Borders among Cultures, Borders of Human Rights


What follows is a slightly shortened version of the text of the speech which was given by former Slovak Prime Minister Dr.Ján Čarnogurský at the “International Annual Conference of Cultural Diplomacy” (ICD) in Berlin, 17th December 2016. (¹) “History does not give relief to any countries that drop their commitment or their identity consciousness, so that they may get on a less demanding road.” Usually it is worth to use a personality as a shield when a speech is given. I have chosen Henry Kissinger and a quote from his book “World Order” as a motto. The identity consciousness of countries may be expressed in a different way as the culture of those countries. Henry Kissinger, an expert in history, recommends us to keep our identity and that means to keep our cultures. There are numerous examples in history which illustrate how negative it was when nations did not stick to their culture. A good illustration is the history of the Persian Empire (today’s Iran). In ancient times the Persian Empire was a counter pole to the Roman Empire. Persia was conquered by primitive Berber desert tribes in the 7th century and very quickly its original religion was replaced by an enforced Islam. Persia adopted Islam and we may consider it a compromise that Shia Islam was implemented and not Sunni Islam. Persia could never win back its original power influence. Simply said, to keep one’s culture pays off. The loss of culture and religion in Persia was connected to a military defeat of the Empire. It happens unfortunately too often that cultures, sometimes also the language or religion of nations and states get lost as result of military defeat.   Example of the thirty year’s war During the 30 years’ war (1618-48) both sides of the warring parties used to impale their captives. It was a culture of violence, not the culture only. The diplomatic efforts which finally ended the war that had lasted for 30 years were remarkable. The representatives of the warring parties – on the one side the Catholics and on the other the Protestants – after 25 years of slaughter, did not even want to meet in the same location. The peace negotiations which lasted for five years took place in two different cities: While the Catholic party stayed in the city of Münster, the Protestant party stayed in the city of Osnabrück. These cities are located at a distance of 50 kilometers from each other. The exchange of opinions and negotiating positions was communicated by couriers and ambassadors. They finally came to an agreement, but even the procedure for signing the final documents of the Peace of Westphalia was taking place separately. Both cities – Münster and Osnabrück – were located in the territory of the German State of Westphalia- hence the treaty became known as the “Treaty of Westphalia”. The principles that were enshrined in this treaty have survived as International Law up to this day and they have served as reference point for many peace treaties that followed during the course of history. What was introduced by the treaty was the principle of the “Sovereignty” of the State and the idea that the states have the responsibility not to breach the human rights of the other side. The connection of war and culture, better to say the culture of violence, is still in existence.   The link between war and culture, culture of violence The captives of the Islamic state are dressed in orange overalls before they are executed; the same outfit was chosen for prisoners who are inmates at the Guantanamo prison. The Islamic State beheads its prisoners right in front of a camera. In Arabic countries there are photos circulating which show American soldiers with beheaded Vietnamese partisans during the 1960ies Vietnam War. Other photos show French soldiers during the 1950ies Algerian War posing for the camera in front of a pile of heads that were cut off from Algerian rebels. Historical documents, but also the artistic literature proves that people always thought that there were human rights that should not have been restricted. Achilles respected the right of Hector’s father to bury the body of his killed son. The increase of violence and atrocities has motivated people to improve the protection of those rights that should be respected and preserved. The atrocities committed during World War II led to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The Universal Declaration was supplemented by international covenants on human rights. Former American President Jimmy Carter, may be under the influence of his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, enlarged the human rights by giving them political significance. Human rights suddenly became part of international politics. In 1975 the need to observe human rights was included in the Helsinki Final Act. The Charter 77, the Dissident Association in former Czechoslovakia, directly appealed to human rights. The significance of Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” in the fall of communism is well known.   The End of Cold War, global redefinition of Human Rights With the end of the Cold War the protection of human rights began to take a second turn.  During Cold war human rights were looked at as a tool to actually protect persecuted people. The opponents and dissidents opposing the Communist regimes appealed to the covenants of human rights although in spite of that many got thrown into jail. At the end of the Cold War globalization spread throughout the victorious Western world and a kind of global and unified idea of human rights gradually became part of it. The first problem that became an obstacle to that new idea of human rights was the question what the human rights are. Are these the rights which developed over centuries in a certain cultural environment, mostly related to religion and are they going to change little by little? The second idea of human rights stated that human rights have been changing rather quickly under the influence of changing social conditions. This is how during about 10 years the right of women to have an abortion, the theory and practice of gender or the right to transfer one’s own culture to the whole world got defined as human rights. This led to some paradoxical consequences. The riotous actions of mostly young immigrants from Arab countries on New Year’s Eve in Cologne are well known. Pursuant to the European Laws these were clear disturbances, sexual assaults and maybe also other breaches of law. Should these be committed by young Germans they would be prosecuted and unquestionably some of them also convicted. Young perpetrators from the Mideast however defended themselves claiming that such behavior is part of their culture, that they arrived in Germany because of the war in their respective countries – in fact upon invitation by the German Chancellor – and that they were not aware of doing something wrong. As far as I know, there was not one conviction of these perpetrators yet.Human rights protection got suddenly a new dimension and new questions were asked.   Unipolar World At the beginning of the 1990ies the “unipolar World” was created having its pole in the United States and globalization was launched. It had its economic, political but also the human rights dimension. At international conferences on Women in Beijing or Cairo and undoubtedly at other similar conferences, the Western human rights concept was enforced. It was used as a complementary argument also when justifying the interference in internal affairs of other countries. The complementary argument used to justify the invasion into Afghanistan in 2001 was the need to implement the right of women to education in that country together with other rights. We all do undoubtedly support the right of women to education, but the reality is that today according to media information Taliban is in power in large parts of the territory. The argument on human rights including also political rights was used by the Western countries to support the Arab Spring. From the point of view of the West the goals of the people demonstrating were correct. But the result of the Arab Spring is quite poor. Libya as a united state disintegrated; the war in Syria is going on with hundreds of thousands of people killed; in Iraq there are hundreds of thousands of victims and the future of the country is very uncertain. In Egypt and Tunisia the situation today is the same like before the Arab Spring, and it has been the best solution. Those Arab countries where the Arab Spring did not occur, such as Morocco or Saudi Arabia, are in the best position. Globalization only took over part of the human rights, the part which was adopted by the liberal part of western societies, notwithstanding the fact that both in Western Europe and North America for example the conservative part of society did not identify with it. This kind of global push for human rights was neither cultural diplomacy nor global diplomacy of the monopolar world. It seems that the monopolar arrangement led to an excessive self – confidence of Western societies, also in respect to the general validity of the Western concept of human rights.   Consequences for Western Societies The consequences are also visible in Western Societies. In many countries of the Western World the so called far right political parties appeared and grow, parties refusing not only the current economic and political arrangement of the world, but also the Western concept of human rights. The result of the presidential elections in the US has gotten a symbolic character for the whole Western world. The reality today is that the unipolar world has transformed into a three- polar world: USA- China –Russia. China and Russia will not allow the West to dictate them their concept of human rights, not through the culture and definitely not by military means. We may refer here to one example: Russian federal law prohibits the promotion of homosexuality protecting children in this way. Gay Pride Parades cannot be organized in Russia. China and Russia are ready to support movements resisting the expansion of Western human rights concept, outside of their own borders as well. Syria is a tragic example.   Paradoxes within the EU It is an opportunity for the Western human rights concept to come back to its roots. It is an opportunity to contemplate on our own human rights and our culture in which we were brought up. In this respect the Ten Commandments are a key concept of the European Culture and Christianity with its key symbol of the cross, although there are well known examples of women who lost their jobs for wearing a gold cross necklace in European countries. France has already been trying to embed its culture with the legacy of the French Revolution for 200 years, but with disputable results till now. Slovakia represents a somewhat comical example. The Slovak constitution claims that Slovakia does not adhere to any religion, and all religions, similarly as the secular philosophy with no relationship to any religion, have the same position. When the EU wanted to impose refugee relocation quotas on the EU member States a year ago, in order to have them accept migrants from the Middle East, Slovakia declared that it was ready to accept only Christians, since there are no known cases of terrorist attacks carried out by Middle Eastern Christians. This Slovak attitude raised criticism within the EU. Another impulse came from Slovakia about two weeks ago. The Slovak Prime Minister, being a chairman of a political party with social democratic orientation at the same time, appealed to the sister parties at a meeting of the Socialist International, not to substitute their social program with a liberal human rights concept. Today there are almost no differences between the social and economic programs of socialist and conservative parties, and therefore some socialist parties have turned into becoming loud propagators of the LGBTI programs, gender ideology etc.   Migration The real problem and challenge for Europe today are those hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived from Northern Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Even if the number is today one Million less than in the previous year, the number is still too high compared to the willingness of Europe to accept those migrants and to the ability of Europe to solve the migration problem. On the one hand there is a UN analysis according to which 164 Million migrants will have reached developed countries in Europe and North America till the end of this century. On the other hand there is the attempt to automatically apply the European human rights concept in respect to the countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East, which in turn results in an increased influx of migrants into Europe. In 2011 France breached the UN Security Council Resolution to establish a No –Fly zone over Libya; it intervened in the Civil War in Libya and since then the streams of migrants coming from Libya to Europe have multiplied. The West launched war against Iraq on the basis of misleading data on weapons of mass destruction in that country; and the war in Syria will only come to an end if there is a clear policy against terrorism under the new American President. The agreement with Turkey to hold back migrants is very weak. Migrants sail to Europe in rubber boats and thousands of them drown in the sea every year. The migrant camps in Europe, Africa and the Middle East as well as thousands of drowned people in the sea, bring our discussion on human rights to a new level. An academic discussion is not enough. Especially Europe has to do everything to end the wars in the Middle East and in North Africa. What is needed for solving this problem is “cultural diplomacy”. This does not only mean an outward move in respect to other cultures but also an inward move in respect to our own culture. We must clarify which human rights of the migrants arriving in Europe are to be respected. But we should also make clear that a transferal of their entire culture to Europe is not their human right. The events on New Year’s Eve in Cologne cannot be repeated. By reaching the European coast, the migrants cross an important border, but this border also imposes certain requirements on the migrants.   All this is the content of our discussion on human rights. The world has been watching us, what our discussion will be like. Europe, another time in its history, has no capacities to reach a military solution. The solution may be reached only by adopting a cultural decision. It shall depend on that decision, how the world shall see us and how we will be able to arrange our environment at home in new conditions. Voices of small organizations, as our organization is, shall also play an important role.   * After one year of legal investigation it is reported that only 2 (!) people got convicted because of sexual assault and 1 because of sexual insults, some cases are still pending. More than 600 victims had claimed to have been sexually harassed and in some cases raped. E.H.   (¹) On December 14 -19th, 2016, the annual “International Conference on Cultural Diplomacy” took place in Berlin. In light of the current political and security situations in many regions and countries as well as of the deterioration of social norms and the growing use of violence, the conference emphasized the need for greater cultural dialogue, understanding and trust in order to avoid the escalation of future conflicts. The Keynote addresses were given by 12 former Minister Presidents, Presidents and senior diplomats – among them Victor Yushchenko, former President of Ukraine, Marek Belka, former Prime Minister of Poland,  Hon.Mirko Cvetkovic, former Prime Minister of Serbia, Hon. Pedro Sanchez, former Secretary General of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party and Dr. Ján Čarnogurský, former Prime Minister of Slovakia as well as Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Conference discussion focused on subjects like : “Global Migration”; ”UK, Brexit and the EU”; “Ukraine, Syria and NATO” and “Global Human Rights”. Elisabeth Hellenbroich]]>


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