The New Puritans (EURSOC Two, 21 October, 2005)
France scored a minor cultural victory against the United States yesterday when the UN’s cultural arm UNESCO voted overwhelmingly to support a Paris-backed convention protecting national cultural practices.
The convention, which was backed by 148 of the 154 governments present yesterday, allows nations to exclude cultural goods and services from competition. It adds that access to culture from a variety of nations is a “fundamental right” and that only the implementation of “true national cultural policies” can allow cultural production to take place in every country, thus making cultural diversity possible.
In short, UNESCO agreed to the nationalisation of culture. Only the US and Israel voted against the convention, though four others abstained. Britain supported the French position, with the UK’s ambassador Timothy Craddock claiming that the convention was “clear, carefully balanced, and consistent with the principles of international law and fundamental human rights.”
Fair enough: Few would disagree that the people of say, Iran, North Korea – or even China – should be allowed to enjoy the diversity of cultures outside their national boundaries. However, to argue that enthusiasm for the convention was based solely on the wish to extend the cultural horizons of the citizens of these benighted countries is disingenous.
In fact, many treaty supporters will use the convention as an excuse to exclude foreign influence in the name of protecting national culture. The so-called fundamental right to diversity could be satisfied by inviting approved theatre tours from friendly states. Or – just imagine – the Havana Festival of Chinese, North Korean and Venezuelan Cinema.
France’s obvious delight at the convention’s success – it sees it as a “manifesto for alternative globalisation” – sits uneasily with its usual tolerance of closed regimes.
There may be indeed be nobler aims in the treaty, but Britain (and every other country on the board) knew exactly what they were signing up to: Yet another transnational slap in the face for Washington.
Because, let’s face it, which culture do most of these elites imagine that their citizens are most under threat from?
Unless they ban books, movies, TV and the Internet how do they avoid contiunuing Americanization?