IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


The Mediterranean Dimension of the Universal Forum of the Cultures

Mireia Belil

Director General
Universal Forum of Cultures Foundation and
Barcelona 2004 Forum Dialogues Director

The Universal Forum of Cultures – Barcelona 2004 exuded  Mediterranean: with its views of the sea, the daily sea breezes, the heat on some of the days, the Spring showers, the tourists and the festive atmosphere in the Summer, the noise and the musicians, the sunset and sunrise light, etceteras.

A side from the valuations of its organisation, the very idea of the Forum can be considered one very much adapted to Mediterranean life: to bring together the citizens in a shared environment to enjoy and reflect through culture, in considered in a broad sense and as a way of life. Barcelona 2004 had as an objective to analyse the possibilities of combating the tensions generated by globalisation with reflection, dialogue and celebration. In this respect, the Barcelona Forum had a certain amount of cacophony with the differences in which the citizens were expressingtheir visions of the world, their diagnosis and their proposals for action through different formats.

The Barcelona Forum was urban development, citizens and dialogue, in differing proportions and intensities over the 141 days. The privileged position of Barcelona as a meeting point for cultures and peoples, the city’s Mediterranean and open character and its proven will of help, reflection and protest against the world’s problems, contributed  to Barcelona attracting a wide range of artistic, academic and social speakers.

The Forum project set out to also undertake a urban redevelopment thought for finding solutions to the problems that particularly occur in the cities of the Mediterranean coast as a consequence of their history and development. The integration of urban infrastructures in the citizen’s lives, the recuperation of the coast and the beaches, the revival of the biotope, the construction of the city basing it on the existing model and structures, are innovative operations that go beyond their urbanistic or social valuation.

The Mediterranean is a historically privileged region of contact between cultures, religions, languages and peoples. Contacts that often have not been free of conflict. The advancement in the globalisation of the economy and the  media have  implied an increase in the circulation of ideas, images, people and information… that have produced a Mediterranean region full of complexities, contradictions, tensions, opportunities and creativity.

The Barcelona Forum 2004 was a clear reaction to these complexities, tensions, contradictions, opportunities and creativity. The music, the exhibitions, the scenic arts…, although above all, the dialogues, had the Mediterranean and its challenges and conflicts as a source of inspiration and reflection.

The Universal Forum of the Cultures’ three structural axes: sustainable development, cultural diversity and the promotion of the conditions for peace, have shown, in all of the Forum’s output (music, theatre, dialogues, exhibitions, workshops…), a Mediterranean dimension, because this region, despite being so small and so diverse, is a microcosm that brings together many of the essential themes that affect the development of humanity at the beginning of the XXIst century. The Mediterranean has to reviseits geopolitical position in the globalised world and with the increasing relations between the two sides of the Pacific. In this space, we can see the effects of climatic change and of the over exploitation of resources, north-south relations and the effects of globalisation, terrorism and war, contact between the three principal monotheistic religions, the birth of many polytheistic religions, commerce, great linguistic diversity, three continents and many centuries of history.

The conditions for peace were the focus of many debates, reflections and exhibitions, specially taking into consideration that part of the world considers, Palestine, Libya, Syria, the Balkans and the Lebanon as sources of terrorism and conflicts. The denunciations against unilateral and monolithic approaches were made in parallel with a reflection about the role of Europe in ensuring stability inthe area, through international aid as much as the position of defending the values that have provided wellbeing to  the continent. But, above all, the Forum brought together differing proposals for confluict resolution:  defense of a culture of peace, promotion of disarmament and measures to be implemented during the process of reconciliation following a conflict. In the dialogues, the protagonists of the conflicts that fill our newspapers, or have already been forgotten, reflected on differing aspects. Some of the themes dealt with the realities of social coexistence during or after a conflict (how the resistance and the push for peace is organised in the middle of a conflict; how to reconstruct the social fabric and coexistence after a conflict; the recuperation of the memory after what they have lived through, the dignification of the victims, the reinsertion of the perpetrators into…), the role of justice (what is the relation between reconciliation, truth and justice; whichare the mechanisms that one can put into effect) and the role of the international community in the conflicts and in achieving a sustainable peace, especially in the Arab – Israeli conflict. Progressive disarmament, development and promotion of democracy were some of the most repeated solutions.

The right to informationpublic opinion and economic growth are some of the positive aspects of globalisation. The right to know is the right to live. The world-wide spread in communications has not led to an improvement in the spread of information, as the media have progressively become concentrated in a few hands, promoting, this way, a monolithic thinking.

Rather than just relying on state regulation, where there is always the temptation to intervene in editorial contents and arguments, the citizens need to stand up and demand their rights. The information society will only be democratic and participatory, if it is developed in an articulated society, where opinions and needs can be channelled towards the media and the regulators,  in an environment which guarantees the quality of the emissions and the interventions of cultural minorities. Regulation of the communications sector is the instrument that guarantees not only economic efficiency, but also pluralism and cultural diversity.

When so much is spoken about God and the devil in political strategies and discussions are full of moral terminology, it means that we have arrived at the moment to recuperate democracy. During this recuperation one has to consider consolidating civil society and not imposing institutions, leaving them to be built by society itself.

Throughout the history of humanity, God’s name has been used to justify wars, dictatorships, torture or any action that violates human rights. The Mediterranean has been the scene of many of these conflicts. At the Parliament of the World’s Religions it was strongly stated that the different religions have to work to put an end to this. The religions have to undertake a process of deep auto-criticism, because it is a great contradiction to speak of love and peace and at the same time to justify the use of violence in order to resolve intercultural conflicts of religious background. The world’s religions have emphasised their differences throughout history and have always left on one side the universal principle that unites them all, that is, the ethics of respecting each other. Society today is contaminated by intolerance and fragmentation.  Religions can help to promote a new international order. «The convictions that are shared by the Christian, Jewish,  and Buddhist, as well asby the Chinese religions, ought to be emphasised, because they can greatly contribute in creating a new model of international relations», stated the Catholic theologian Hans Küng, when making a plea to all religions to enter into a political-social debate, even if it means acting against the wishes of their political leaders. «There will not be an improvement in the international order without common global ethics», he asserted.

Sustainable development and the fight against poverty marked the proposals put forward for the Mediterranean. Water, energy geopolitics, biodiversity, sustainable management of tourism and  the reflection about human movements were established as the principle challenges in the development sphere.

Shared water resources, the access to them and the management of internationaltrans-border water supplies, can be keys to achieve peace or become sources of conflict, especially in Europe and the Mediterranean (Rhine, Danube,Jordan, etc.), and in Africa (Nile, Congo…).

The Mediterranean Sea is also experiencing a process of globalisation. The biodiversity, the landscape and the coast are changing rapidly due to human actions and climatic change. The Mediterranean is the principal tourist destination in the world and is a victim of its own success. The degradation of its coastline is unprecedented and many of its species are on the point of extinction. Research into the cleansing of sewage , the promotion of more sustainable types of tourism that do not put so much pressure on natural resources and the development of cultural exchanges ought to help to establish an equilibrium, first, between human evolution on both shores of the sea and, second, between this evolution and the marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Today’s society invests much energy in order to achieve access to the basic rights for all citizens, without discrimination of race, colour or beliefs. However, the increasingly deteriorating environment and the growth in social, economic and cultural discrimination, endangers the wellbeing of future generations.

The reflection concerning the problems, challenges and opportunities of the Mediterranean, in all its dimensions, shows the need for a new paradigm of living together, understanding and integration, based on a series of parameters that have been repeated in thousands of different ways and points of view. The alleged Clash of Civilisations has been transformed into a clash of interests and ignorance. More dialogue and knowledge is needed in order to move away from stereotyping and monolithic thinking. The contemporary intellectual structures are not capable of recognising alternative ways of thinking that allow the articulation of agreed solutions in accordance with the reality of a diverse and constantly evolving society. It is necessary to develop an alternative vision that embraces diversity in its widest sense, to be able to answer today’s needs. A part from knowledge, further understanding of interdependency and human vulnerability, as much as intellectual curiosity and the promotion of education to breakdown barriers are the ways forward to a fairer world. In a sea as small as ours, the present great division is unsustainable.

The Mediterranean is an area where various different peoples arrived and imposed their respective Roman peace, Arabic peace, Britannic peace and American peace”: «It is now time to speak of a Mediterranean peace, reached by us» (Guido de Marco)

The Universal Forum of Cultures set out to be a place for a coming together of minds, creativity and a little common sense in which frontiers disappear.