Building peace in the minds of men and women

“Everyone must understand what is happening to peoples who live on ice”

On the first day of her official visit to Iceland, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, met the country’s President, Mr Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, to discuss cooperation between UNESCO and Iceland, and in particular the future of the Arctic, the role of culture in sustainable development and the importance of linguistic diversity.

“Iceland has some of the largest glaciers in Europe, and shares its knowledge with other countries, the countries of the Arctic Circle and of the Himalayas, so as to reinforce scientific cooperation. The debate on climate change has been too abstract: it is time the whole world understood what is happening to peoples who depend on ice. Their environment is disappearing as the glaciers melt. Indigenous peoples are the first witnesses of climate change”, said the President.

The Director-General recalled UNESCO’s activities in this field, the work of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the collection of indigenous knowledge about the polar regions, a unique source of knowledge, and proposed further strengthening scientific cooperation in this respect.

For the President, “our  planet reminds those who might forget that it is constantly in the process of recreating itself: the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, volcanic eruptions, the emergence of new islands off our shores  … Iceland is an example of how this natural creativity is transformed into cultural creativity, and inspires stories, stimulates knowledge and produces information and scientific research.”

“Iceland’s commitment and history resonate at the heart of UNESCO’s mission and aspirations, through an unwavering commitment to innovation and research and through education, science and culture. There is scarcely an inhabitant of Iceland who is not a poet, painter, performer or writer and this is the result of both robust tradition and strong public policy in favour of culture and art education in schools”, the Director-General noted.

“We must make people understand that diversity is an asset and drives development, and the case of Iceland is particularly telling in this respect, as it changed radically in the space of a generation”, she added.

As part of her visit, the Director-General was accompanied by the Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Mr Illugi Gunnarson, and Ms Vigdis Finnbogadottir, former President of Iceland, to the UNESCO world heritage site of Þingvellir (Thingvellir), the seat of the first democratic parliament in the world, the Althing. “In today’s globalized world, the protection of our heritage and our culture is an absolute imperative, and we are making considerable efforts in that respect”, said the Minister.

The Director-General also welcomed Iceland’s work in the field of cultural cooperation, especially concerning multilingualism, and the study and recognition of Viking cultural sites, a transboundary project with a number of northern European countries which is currently under review by the World Heritage Committee. “Whatever decision is taken about this nomination, large-scale transboundary projects, which reveal the heritage shared among several countries, show the way forward for the World Heritage Convention, and reflect the spirit in which this idea was born to encourage dialogue and peace.”