Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to participate, on behalf of UNESCO, in the opening ceremony of the International Literary Biennale organized in the framework of the international exhibition EXPO 2017 that is hosted by Kazakhstan in its capital.
The literary biennale in Almaty is indeed opportune as it complements the EXPO on Future Energy by highlighting the importance, in addition to the economic development and cooperation, of creativity and artistic expression on the spiritual development of society.
UNESCO, as the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization, promotes culture as an important vector of sustainable development.
Culture is a source of meaning for expressing and understanding the world.
It is also a source of creativity, a way of shaping the world towards the aspirations we share.
Culture contributes directly to sustainability -- through cultural expressions that mobilise human vitality and provide a sense of belonging and inclusiveness, while contributing to livelihoods, through cultural heritage that is deeply embedded in local settings, for the benefit of all women and men, today and tomorrow.
UNESCO’s starting point is clear:
Culture is much more than monuments and books – culture is who we are.
It is a wellspring of collective imagination and belonging.
It is a source of identity and cohesion at a time of change -- it is a springboard for creativity and innovation.
No society can flourish without culture. No development can be sustainable without it.
Culture and art has always played an important role in society, with a tremendous impact beyond both public and public discourse. It is therefore key to recognize artistic and creative contributions to the public debate and sustainable development.
Writers, but also singers and poets, filmmakers and painters, play a role in expressing political and social issues, in shaping our minds and forming our views on what is happening around us, and on helping us grow spiritually. Art can engage with the audience in a very creative and imaginative ways - from novels all the way through to graffiti – and often reaches out to different audiences.
Yet, in some parts of the world, the rights of artists to express themselves freely are not recognized. Every year, artistic expressions, whether books, films, musical genres or paintings, are censored or attacked, while their creators themselves are brought to trial, physically assaulted, imprisoned, abducted or even killed.
(Data published in February 2017 in the Freemuse report “Art Under Threat” shows a registered total number of 1,028 attacks on artistic freedom in the year 2016 across 78 countries.
These figures remind us of the importance of ensuring freedom of expression for artists and cultural actors. They also demonstrate how a rich and diverse artistic and cultural life can create positive change in the process of developing modern, democratic societies.)
Promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, information and communication is a pre-requisite for the creation, distribution and enjoyment of diverse cultural expressions. These are among the core guiding principles of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the 1980 Recommendation on the Status of Artists.
UNESCO’s Convention calls for governments around the world to support artists and cultural professionals, including writers as creators and producers of cultural expressions.
145 countries around the world have now made commitments, through this Convention, to make space for artists and cultural professionals to create, to recognise their cultural productions, to support their efforts to drive change through their creative work.
The recognition and protection of artistic freedom are germane not only to the being and creative practice of artists themselves but also to the rights of all cultural producers. What is more, as a core fundamental freedom, artistic freedom is an essential ingredient of the wellbeing of citizens and societies, in the dynamics of social development and for the stability of the arts and cultural and creative industry sectors. The growth and flourishing of the latter are striking in countries that respect and protect the freedom of artistic expression and at the same time have established mechanisms for the fair remuneration of artists and producers.
The freedom to imagine, create and distribute allows both artists and artistic producers to concentrate their efforts on the creation, production, distribution and dissemination of cultural expressions called for by the 2005 Convention. In addition, when citizens as members of audiences or publics are free to attend and take part in public artistic events of their choice, or enjoy artworks in their homes, the quality of life for individuals and societies is inevitably enhanced.
We know that creativity and innovation are vectors of development. But we also know that mobility has become an intrinsic part of artists’ lives. Artist’s residencies, for example, play a key role in this development as they provide artists with time, space and context for culture exchange, practice, encounters.
When we discuss writers and sustainable development, we must therefore also address the issues of mobility, free movement, participation in international exchanges, and discussions like the one today.
Led by the growth of the cultural sector, creative industries, sustainable tourism, and the arts and crafts, culture is a driver of sustainable development.
It is also an enabler of sustainable development -- the context in which development policies can move forward, through local ownership, with greater efficiency and impact, through social inclusion.
This is UNESCO’s vision.
Placing culture at the heart of development policies constitutes an essential investment in the world's future and a pre-condition to successful globalization processes that take into account the principle of cultural diversity.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marks a substantial step forward for sustainable development in many fields, and particularly for culture as it is the first time that the international development agenda refers to culture.
In this new vision for the future development of humankind, culture is recognized as one of our greatest renewable energies.
Let me conclude by congratulating the organizers of the literary biennale for the initiative and wish the participants interesting and inspiring exchanges.