Global Issues in Language Education: Issue 25. Dec. 1996. (p. 16 - 17)

Language Education for World Peace
by Felix Marti (Chair, International Linguapax Committee, UNESCO)


It is a great honour for me to speak of peace in Hiroshima on the occasion of the 22nd International Conference of the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT). In this city, reflections on peace are more pertinent than in other parts of our planet and invitations for new peace projects find their warmest welcome.

Dear friends: this is a particularly important moment in human history. For many centuries we have lived immersed in the culture of war. For as far back as our historical memory goes, we have used violence and war as a means of resolving conflicts between human groups. Now we are in a position to eliminate violence and war. The idea of a world at peace is no longer utopian.

I am well aware that we are still witness to terrible wars in different parts of the world. I come from Europe and am deeply affected by the horrifying violence suffered by Bosnia. But we might also remember other cases in every continent: Rwanda, the long war in the Sudan, successive wars in Afghanistan, the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the revolution in Chiapas or the repression in Tibet.

These are examples of the ancient culture of war we have not yet managed to replace with new practices of a democratic type, with appeals to law or with options for dialogue and rational negotiations. But I am convinced we can progress towards a culture of peace. I am pleased that our conference theme is Crossing Borders for I think that the great border we are "crossing" is the one separating the culture of war from the culture of peace.


1. Growing Universal Interdependence

It is only a few years since we began to see ourselves as citizens of Planet Earth. Before that, we were conscious only of our condition as members of our countries and thought we had a moral obligation to defend the interest of our national community. But in 50 years, the relations of interdependence between all countries have multiplied and are still growing spectacularly.

Modern communication technologies have contributed decisively to this. Today, any disorder at any point of the universal geography has a negative effect on all the nations of the world. For this reason, international political and economic structures are being established on every continent. In Europe, for example, we are in the middle of a transition from the old nation states to the new structures of the European Union. In the same way, we shall have to make the United Nations into a truly effective political authority capable of resolving global problems. The recent United Nations conferences have produced very important documents. Remember Agenda 21, passed at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 by the UN Conference on Environment and Development. Remember the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), on Women (Beijing, 1995) and on Housing (Istanbul, 1996). We have many ideas but have not yet set up the political and juridical mechanisms. I think lucidness and responsibility will triumph and we shall set up these necessary international structures. We can all contribute: politicians, businessmen, teachers, non-governmental organizations, the mass media, scientists and technicians. I think we prefer reason and solidarity to chaos and violence.
". . . a large part of scientific and technological activity is directed towards the war industry. In spite of this, the prestige of democracy is growing."     - Felix Marti

2. The Growing Wish to Participate

One positive development of our times is the growing prestige of democratic political structures in the face of authoritarian systems. On every continent, we see how dictatorial regimes are steadily giving way to new experiences that allow citizens to take part in the running of public life. In countries with a long democratic tradition, there is reflection on the need to extend democratic processes so that new areas of power do not escape democratic control. I can think of three areas in which democracy needs to be perfected: economic power, media power and technological power. Remember that speculative financial operations are qualitatively larger than those arising from the productive economy. Remember that the communications media, which has so much influence over the transmission of ideas, symbols and values, operate exclusively according to market criteria. Remember that a large part of scientific and technological activity is directed towards the war industry. In spite of this, the prestige of democracy is growing. For some years, UNESCO has been drawing up programmes of technical aid for many countries making the transition to democracy. Other organizations in the United Nations system have helped safeguard electoral processes in countries with little or no experience of democracy. I think there is a substantial relationship between democracy and the culture of peace. Under democratic regimes, people only decide on war in exceptional circumstances. Authoritarian regimes, however, can lead their countries to war at the drop of a hat. We must therefore look with great hope on the progress towards democracy being made by the countries of Eastern Europe, South Africa and Latin America.

3. Growing Environmental Awareness

Our new environmental sensibilities reflect a profound change in the way we look on the relationship between human beings and nature. For centuries, what we call Western culture has imposed a relationship characterized by aggressiveness. Man owned nature, considering it an inexhaustible source of resources, and showed no concern for the consequences of industrial development that generated pollution. We now know that we cannot consider ourselves as separate from nature and that any damage to the delicate balance of the biosphere will affect us the same as it will other living species. We have also very recently discovered the limited nature of vital resources. In its 1996 report, the Worldwatch Institute in Washington informed us that we no longer know how to increase world food production. And for some time we have been worried by the decrease in biodiversity and by our contribution to climactic change. We shall have to organize new industrial cultures on the basis of sustainability. The patterns of production and consumption we consider normal in the United States, the European Union and Japan will have to be dramatically modified. We shall have to construct philosophies or paradigms that allow a harmonious relationship between the human species and nature. In this respect, Western culture will have to learn to be humble and value other traditions which have never lost a loving relationship with nature. Our ecological awareness seems to me more favourable to peace than the culture of technological aggressiveness, so long as it does not take the form of prescientific and pretechnological fundamentalism.

4. Growing Respect for Diversity

Scientific and technological culture was until very recently held up as the only valid culture. We now realise that the cultural experience we attribute to white, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking Protestant males is only one of many legitimate cultural traditions and that there are hundreds of human communities with other cultural values that are equally valuable. At UNESCO, we like to say that all cultures and languages are equally worthy. This implies not only in the recognition of the diversity of people and of human communities but a positive appraisal of intellectual, ethical and aesthetic diversity. Opposing this standpoint are the fundamentalist trends which would impose a single interpretation of truth, a single code of conduct, a single authority, a single aesthetic. I think that the recognition and appreciation of diversity are gaining ground all over the world and that this change in mentality is one of the most fascinating crossing of borders taking place in our day. Before, diversity was a cause of fear. Now, we enjoy it. The recent UNESCO report by the World Commission on Culture and Development (1995) has as its title "Our Creative Diversity" and proposes an effective commitment to pluralism. The same ideas are at the heart of the recent Declaration on Tolerance approved by UNESCO in 1995, which begins "Tolerance consists in respecting, accepting and appreciating the rich diversity of cultures in our world."
". . . constructing international political structures is not enough if we cannot agree on ethical values to provide a basis for future political structures."     - Felix Marti

5. Growing Intercultural Dialogue

In an interdependent world, respect for diversity is not enough. We must be able to establish consensus on the basis of international coexistence. For this reason, international governmental and non-governmental organizations are establishing platforms for dialogue between the world's various cultures to discover shared concerns, common ethical orientations and the possibility of sharing responsibilities. I would like to mention two important texts in this search. First of all, the "Declaration toward a Global Ethic", approved in 1993 by the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago and published by Hans Kung and Karl-Josep Kuschel. Secondly, the "Declaration on the Role of Religion in Promoting the Culture of Peace", signed in Barcelona in 1994 by eminent representatives of the great universal religious traditions. I think constructing international political structures is not enough if we cannot agree on ethical values to provide a basis for future political structures. Young people all over the world are asking what our values are. On every continent, we are threatened by nihilism, scepticism and pragmatism. To construct peace, values of another kind must triumph, I think there are three which, under different names, can be found in all cultures: freedom, justice and solidarity. We must be honest and recognize that on a global level the predominant values are others: systems of dominance, the rule of the strongest and group selfishness. I have already pointed out how democratic freedoms are becoming more widespread. But there still remains a lot to be done in the field of justice and almost everything in the field of solidarity. I also believe that many people and human groups are prepared to opt for justice and solidarity. I believe these will be the values of the international ethic of the future.

6. New Political and Economic Structures

The political system of states, with their armies, borders, currencies and sovereignties, is becoming outdated. There are continents in which state borders were laid down according to the interests of the colonial powers and do not take into account ethnic or cultural realities. There are states comprising more than one nation and nations divided between several states. This whole political system will have to be reformed so as to recognize the right of all nations to self-determination, respecting the principle of subsidiarity and creating continental and universal political structures. I would like to quote a passage from the recent report for UNESCO by the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, published this year, 1996. In it, the Mexican researcher Rodolfo Saenghen says, "The world has surely acquired sufficient maturity to be able to bring about a democratic civic culture based on the rights of the human being and at the same time encourage mutual respect between cultures on the basis of the recognition of the collective rights of all the peoples of the world, large or small, each as valuable as the others". In the economic sphere also, we cannot make do with the achievements of liberalism and the market economy. We now have a good understanding of the mechanisms which on one hand lead to an excessive concentration of wealth and on the other generate marginalization, unemployment and hardship. We are also aware of the economic failure of countries under so-called real socialism. But we have a political and moral duty to change the present economic system so that the economy is placed at the service of human development, takes into account the job shortage resulting from the new technologies and shares universal wealth more fairly.
"Peace movements today are not romantic utopias, but reliable and competent lines of thought."     - Felix Marti

7. New Concepts of Security

Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the security of states and, especially, international security was thought of in military terms. The countries of the UN Security Council still maintain militaristic concepts of security and are themselves the chief arms exporters. But ideas on security are changing. I have already said that the security of states does not always coincide with the security of the peoples who live within them while in states with authoritarian regimes the security forces are used to repress democratic aspirations. In general, we prefer today to assess security in terms of food, health, housing, education and the environment. A nation is safe when its security in these fields is guaranteed. Arms cannot solve the basic problems of food security or environmental security. This is what UNESCO set out to promote a few months ago at a meeting of ministers of defence from countries in Central America. We have also made good progress in techniques for preventing and solving conflicts. Peace research institutions are managing to change old habits in the field of conflict handling. Peace movements today are not romantic utopias, but reliable and competent lines of thought. Never like today have people turned to the United Nations for mediation, dialogue and peace agreements. For the first time in human history, violence is becoming discredited as a method of solving conflicts


1. The Treasure of Languages

Each language expresses one of many possible human wisdoms. Languages are at once interpretations of reality, mythical and symbolic constructs, settings for rational life, expressions of community identities, territories for communication and dialogue. Languages are the most prodigious productions of human creativity. They must therefore be considered a common treasure of humanity. Each language is the heritage of the community that expresses itself in that language, but it is also the heritage of the whole of humanity. The differences between languages must not be interpreted in a way that allows the establishment of hierarchies between them. All languages are equally worthy regardless of the number of people who speak the language, of the political and economic power of the linguistic community that expresses itself in it, of the legal status of the language or of its presence in education or the media. Love for all languages is one of the basic conditions for peace in the world. In the course of human history, violence has often been exerted in the linguistic field. I myself have experienced it in my own lifetime. I belong to the Catalan linguistic community. Catalan is a language derived from Latin and spoken by 10 million people. I was born during the dictatorship of General Franco, who governed Spain for almost 40 years. I was not able to learn my language at school and never saw a newspaper written in my language until I was 38. My language was banned and persecuted. Many languages, in many parts of the world, have experienced or still experience similar situations. To construct peace, we must love all languages and create the conditions for them to live in freedom.

2. Linguistic Diversity

We have not yet made a rigorous inventory of human linguistic diversity. In his book, "A Guide to the World's Languages" (Edward Arnold, 1987), Merrith Ruhlen says there must be about 5,000 living languages in the world. According to Michel Malherbe, in his book "Les langues de l'humanite", published by Seghers in Paris in 1983, the most widely spoken languages are the Chinese of Beijing (Mandarin), English, Hindi-Urdu, Spanish, Russian, Indonesian, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, French, Japanese and German. 47 countries have English as their official language, 21 have Arabic and 20 have Spanish. With figures of this sort, we can see that the real problem lies in the weakness of languages spoken by linguistic communities with small populations and with little or no political or legal recognition. Some linguistics have warned of the probable disappearance of 1,000 languages in the next 20 years. This linguistic disaster is as serious as the loss of biodiversity. I would say it is even more serious because languages are the most valuable expression of the human spirit. The protection of weak or threatened languages is one objective of the philosophy of peace. Protection of diversity seems to me to be a peace-bearing principle. A world without diversity would be less interesting, less exciting. The beauty of life lies in its fascinating diversity. UNESCO has decided to draw up a regular world report on the state of languages so as to contribute to the awareness by all countries of the need to protect linguistic diversity. UNESCO hopes that you, as language teachers, will be the most enthusiastic defenders of human linguistic diversity.

3. Linguistic Rights

If we are determined to protect the world's languages, we must create legal mechanisms to make this protection effective. At the moment, we have no efficient international instrument in this field. For this reason, on the initiative of Pen Club International with the collaboration of many non-governmental organizations, amongst which I would like to mention the World Federation of Modern Language Associations (FIPLV), a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights has been drawn up which was officially approved in Barcelona on June 6, 1996 and presented to UNESCO so as to become an International Convention approved by the United Nations. The World Conference on Linguistic Rights has begun a process which will culminate in the adoption of the Convention by the UN member states. One of the key ideas of the Universal Declaration is that of simultaneously considering individual linguistic rights and the linguistic rights of communities, because the life of a language is not effectively protected unless we take into account the rights of linguistic communities. I believe the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights will contribute to peace in the world. If we analyse the conflicts there are on every continent, we shall discover that there are factors of a cultural and linguistic type in all of them. The two chief trends in the world today are globalization and the affirmation of community identities. These two trends can be perfectly harmonized. I am convinced that the Universal Declaration is an important step in the protection of cultural and linguistic identities. I do not think it will go down well with those who want to maintain systems of cultural or linguistic imperialism, but I think that to create world peace the old cultural imperialism must be replaced by new forms of cultural democracy. I invite all language teachers to help spread the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.

4. Linguistic Policies

There are peaceful linguistic policies and linguistic policies that generate conflict. In the last few years, we have seen very positive changes in every continent. Let me mention a few examples: the Republic of South Africa and Ethiopia in the African continent, Bolivia and other Andean countries in Latin America; Australia, Cambodia, Russia, Spain and many other countries that have recognized their linguistic plurality and renewed laws and practices in a democratic and peaceful spirit. Linguistic policy must set out to promote the self-esteem of the languages of each community, access to the languages of neighbouring linguistic communities and access to a language of universal scope. These objectives can be achieved with a suitable judicial system, through political measures and with a linguistic education adopted to each situation. In some African countries, the excessive prestige given to the language of the colonizers needs to be compensated through measures aimed at promoting self-esteem. In other countries, monolingual English- Spanish- or French-speakers must be encouraged to speak other languages. There is a general need to promote a multilingualism not oriented exclusively in favour of the dominant international languages. It would not be a good thing if learning foreign languages in practice represented a step towards universal monolingualism. The linguistic policy of each country and the linguistic policy of international institutions must be directed at a linguistic diversity compatible with the use of one or more universal languages (lingua francas). In Europe, some intellectuals have put forward very interesting ideas in this respect. Let me mention Miguel Siguan's book "L'Europa de les llengues" (The Languages of Europe) (Barcelona, 1995), which proposes multi-lingualism without renouncing one's linguistic identity. I think ideas like this contribute to the peace of each continent and to world peace.
"Multilingual education must be a way of fighting the prejudices, stereotypes and sectarianism that underpin the culture of war."     - Felix Marti

5. Multilingual Education

Multilingual education can be a valuable instrument for the culture of peace. Crossing the border of the first language can mean empathizing with another culture, with other communities, with another view of the world and with other values. Language teachers are in a position to exercise their trade with a definite idea in mind: to establish bridges of friendship between different cultures, to present human diversity as something positive, to arouse a taste for the complementarity of the various traditions, to discover the cultural conditioning of our opinions, options and values, to make a call for openness of spirit, to promote tolerance, to learn to dialogue, to respect differences and to get on together. And we must not be satisfied with a bilingual education either. We must do everything possible to cross yet another border and advance along the path of multilingual education. I would like to stress that what can make language teaching into education for peace is a definite intentionality. On the basis of this intentionality -- that is, having specific aims in mind as regards intercultural understanding --, straightforward language teaching can be enriched using methodologies that help to modify students' attitudes. The aim, then, is to encourage a change of mentality (I understand people who aren't like me) and a change of attitude (I can be a friend and partner of people from other human communities). Multilingual education must be a way of fighting the prejudices, stereotypes and sectarianism that underpin the culture of war. If we can speak other peoples' languages, we shall have a better chance of understanding their points of view, their values and priorities. We shall have access to their memory, their hopes and dreams. For all these reasons, we at UNESCO want to honor all language teachers who see themselves as educators for peace.


To end, I would like to remind you that UNESCO has created a specific programme to help promote language teaching as a means to education for peace. It goes under the name of the Linguapax Project. Linguapax already goes back a few years, but recently the programme has been made very dynamic because UNESCO itself wants to concentrate on promoting the transition from the culture of war to the culture of peace. Linguapax acts in three fields according to the three great challenges I have mentioned. Linguapax advises UNESCO member states in matters of linguistic policy or planning. Linguapax promotes the protection of the world's linguistic diversity, for which it is preparing the first report on the state of the world's languages, and supports the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. Linguapax promotes the creation and trial of teaching materials to help language teachers and teachers of the social sciences become educators for peace. These methods have been tested in Europe and work groups have recently been set up in Australia and Latin America. I hope these days in Hiroshima will lead to the creation of a Linguapax Network in Asia and that in 1997 we shall be able to complete the network with seminars in Africa. I would like to thank all the teachers who have been kind enough to listen to me at the Japan Association for Language Teaching, which has given special consideration to Linguapax at its 22nd international conference. I am confident that Hiroshima will inspire us with new projects and commitments for world peace.

Dr. Felix Marti, President, International Linguapax Committee
Centre UNESCO de Catalonia, Mallorca 285, Barcelona 08037 SPAIN

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