the International Press Institute (Vienna), as Press Freedom Advisor, and as Europe and former-USSR Programs Coordinator. Diana’s research interests include international relations, European integration, and global policies and institutions.