CULTURE

Unesco’s Greek focus: the Paralympics, AIDS, protection of oral culture

Unesco Director-General Koichiro Matsuura began his address to goodwill ambassadors from all the world who gathered in Paris for the annual meeting at Unesco headquarters on February 26-27 by quoting from Unesco’s constitution, written in 1945: «It is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.» And he added: «Is not this phrase, which is, so to speak, our motto, of particular significance for our time? Education, the natural sciences, culture, communication and the social and human sciences – these are Unesco’s armory of peace. And who are its foot soldiers? They are all the societies on earth, including those apparently the poorest and apparently the most stable. They are every one of us. We all have a specific mission in this respect and it can be carried out in each of the organization’s priority areas, such as basic education, promotion or cultural diversity, preservation of the tangible and intangible heritage, and the ethics of science.» «You have agreed to spread the ideals of Unesco,» Matsuura told the goodwill ambassadors, «by means of your talent and fame. The role that you can play is invaluable… With your public interest in causes championed by Unesco, with the publicity you receive in the media, and with your careers and reputations, you will help to rally the general public to this collective bid to achieve a fairer world. Your task is to make the public at large more keenly aware of the importance of what is at stake and the role that each of us can play in establishing a culture of peace.» The meeting at Unesco headquarters attracted wide publicity in the international media, thanks to the presence of former presidents, Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Kim Phuc Phan Thi, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Claudia Cardinale, composer Jean-Michel Jarre and Marianna Vardinoyianni, whose latest philanthropic project as founder-president of Elpida is to establish the first oncological hospital for children with cancer. Matsuura assigned tasks to each ambassador. The Greek assignments include the Paralympics, which will take place immediately after the Summer Olympic Games in Athens and the messages that will be sent worldwide by means of the Games. As part of Unesco’s program for the protection of the cultural heritage, Vardinoyianni chose to adopt the traditional music of Azerbaijan, and she is waiting for government officials to suggest masterpieces of Greek oral culture to be listed for protection by Unesco. The other major topic of the meeting was that of action on HIV/AIDS, a pandemic which charitable organizations in Greece – with a few honorable exceptions – have done little to tackle. The statistics are dramatic: In 2002, 65 million people had HIV/AIDS and 14 million children were orphaned, a number expected to rise to 50 million within a decade. Unesco is focusing on preventive education. «AIDS or no AIDS, he’s my friend,» is the slogan of its Internet-based campaign against discrimination and the isolation of people with HIV/AIDS, in which 7,500 schools in 172 countries taking part on a pilot basis. For more information, log on to www.unesco.org/aids on the Internet.