Paris, 18 October 2007 - "In our modern world, in which physical borders are becoming increasingly invisible, there is even greater need to sound out new approaches to peacekeeping and peace promotion. UNESCO assumes an important ‘soft power’ function in this field. It must, however, make more intensive and efficient use of this function within the framework of the UN", urged State Secretary Hans Winkler at the 34th UNESCO General Conference. "Especially through its various programmes in the areas of education, culture, and communication, UNESCO offers a significant and expandable platform for critical debate."
Winkler described the free and fair access to education and information as an important key element. "It is only through education that we can really exploit the opportunities of the so called ‘knowledge society’, promote tolerance, and prevent the outbreak of conflicts."
The State Secretary stressed that the promotion and the protection of cultural diversity is a major focus of Austria. "Cultural independence and diversity can not only be seen as enrichment, but also as a strength. They go hand in hand with the appreciation and respect for other cultures and traditions", said Winkler, who supported the notion that UNESCO must continue to play an active role and positively influence developments, especially in the dialogue between civilizations, cultures, and religions.
Winkler also stressed the importance of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. "Further rapprochement of the Western Balkan countries to Europe is a particular focus of Austrian foreign policy. Another important element is also better mutual cultural understanding and greater knowledge of the cultural and natural treasures of our neighbours. Culture teaches respect. It nourishes on mutual exchange, which builds up trust", said Winkler, who pointed out to the "Western Balkans Re/Discovered" project, which is based on an Austrian initiative and will present all 18 World Cultural Heritage sites of the Western Balkans during a travelling exhibition through the EU Member States scheduled to start late this year.
"A peaceful future is in the interest of us all. Fighting poverty, maintaining diversity, and building up partnerships - these are the keys to a positive worldwide development. In the future, Austria will continue to support UNESCO in fulfilling its task with vision and energy", said the State Secretary, who also spoke in favour of quickly implementing the Convention on Cultural Diversity.
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