Sharing - an Ethic for the Future

By Mayor Zaragoza, Federico | UNESCO Courier, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Sharing - an Ethic for the Future


Mayor Zaragoza, Federico, UNESCO Courier


Let us cast our minds back to the world situation as it was in 1945. In that fateful year the North was in ruins and a sombre post-war mood prevailed. In the South, the struggle to achieve freedom from colonial domination was already under way, and in many cases a pre-war atmosphere reigned. The founders of UNESCO decided to confront this civilization of weapons with the weapons of civilization. They took inspiration from the radiantly simple idea of constructing peace in the minds of men through education, science, culture and the free flow of ideas - in short by communication.

In the prophetic words of the French poet Paul Valery, they intended to build a "league of minds" as well as a League of Nations. At the same time they were determined that this international forum should serve the ethical goals which the world community set for itself: peace, the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity and its common prosperity, freedom and justice.

As the intellectual institution of the United Nations system, UNESCO has been entrusted ever since its inception with an ethical mission. In this capacity, it must condemn wrongs, whatever their origin, wherever they occur and whatever form they take. UNESCO must have the courage to raise its voice and take action. It must not allow itself to tolerate the intolerable. To my mind this mission is today more timely and urgent than ever. UNESCO can and must make its presence felt in the world - by the force of ideas and above all by setting an example.

In less than three years' time, the world will enter the third millennium. It is now, when the twenty-first century is already knocking on UNESCO's door that we must think about the Organization's future shape. UNESCO will become increasingly forward-looking, because the Internet, the protection of the human genome, the increasing development of what Nestor Garcia Canclini has called "hybrid cultures", the rapid emergence of "virtual cultures", lifelong education for adults and the revolution in the efficient use of environmental and energy resources are all 21st-century issues.

Development is now in jeopardy. We cannot close our eyes to poverty and indebtedness, exclusion and discrimination, non-stop degradation of the environment, exploitation, persecution and marginalization affecting whole populations - especially indigenous populations - the scandal of famine, illiteracy, intolerance, violence, war, social instability and even - after racial apartheid - the threat of social and urban apartheid, which is gradually undermining the foundations of democracy. On no account should we bequeath to posterity this grievous legacy.

Can we accept the fact that almost one-third of the population of the least developed countries die before the age of forty or that 20 per cent of the inhabitants of the planet share 1.1 per cent of world income? As Mr. James Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, recently pointed out, there can be no satisfactory economic development without parallel social development.

The answer to the challenge of poverty is contingent upon sharing, which is to my mind the mainspring of UNESCO's mission. The duty to share is but another form of the duty of solidarity, that "intellectual and moral solidarity" of humanity which is the only possible basis for a true and lasting peace.

We must share in time as well as in space. Our duty is to think of future generations. What do we want to pass on to our children? The prospect of a better future, or chronic poverty? Opportunities for all, or hardship for a quarter or even a third of humanity? A living environment, or a planet without a future?

An ethical approach to the future must recognize the vital responsibility of today's generations towards future generations. It is now that we must lay the foundations of this ethic if we wish to build the peaceful conditions necessary for development in the next century. At a time when people all over the world are acting as though they had rights over the people of tomorrow we are starting to realize that we are compromising the full exercise of human rights by future generations. …

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