Public relations gone wrong
The first Global Cultural Diversity Conference held at Darling Harbour in Sydney last week may have brought together 1000 delegates from around the world in an impressive show of skin colours, ethnic costumes and national pride, but it failed to address any of the real issues underlying the suppression, even eradication, of whole cultures and nations in the 1990s.
Describing much of the discussion at the conference as "slick and superficial rubbish", Aboriginal activist, magistrate and Chancellor of the University of New England, Pat O'Shane, received a standing ovation in her workshop when she pointed out the hypocrisy of the United Nations decision to hold such a conference in a context where global capitalism was destroying global diversity and creating war and starvation.
O'Shane is right. At this time, in this system, the $2 million Global Cultural Diversity Conference made a mockery of what is otherwise just an admirable goal.
For one, it was convened by the United Nations, an organisation whose stated goals of world peace and justice are thoroughly compromised by its consistently pro-imperialist activities under the direction of the US-dominated Security Council. The degree of hypocrisy in organising a conference about cultural diversity while simultaneously enforcing an arms embargo in Bosnia, and thereby allowing the Serbs to proceed with a systematic program of "ethnic cleansing", is staggering.
No less stunning is the fact that one of the keynote speakers at the conference was foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans, the man in charge of defending and promoting the federal government's complicity in Indonesia's genocide of the East Timorese and their culture, and Papua New Guinea's blockade of Bougainville, among other anti-human acts.
Even the location of the conference, in the major city of a country with one of the worst records in the world for the treatment of its indigenous people, is grossly inappropriate.
Discussing the wonders of cultural diversity when, according to a report recently released by the Australian Institute of Criminology, Aboriginal deaths in custody have more than doubled over the past year, makes a mockery of justice and human rights.
The sentiments expressed by O'Shane and also voiced by Kurdish, West Papuan, Bougainvillean and East Timorese (some of whom were participants), exposed this conference for what it was. They are also testament to the fact that people struggling for justice and survival cannot be silenced so easily — certainly not by a glossy $450-a-head public relations exercise which attempted to ignore or absolve the capitalist system of responsibility for the human and environmental horrors it creates around the world.