On the occasion of the International Conference on Progressive Culture: People’s Art Shaping the Society of the Future, may I as chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle convey warmest greetings of solidarity from the League to all the participating artists, cultural workers and media practitioners from different parts of the world who are all engaged in anti-imperialist and democratic movements for fundamental change in their respective countries and milieus.
For their initiative and success in preparing and convening the conference, we congratulate all the participants, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), the US-based Habi-Arts and the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) and the member organizations of Commission 14 of the International League of Peoples Struggle in cooperation with the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines.
We welcome and applaud the theme of the conference, “Cultural work as an integral part of the struggle of the peoples of the world against imperialism.” We are deeply pleased to observe that the progressive artists, cultural workers and media practitioners have the opportunity to interface, share their ideas, experience and work, to discuss and clarify further the role of art, culture and media in the struggle for social change, to exhibit their works and to foster unity, networks and practical forms of cooperation.
I thank the International Organizing Committee of the First International Conference on Progressive Culture for inviting me to recite my poem, “The Guerrilla Is Like a Poet”, and to make inputs on the Millennium Development Goals and its impact on arts and culture and the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diverse Cultural Expressions or in brief the Convention on Cultural Diversity. These two documents may be discussed in relation to the neoliberal economic policy of imperialist plunder and to your concern on arts and culture.
The severe problems that the Millennium Development Goals seek to address have been the consequence of relentless imperialist plunder, accelerated and aggravated by the neoliberal economic policy instigated by the US and known as the Washington Consensus. They are subject matter involving the suffering of hundreds of millions of people, mainly in the underdeveloped countries, who cry out for attention and expression by artists, cultural workers and media practitioners.
However, the Millennium Development Goals do not call on them for help and not one of the goals refers to arts and culture. Since the declaration of these goals in 2000, under the baton of the imperialist countries, not any of these has had any significant direct and positive consequence to arts and culture. And certainly the nonfulfillment of the goals and the aggravation of the economic and social problems provide rich raw material for the critical study and creative work by people involved in the arts and culture.
The Millennium Development Goals are as follows: 1. to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, 2. to achieve universal primary education, 3. to promote gender equality and empower women, 4. to reduce child mortality rates, 5. to improve maternal health, 6. to combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases, 7. to ensure environmental sustainability and 8. to develop a global partnership for development.
The goals are supposed to be fully realized in 2015. But they, together with all previous claims of success to some extent here and there, have always been overtaken by the worsening crisis of the world capitalist system and the local reactionary ruling system. The problems sought to be solved have been further exacerbated and deepened. In declaring these goals, the imperialist countries and the puppet regimes in the underdeveloped countries have been engaged essentially in a mere exercise of shedding crocodile tears and obfuscating the root causes of problems.
What the MDG identifies as the No. 1 problem, extreme poverty and hunger, as well as the other problems are rooted in the global system of people’s exploitation and oppression by the imperialist powers and the reactionary ruling systems in the underdeveloped countries. So long as imperialism and reaction persist, such goals as spelled out in the MDG cannot be solved but are in fact worsened in the underdeveloped countries under conditions of chronic crisis and protracted global depression, relentless superprofit-taking by the multinational banks and firms, rising rates of unemployment, soaring prices of basic goods and services and the plunder of the natural resources of the underdeveloped countries.
In this connection, I urge the artists, cultural workers and media practitioners to intensify their efforts to depict the suffering, demands and struggles of the people, denounce such root causes of poverty and underdevelopment as imperialism and reaction and contribute their best efforts to the arousal, organization and mobilization of the broad masses of the people, especially the toiling masses, for their own national and social liberation and for building a fundamentally new and better world of greater freedom, democracy, social justice, all-round development and world peace.
The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions or the Convention on Cultural Diversity was adopted by 148 member states at the UNESCO General Conference on 20 October 2005. Since then, it has been ratified as a treaty by 116 member-states and the European Union. The Convention recognizes the rights of Parties to adopt and implement policies and measures to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions, and impose obligations on the Parties at both domestic and international levels.
The key term “cultural expressions” is defined in Article 4.3 of the Convention as “those expressions that result from the creativity of individuals, groups and societies, and that have cultural content.” Cultural content refers to”the symbolic meaning, artistic dimension and cultural values that originate from or express cultural identities” (Article 4.2).
The general objectives of the Convention are as follows: 1. to reaffirm the sovereign right of States to adopt cultural policies while ensuring the free movement of ideas and works, 2. to recognize the distinct nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity and meaning, 3. to define a new framework for international cultural cooperation, the keystone of the Convention, 4. to create the conditions for cultures to flourish and freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner, 5. to ensure that civil society plays a major role in the implementation of the Convention.
The Convention is supposed to ensure that artists, cultural professionals, practitioners and citizens worldwide can create, produce, disseminate and enjoy a broad range of cultural goods, services and activities, including their own. It has been considered as a response to the growing pressure exerted on countries to waive their right to enforce cultural policies and to put all aspects of the cultural sector on the negotiating table under international trade agreements and to subordinate intellectual property rights to the commercial and profit-seeking of the multinational corporations.
The Convention recognizes: 1. the distinctive nature of cultural goods, services and activities as vehicles of identity, values and meaning; and 2.that while cultural goods, services and activities have important economic value, they are not mere commodities or consumer goods that can only be regarded as objects of trade.
The main objective of the Convention is to uphold the sovereign right of States to adopt cultural policies that support their cultural industries. The Convention asserts and respects the diversity of cultural expressions as cherished and treasured assets for individuals and societies. It therefore regards the protection, promotion and maintenance of cultural diversity as an essential requirement for sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations.
Some commentators have considered the Convention as a breach on the neoliberal economic policy, on the WTO scheme to commodify and make everything for sale and on the dominance of US cultural imperialism, especially Hollywood movies. The Convention seems to support the premise that cultural goods cannot be treated as mere commodities.
Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention grant nations the sovereign right to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions within their territory against the sweeping tide of neoliberal globalization. Article 8 recognizes that special situations may arise where cultural expressions (movies, music, magazines and other cultural industries) in a state’s territory are at risk of extinction, are under serious threat, or are otherwise in need of urgent safeguarding. In such cases, states parties may take all appropriate measures” to protect and preserve cultural expressions in a manner consistent with the provisions of the convention.
Article 18 sets up International Fund for Cultural Diversity to be funded by voluntary contributions made by the Parties. But above all, the Convention assures governments of the right to favor domestic cultural activities, goods and services rather than a positive commitment to ensure minimum standards of protection or to allocate resources for the benefit of the artists, cultural workers and media practitioners.
The Convention has been interpreted as expression of the critical attitude of France and Canada towards the dominance of American cultural goods. Indeed, the United States together with Israel, has provided evidence of its own narrow self-interest by objecting to the Convention, calling it a “deeply flawed, protectionist, and a threat to freedom of expression”. This is the US way of pushing its ultra-national protectionist position under the cover of such slogans as the “free market” and the “free flow of ideas”.
The US has the least or no concern for different cultures flourishing in various countries. Its concern is about the protection of cultural industries going against US cultural dominance, which has been effected through existing free trade rules and intellectual property rights under the WTO. While it has not signed the Convention, the US has succeeded in pushing the second paragraph of Article 20 which stipulates that the Convention does not modify other treaties, especially the WTO and whole gamut of trade agreements.
In case of any conflict between the WTO and the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity, US cultural imperialism can use WTO and subsidiary bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to its advantage. Furthermore, the UNESCO Convention is binding only to those countries that ratify it. The US has the upper hand in its competition with other imperialist powers and in compelling the underdeveloped countries to submit to US cultural imperialism.
I wish to admonish the participants of the International Conference on Progressive Culture to invoke and avail of just and fair principles and standards that are enunciated in the UNESCO Convention and that can be deployed against US cultural imperialism and the WTO. But there is no administrative or judicial venue offered by the UN, UNESCO or by any government for winning a case against the WTO and US cultural imperialism. What is needed is a powerful mass movement of the artists, cultural workers and media workers and the broad masses of the people for the revolutionary transformation of all major aspects of society—socio-economic, political and cultural.