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The case of UNESCO

JP Singh, from the University of Edinburgh, explains what UNESCO brought to the practice of cultural diplomacy
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UNESCO’s sometimes seen as the global ministry of culture, which is an unfair label because UNESCO’s not just about culture. It’s the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation. And there’s actually another c, communication. So UNESCO really has a really big remit. And initially it was being created as an agency on education. So it was going to be a United Nations Educational Organisation. So in the beginning when they were thinking of it, it was really allied ministers of education who came together and said, what can we do about Nazi propaganda.
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And they began to think that at a very, very idealistic and macro level, it was about a world in which they could create a new cultural understanding about how we see each other. And that if they had that understanding, which is now part of the UNESCO preamble, that it would be a way for people to stop killing each other. So UNESCO’s preamble, which is very masculinist sounding but we’ve left it as that, is know that since wars began in the minds of men, it’s in the minds of men that the seeds of peace must be created. So its agenda about culture was about peace, about international understanding.
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And so in some ways we can say the cultural diplomacy agenda, which would be a subcomponent of that has always been a kind of a transformative project. Now that’s at the idealistic level. At the everyday level, what UNESCO has is a limited capacity to be able to do all of that. So what are the things that it’s done well? Well, one of them is a programme that we all know. That’s the World Heritage Programme. And there are about 1,000 of them now enshrined on the World Heritage list. And the idea there was that if they were seen as universal heritage that Sienna would be important to the whole world.
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Florence would be important to the whole world and not just to the Tuscans. And so Taj Mahal would then be a universal measure. So that’s something they have done well. Since then, there’ve been other sorts of initiatives that we can mention that have worked well, but like any other place trying to do a form of cultural diplomacy and their cultural diplomacy is one which serves humankind in general. And that’s where the World Heritage question comes in. It’s hamstrung by a very, very small budget. If I remember right, some– right now with the US leaving somewhere between 30 to 45 million Euros, which is very, very little when we think of that’s the budget for World Heritage.
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There may be a big budget for culture. But UNESCO tries to put forward ideals for the world. And then it’s got smaller programmes that try to speak to those ideas. And one of the most successful there is probably the World Heritage Programme. And I would run through the list of unsuccessful ones. They far outnumber the successful ones.
JP Singh, from the University of Edinburgh, explains what UNESCO brought to the practice of cultural diplomacy
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Cultural Diplomacy

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