Magazine article UNESCO Courier

For a Democratic Culture

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

For a Democratic Culture

Article excerpt

A viable democracy is inconceivable in the absence of an authentic democratic culture. This culture of democracy seems to me to be a space that permits the synthesis of four fundamental concepts: citizenship, tolerance, education, and the free exchange of ideas and people.

Citizenship? "The renewal of citizenship is not a by-product but on the contrary a precondition of democracy," Vaclav Havel has written. "Citizenship is courage, love of the truth, an ever-alert conscience, a freedom within us and a freely accepted responsibility for public life. We can never be certain that we can fully live up to these values."

This analysis sets the ethical dimension in the forefront of citizenship. This ethic, itself fed by values which we must one day dig deep into ourselves to rediscover, reflects both our common humanity and--notwithstanding all the diversity in concepts and in practice--the universal basis of democracy.

Tolerance? A democratic culture is based on the understanding and acceptance of other cultures. It expresses the will to coexist with others. How many authoritarian systems have lodged their power in the celebration of racial distinction and ethnic prejudice! Yet cultural identities are hardly homogeneous. The richest among them incorporates the seeds and fruits of the most widely separated cultures and the most disparate civilizations. If I were asked what it is today that creates "the wealth of nations", I would not refer to their technological power or their economic might. I would speak of the capacity of their citizens--whatever their origins, the colour of their skins, the land or the language of their ancestors--to join together in support of a certain number of ideals and principles which make it possible for them to live together.

Tolerance does not only mean patience toward others: it implies a knowledge of others but even more a respect for the beauty of their cultures. Tolerance is therefore as much an ethical as an aesthetic attitude.

Rather than dwelling on discrimination, I wish to emphasize the role of tolerance in promoting integration.

How, for example, can we reconcile the double imperative essential to all citizenship--of unity and freedom, of membership of the community and individual liberty? Can we, in societies that are increasingly diversified, continue to identify democracy with majority rule if the latter cannot guarantee the expression and adequate protection, as part of public life, of the demands and beliefs of all groups of citizens? Can we even conceive of democracy if we do not believe in the need to protect minority rights? …

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