UNESCO Press Communiqué address by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh

News Paris, France - 16th November 2009

Address by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh Founder, South Asia Foundation (SAF)

at UNESCO Headquarters Paris
on the occasion of the award ceremony of 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize
for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence

Excellencies, my UNESCO colleagues, friends:
May I at the outset warmly felicitate the 2009 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize laureates, Abdul Sattar Edhi of Pakistan and Franc;ois Houtart from Belgium, as well as the Honourable Mention nominees, the St. Petersburg Government Programme on Tolerance, Russian Federation, and the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, United Kingdom, for promoting peace through intercultural dialogue, human rights, tolerance, and nonviolence.

It was an intense desire to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi that prompted me to fund the UNESCO Prize, notwithstanding financial constraints. May I also mention a proximate event of great significance: November 14 marks the 120th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, the
apostle of secularism. I was naturally delighted when, in 1995, the UNESCO Executive Board unanimously created the Prize, and decided to award it biannually on 16th November, the day on which UNESCO was established as well as the United Nations Day of Tolerance.

The lifelong efforts by the 2009 UNESCO Prize laureates to promote international cooperation is a corollary of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 - the historic legacy of which we are celebrating on its 20th anniversary. It formally ended the cold war and spurred on the unity and expansion of the European Union. The euphoria the fall of the wall created among the people of a united Germany proved there is no such thing as permanent enmity among nations - that peace is forged horizontally as well as top down but basically from the bottom up. The event
heralded the triumph of multiculturalism over selfish unilateral schemes.

UNESCO highlighted the cultural connotation of these concerns at the 33rd session of the General Conference when its 183 Member States adopted a resolution on 'Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions'

The objective was to create, in the context of an increasingly interconnected world, a rich creative diversity in which all cultural expressions may be affirmed. This strengthened the ties that bind the diversity of cultures and their development to foster mutual understanding and dialogue between peoples. UNESCO's historic decision reiterated that multiculturalism is essentially holistic, comprising global issues such as protection of the environment, unfettered trade and commerce, regional cooperation, and amicable partnerships, accessible to all for the benefit of humanity.

There was a time when Europe greatly benefitted from Asian and African cultures born and bred in India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and so on. Later the imperial European powers amassed enormous wealth by exploiting their colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The Second World War turned the tide and the anti-colonial winds of change began to blow in the opposite direction. The fall of the Berlin wall was the watershed, wrote Professor Brahma Chellaney of the Indian Centre for Policy Research, because as "Europe got freedom, Asia became rich." Barely six months before the wall crumbled, I recall asking the West German Ambassador in Washington if East and West Germany would ever unite. "Not in my lifetime," he was convinced. But the world suddenly changed in ways inconceivable only a few months earlier.

East has in fact met the West, contrary to Kipling's adage "never the twain shall meet." Against this background I am optimistic that the wall of India's Partition erected by the Indian and Pakistani vested interests shall inevitably crumble as suddenly as the Berlin wall. I am confident that my vision of creating a rainbow partnership of South Asian counties and a common currency shall become the anchor of economic stability, security and regional cooperation -- as the ASEAN, African, Latin American, and Gulf countries are planning to launch a common currency by emulating the Euro.

Before I close, may I take this opportunity to heartily congratulate Mme Irina Bokova, the first woman to be elected Director-General of UNESCO. Her unprecedented appointment has shattered the wall of UNESCO 'machismo' since the organisation was established 65 years ago on this day. Let us celebrate the breaching of this formidable wall as well.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting and participating in this exceptional event.