The Second UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies convened in Mexico City from July 26 to August 6. The following notes are excerpted from a record of events kept by the author, who attended as a member of the press.
The conference center is set in a bleak working-class section, a long drive from the shining tourist hotels where most of the delegations are housed. The full implications of this setting will break on the delegates shortly, when they discover that there is no place nearby to eat lunch—that is, where it would be safe to eat—and that they will as a consequence have to pile into the special buses and embassy cars a minimum of four times a day, to be ferried back and forth across town through traffic compared to which New York’s garment center has the peaceableness of a country mall.
This is our first afternoon in Juarez Hall, site of the plenary speeches, a large auditorium through whose portals now pass the familiar swirl of dashikis, turbans, and three-piece suits which, together with the impeccably refined drone coming in over the translation earphones, identify this as a United Nations event. (The UN ambience looks and feels the same, everywhere.)
The plenary speeches begin. The point of these, a UNESCO spokesman has explained earlier, is to set the tone of the conference and to serve as a basis for the resolutions that will come out of it. The chairman of the executive board of UNESCO rises to address the question whether man, an unstable creature, is equipped to deal with the many cultural innovations which are the product of his own creativity. It seems he is not.
The Minister of Culture of Guatemala, speaking next, describes the life and fate of the Guatemalan novelist, Miguel Asturias, a discourse that goes on at considerable length. A member of the Venezuelan delegation begins muttering into his Nehru jacket. For well over an hour and a half, the Guatemalan goes on enumerating the milestones in Asturias’s career and the broad cultural implications thereof. “Stupidity,” the Venezuelan hisses. “Listen how he is giving everybody a headache with Asturias.” The delegate from the African National Congress sitting nearby also wears a scowl, but this, it will become clear, has nothing to do with the speaker or his subject. For the next two weeks of her appearance in the conference room the cultural representative of the African National Congress will confer on everyone the same look of stony hostility.
The Minister of Culture of Tunisia is next to ascend the podium. He tells the assemblage that a certain state created by the United Nations is guilty of “conspiring to deprive’ another people of its cultural identity” and that one of the greatest assaults on cultural freedom is “archeological colonialism.” The ravaging effects of archeological colonialism, we learn, can best be seen in the city of Jerusalem.
During the applause for the Tunisian, a voice behind me murmurs that we have just heard some excellent points made. The intonations here—a familiar mix of rectitude and gentility—identify the speaker as an American of the liberal, enlightened class. The voice, indeed, belongs to a woman representing the National Endowment for the Arts, here as an adviser to the American delegation.
The main event, not only today but possibly of the whole plenary session, is a speech by the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, accusing the United States of cultural and political imperialism. Everyone, not just the Americans, is startled by the frontal nature of this attack on the United States as an “empire of profit” which “takes over the minds and ways of life” of other countries and which, in particular, threatens the political freedom and existence of Cuba. France, the Minister informs the assemblage, cannot accept this interference with the valuable new society of Cuba. To judge from the volume of applause, Lang’s speech is a hit. The Americans call a press conference for this afternoon in order to respond.
Someone observed to me yesterday that next to the Mexican press, Pravda and Izvestia seem models of journalistic balance and dispassion. I am reminded of this comment at the afternoon press conference, but not only because of the Mexicans. Almost every journalist attending is from the Third World and carries ideological baggage to match. Among the typical reportorial queries directed today at the spokesman for the American delegation: “When do you think the United States government will recognize how much its own people are being hurt by American colonialism?”
A busy social evening of receptions lies ahead, as will be true of every evening. At 6:30 P.M. we pile into cars for the drive back to the hotel, a journey of sudden stops and wild turns. The streets are, as usual, bedlam, a solid mass of buses and cars converging on the same point from all directions, without benefit of lanes. (In Mexico City, I learn, drivers don’t pull over to the side when a fire engine or ambulance is trying to get through; they simply go faster.) Today the trip back takes longer, because the Communists are staging a march down the Reforma (the street of tourist hotels), a spectacle clearly intended for the benefit of UNESCO conferees. The parade is interminable, a thicket of signs admonishing the United States to keep hands off El Salvador and Nicaragua and one, bringing up the rear, borne by two women, affirming that “Lesbians Are Fighters in the War on Imperialism.”
At tonight’s reception—at the residence of John Gavin, our Ambassador to Mexico—the talk among the American guests concerns the best way to deal with the insult from the French. One school holds that there should now be a total boycott of the French reception, being held later this same evening. Another school holds that we should send a representative, but from the lower echelons of the delegation. The latter school prevails. This looks to be a result consistent with our chronic reluctance to take unambiguous action. (Words are another matter.) There is something about action—including even the action of not going to a reception—that suggests too much of consequences; this fear—a national infirmity—is inextricably linked with our terror of anything resembling the warlike.
The American reception, however, is a glittering affair, as witness the receiving line. There is no denying the impact of this sight, at the entrance: John Gavin and Charlton Heston, U.S. Ambassador and member of the U.S. delegation respectively, gleaming down at guests from the doorway, the embodiments of all that Hollywood once, successfully, projected to the world as American: virility, glamor, warmth, style, size. Every Third World male in the room, and almost every European, comes up to their kneecaps.
We have not heard the last about the French speech, a copy of which is virtually impossible to obtain. It is explained in the UNESCO press office, a room whose general tone and order are roughly equivalent to those of Mexico City traffic, that it is up to each delegation to distribute copies of its speeches. The French, who profess to be astonished at the intensity of the response to Lang’s speech, have decided to make copies scarce.
More attacks on Israel and Zionism come from the podium. There are several of these a day, comparing Israel’s move into Lebanon with the genocide perpetrated at Auschwitz. Indeed, the Minister of Culture of Nicaragua passes out a statement which asserts that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon is a crime against humanity greater than the crimes perpetrated in the Holocaust. One notes, however, the consistent references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki included in this rhetoric. Although Israel is ostensibly the target of attack, such references, as well as the continual efforts to represent Israel as a tool of the United States, show that America, in fact, is the real focus. It is no accident that we hear so much about Hiroshima, or that elaborately painted signs, a story high and a block long, declaring (in Spanish) that “Israel Is the Lackey of U.S. Imperialism” have blossomed on walls throughout the entire city, including one just opposite the conference center.
Some speeches of note today: The Polish Minister of Culture takes the podium. He observes that all the world is aware of socialist Poland’s long tradition of freedom and tolerance for minorities. The Minister of Culture of Byelorussia is next. The Byelorussian notes that cultural exchange can promote harmony and unity among men, and also that the Israelis are practicing genocide in Lebanon. The Italians are coming up. Earlier in the day this prospect held some interest for the Americans; the Italian delegation, it appears, has prepared an elegantly poisonous reply to the Lang speech, accusing the French of trying to curry favor with the Third World. The Americans are delighted—but prematurely, as we find out. The Italians quietly hand their statement over to the French, and then the Italian Minister of Culture takes the podium to address the delegates on the social challenge of our time, “the need to reinstate man as the center of the development process.” Before moving into his theme, the Minister takes note of the very important speech given yesterday by the French Minister of Culture, and of the issues raised therein.
Late in the evening: Some members of the American delegation have taken to gathering in the hotel lounge to talk over the day’s events. These late-night conversations are limited by the noise emanating from the circulating troubadors who serenade us at regular intervals. Still, it’s clear enough that the Americans here are a politically harmonious lot on the whole. Tonight a woman attached to the U.S. delegation tells me irately of her afternoon, spent in the company of a U.S. government employee stationed in Mexico City, during which she was subjected to a lengthy lecture on the superiority of Mexican culture to our own. The cuisine here, she was told, was better than almost anything you could find in the United States, and the supermarkets better still. Mexico City supermarkets stocked items you could never get in the United States, including hibiscus-flavored Kool-Aid.
I do not find this story entirely surprising since the government employee in question is the same man who told me, some days ago, that he has a love-hate relation with his country. Since he is employed by an agency whose purpose is to disseminate information about the United States, I was interested to know what the hate part was. He answered that the United States thought it could meddle in the affairs of other countries, and tell other peoples what to do. “We are a country that has lost its way,” he said sadly.
Juarez Hall gets emptier as, with every passing day, the delegate lounges get fuller. This morning, however, there is excitement near Juarez Hall if not inside it, because the former actress Melina Mercouri, now the Culture Minister of Greece, is holding a dialogue on cultural problems with Charlton Heston. Following this encounter, which is brief—the Minister of Culture of the Papandreou government does not wish to engage questions raised by Heston about the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union—she ascends the podium to address the delegates. Minister of Culture Mercouri tells them that the British must return the Elgin marbles to Greece; that women are still “an oppressed continent”; that all Athens is raising its voice on behalf of the Palestinians; that the mass media are in the hands of a certain “majority” (a reference requiring no further elaboration, she means the United States). This, at least, is better, if only slightly, than hearing that the media are in the hands of a certain minority.
In the afternoon comes a speech by the Israeli delegate. At the announcement of the name of the country taking the podium, the delegate from the African National Congress hurls herself from her chair to the door, followed by the Iranians, the East Germans, the Russians, the Cubans, the Poles, and a handful of Arab delegates. The PLO, the Egyptians, and the Iraqis stay. The empty seats left by the walk-outs are somewhat canceled out by increased attendance in the Western delegations. The number attending the plenary speeches from each delegation has these past days dwindled to one, but for this speech the Americans show up in force. The Iraqi representative explains that he has stayed “in order to hear if someone says something against my country.”
Speaking in English the Israeli delegate describes the efforts his government has made to preserve religious and cultural monuments in Jerusalem. The Iraqi delegate, excited about something, begins waving his name card in the air for a point of order. No one on the podium notices; the Israeli goes on with his speech. The representative from Iraq later tells me that he has been waving his name plate to protest the phrase, “Muslim rubbish” (which, he says, the Israeli used), because this language is “the greatest insult and atrocity in the world.” Apprised of this charge, Israeli delegates explain that the Iraqi’s problem is that he can’t understand English; their man had spoken of clearing away rubble. The Israeli’s speech has anyway been cut short by a note from the chairman instructing him that speeches cannot exceed twenty-five minutes. When questions are raised—all other speakers have been permitted to go on interminably, Cuba for nearly two hours—it is explained that this is a new ruling.
Evening brings the main social event of the conference, a reception for delegates by UNESCO Director General Amadou M’Bow. We arrive at the Hacienda de los Morales, the most elegant of Mexico City’s restaurants, a palatial sprawl of gardens linking a series of equally palatial dining rooms. Fifteen hundred UNESCO delegates make their way to buffet tables, on which there is arrayed an impressive quantity of whole pigs. There is entertainment, too, in the form of songs and dances performed by Mexican schoolchildren. I do not get to see much of this (as my companion and I find ourselves seated behind a large screen), but I am assured, later, that the children have performed beautifully. On the way out, a delegate from one of the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) remarks to me that “children, after all, is what this conference is all about, what UNESCO is all about.”
Plenary speeches continue.
The representative of Guinea declares that “no culture is superior to any other culture,” an idea somewhat at variance with his main theme, that mass media are a danger because they transmit undesirable values from other cultures.
The Minister of Culture of Iceland says that culture is a complex phenomenon and that any attempt to analyze this complex phenomenon would produce unfortunate results. The Minister’s speech turns out, itself, to be an excellent illustration of this thesis.
The Minister of Culture of Togo observes that transnational corporations are the cause of wars and illiteracy around the globe.
The cultural representative of the PLO says that the war criminals in Israel are destroying the Palestinians just as the Nazis once destroyed the Jews.
There is an afternoon press conference, at which the Nicaraguan Minister of Culture holds forth to an appreciative audience of mostly Third World reporters. Someone, nevertheless, slips in a question about freedom of the press in Nicaragua (where the independent La Prensa is regularly shut down by the Sandinista government). The Minister observes, in answer to this question—which he takes, not unreasonably, as suggesting that there is less freedom of the press in Nicaragua than elsewhere in the world—that in his opinion the freedom of bourgeois culture cannot really be called freedom. In fact the greatest danger to his country’s survival, the Minister explains, now lies in the area of communications; the United States, with the help of its organs of propaganda, the Associated Press and United Press International, is at this moment preparing the world for an invasion of Nicaragua. A reporter with long experience in Central America later tells me that this is just a mild version of the paranoid hostility toward the United States and everything connected with it that is endemic in that region. He cites one of the female leaders of the Nicaraguan revolution, who undertook not long ago to enumerate the reasons why so many Latin American babies are adopted by Americans. There were just three: so that the babies could be used by Americans for medical experiments, or made into slaves, or impressed into service as spies for the CIA.
Saturday. The Minister of Culture of Uganda declares that “the world is suffering from cultural pollution,” the result of “the penetration of foreign models and values that threaten cultural identity.”
The Minister of Culture of Grenada says that developing countries must eliminate transnational industries, lest those countries be “infected with vile and decadent values which are the product of cultural imperialism.”
The representative of a Scandinavian country takes the podium to observe that cultural identity is a prerequisite of development.
The impact of these insights is difficult to assess, mainly because there is no one here listening to them. To the right and left, people are reading newspapers; several are dozing. Someone is complaining that his briefcase, with all his conference working papers in it, has been stolen. Eighty percent of the delegates are absent.
Sunday, a day reserved for the delegates’ relaxation. Everyone is off on daylong excursions to resort towns in the countryside. Unwilling to contend with traffic, I choose to spend the day closer by at the anthropology museum and the zoo, excellent choices as it turns out. My companion and I, our minds doubtless befogged by the altitude, then decide we will end our day with a local tour that boasts a bullfight. For some reason—possibly because one of the Americans here has touted the tour as wonderful, and possibly because we have heard somewhere that the bull is not killed in certain countries—it does not occur to us that what we are about to witness has anything in common with what we know a real bullfight to be. This, we soon discover, is the grossest naiveté: what we witness is a real bullfight, which is to say, a slow and brutal slaughter. The trapped animal is stabbed and pierced repeatedly. Covered with blood, the animal sinks to the ground, finally, in a death agony, its neck pierced a last time, while the crowd cheers.
My companion and I flee. There are, we learn, three more animals to be led out and tortured thus this afternoon. (The standard rationale for all this, that the bull has as much chance as the matador, is, a member of the embassy staff later assures me, patently false. The neck muscles are severed by the sword early on, so as to make it impossible for the bull to raise its head.) Even so, we learn on the way back to the hotel that two weeks earlier a matador got himself gored to death by a bull. This news, as we inform the tourist who tells us, is the best we have had all day.
En route to the morning session, members of the U.S. delegation discuss bullfighting, which subject I have brought up. It is a barbarous spectacle, the man at my right concurs. Most of the others in the car agree.
“But it’s their culture,” comes from the rear. The voice, again, of the National Endowment for the Arts. I ask whether the bullfight might not be a perfect exemplar of those cultural values whose pollution by vile and decadent foreign (for which read American) models we have heard so much about this past week.
“Are we any better,” the woman from the National Endowment wants to know, “when we have sports like football?” A man from the State Department murmurs that he doesn’t think a bullfight is quite the same. There is general agreement with this position. But the woman from the National Endowment is working her way toward a larger theme: “And who are we to feel superior to anyone when we make billions of arms to kill people all over the world?”
Everyone understands that this conversation must not continue. A final word, nonetheless, from the National Endowment: “I mean, the whole point of this conference is respect for other cultures—isn’t that what this conference is all about?”
This is the second time I had had it explained to me what this UNESCO conference is all about, the first being the other night when it was revealed that children was what it was all about. I forbear telling the National Endowment lady that there are a great many of us under the impression that what this conference is all about is Israel, U.S. imperialism, South Africa, and the transnational corporations.
The speeches continue, but the real activity this week is in the back conference rooms where delegations are negotiating draft resolutions with one another. The draft resolutions must first pass in committee before being put to a vote by the full conference, but everyone understands that adoption in committee is tantamount to formal adoption by the conference.
Excitement is in the air, as delegates run about from one caucus to another, planning strategies. The negotiations going on behind closed doors are off-limits to me, but an Ambassador (from a major Western ally) provides information. The resolutions, Ambassador X informs me, are now proliferating like cancer. France alone has just produced three more within the past hour, in not one of which can be detected the reasons its authors felt compelled to write it.
For the Americans and the West generally, the fight now comes down to how much of what the Arab-Third World-Communist bloc wants in these draft resolutions can be kept out: namely, the anti-American, anti-Zionist, anti-West propaganda which is the draft proposals’ sole reason for being.
English translations of the draft resolutions are hard to come by, though Arabic, Spanish, and French versions abound. One Western delegate, an old UNESCO hand, informs me that this shortage is no accident—that the Arab-Third World-Communist bloc has been known, before, to try to hold down to a minimum the English translations of their most propagandistic proposals: the ones they expect the West to oppose most strenuously.
Another old UNESCO hand, an American on the permanent delegation, confides that the final declaration coming out of this conference is going to be comparatively mild: the job of damage control is, from the look of things, going well, far better than it ever has in the past.
I remark that since our diplomats have been showing, of late, an unmistakable tendency to perceive damage control where there is, in fact, only degradation—ours—things may not be going so rosily as he suggests. He tells me that we have to learn to accommodate to the reality of the world as it is.
The atmosphere elsewhere in the room has grown almost merry. This is possibly a result of the fact that the plenary speeches are now over, but more likely it is the promise of battle in the air. The Iranians huddle in their corner of the lounge, their turbaned mullah in the middle, while they plan: it is rumored that in company with the Pakistanis, the Iranians will offer a resolution aimed at Israel that will make all other resolutions of the kind pale by comparison.
The Israelis themselves sit across the lounge with a reporter from a major American newspaper. The reporter is trying to take notes, but he is hampered by the fact that he is bent double in uncontrollable laughter. The head of the Israeli mission to UNESCO has been explaining in detail how things work here, and the various charges directed at his country. “The only thing they didn’t say,” the Israeli observes, “is that our delegation should be hanged.”
All efforts today are bent on lining up support for the resolution battles to come in committee. Americans, seeking help for a resolution in favor of freedom of expression, this afternoon receive a note from the Pakistanis explaining that Pakistan is unable to endorse such a resolution “because Pakistan is an ideological country.”
There is talk among some of the Americans and one or two Western allies about inserting the word “totalitarianism” into all the resolutions calling for condemnation of “colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, Zionism” (the buzz words for all the crimes allegedly perpetrated by the non-Communist, Western powers). The head of the American delegation is much in favor of this move, as is its vice-chairman. Ambassador X, also much in favor, promises that there is not the slightest chance of its actually coming to pass because there won’t be any support from the other Western powers.
Tonight, the Japanese give a reception, which only the low-ranking echelons of the delegations attend. Everyone else has rushed back to the conference center for a committee meeting. The battle over the resolutions has begun. We learn that the Third World-Arab-Communist bloc is pushing for an immediate vote on certain of its high-priority resolutions. The Western allies, doomed by their numbers to lose any actual vote, want more time for “consideration” of these resolutions—for which read more time for getting language deleted.
The fight tonight is over Resolution 142 submitted by Cuba, Vietnam, Mozambique, Uganda, Iraq, etc., entitled “Culture and Society, Cultural Identity, and Intercultural Relations with Reference to the Struggle for the Cultural Identity of Liberation Movements.”
This resolution, as one might not easily glean from its title, is directed at South Africa, which, it says, has systematically plundered and destroyed the property and “economic infrastructure” and “means of communications” of the “innocent civilians of Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola” and which has also massacred defenseless civilians.
The real cause of controversy over this resolution tonight, however, is not South Africa at all, but the reference some paragraphs down to the state of Israel as a supporter of South Africa’s apartheid regime, “an alliance based on the common objective of acting as gendarmes of imperialism.”
The Americans and their Western allies call for further consideration of 142. This produces a chorus of protests from the bloc countries, and cries for points of order. A representative of an Arab country takes the microphone to say that he wishes to vote on 142 now because—as he quite correctly observes—“this resolution fully represents the spirit of the plenary speeches.” A Western delegate protests that the resolution is being voted on out of order. Another Western delegate, sitting near me, murmurs that the whole proceeding is illegal: according to the UNESCO bylaws, delegates must be given at least twenty-four hours to consider any resolution. The commission chairman, a Zambian, chuckles throatily throughout this uproar and continues to call on speakers:
I call on my brother the representative from Algeria.
I thank my brother the representative from Algeria, I now call on my dear brother the representative from Syria.
Later, a member of the Israeli delegation, unhinged, possibly, by the lateness of the hour, privately asks the Zambian why he uses the term “my brother” every time he calls on an Arab delegate and never when addressing Israelis. Are not Israelis also his brothers?
“Of course you are my brother!” the Zambian booms, “I am your brother and you are my brother.” He is, he assures the Israeli, desolated to have made this error.
The argument over 142 will not be decided tonight, among other reasons because the translators have no intention of staying past midnight.
The Cubans, the chief sponsors of resolution 142, have offered a concession. In order to get their resolution passed by consensus—the pinnacle of diplomatic triumph here—they have agreed to withdraw the paragraph mentioning Israel. This would seem to remove the major source of controversy. The Americans, however, now raise their hands to object to several other paragraphs, containing some of the wilder language about South Africa. The British and other Western allies join them. The Cubans are incensed over this ingratitude; they have yielded a prize card—Israel—and got in return a request for still more concessions.
There are, to be sure, ways of dealing with ingratitude when you are the ruling majority. Cuba announces it is withdrawing its concession and calling for the original resolution to be put to a vote. The Americans protest. The British protest. The Australians argue that since apartheid is such an important issue it would be well to offer an anti-apartheid resolution sufficiently unobjectionable that one could vote for it. Zambia, no longer genial, shouts back, “Where is consensus? Where is consensus?” Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Uganda add their voices to calls for an immediate vote. The Australians remember that 142 is being voted on out of order; the Americans demand a vote by roll call.
None of this is to any avail, since the resolution sponsors have the strength to win by the same margin that will be mustered for all votes of consequence: the Arab-Third World-Communist bloc 42, the West 17 or 18. The Mexicans, concerned, possibly, with the effect on their tourist trade (they have more to worry about than they know, this being just two days before the fall of the peso), get up to explain that although they have voted for the resolution they would have preferred to vote for the amended version (the one not mentioning Israel).
We are confronted next with draft resolution 19, on Culture and National Sovereignty, which proposes that the conference condemn colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and Zionism. It, too, passes easily. I ask Ambassador X what became of the move to insert the word “totalitarianism” in the litany of crimes deserving condemnation, and receive, in return, a thin smile.
Days 11 and 12
I have been sitting in Commission One, which meets concurrently with Commission Two, and to which the heavier political agenda seems to have been assigned. From the news coming in from Commission Two, and from the exultant jeering that arises from the Arab, Communist, and Third World representatives each time it is Israel’s turn to cast its voice vote, it is clear that the real business of the conference is at last under way. For the past week there have been rumors about various resolutions to be directed against Israel; all of these rumors turn out to be well-founded. One of the more notable is Resolution 151, which asks condemnation of Israel on the grounds, among others (including genocide), that “the fanatic concept of the theocratic state of Israel together with the cultural exclusiveness of the Zionist people makes it impossible to tolerate a non-Jewish people in the land of Palestine.” The government of Iran, known the world over for its devotion to the principles of secular democracy and pluralism, is the chief sponsor. Resolution 151 passes.
Resolution 126 is no less successful. This vote takes place during the evening session. Commission members have agreed that, because the number of proposals still to be voted on is so great, they will in the interests of efficiency confine themselves only to noncontroversial resolutions—thus leaving more time tomorrow to deal with the others. A number of delegates have promptly left, under the impression that no action touching on any serious matters will be effected. The Arabs thereupon introduce resolution 126 which asserts that UNESCO should assist the PLO in the publication of a cultural history of the Palestinian people since “Palestinian culture in the occupied territories is being subjected to systematic falsification and alienation.” There are objections from Israeli and Western delegations (the few still remaining in the room) that this is precisely the sort of resolution which, it had been agreed, would not be taken up tonight. The Arab-Third World-Communist bloc declares that there is nothing in this resolution which can be called controversial, and passes it.
Resolution 150, submitted by Greece, Tunisia, Pakistan, and the like, recommends that the Old City of Jerusalem and its ramparts be included on the UNESCO List of World Heritages in Danger. For the first time, the United States stands alone, with Israel, in voting no: the other Western allies, including those who have voted most consistently against resolutions targeting Israel, abstain.
In Commission Two, the Americans proffer a mildly worded draft resolution recommending that munitions and war materiel not be stored in or around cultural institutions, mosques, churches, schools. The Arab-Communist-Third World bloc, interpreting this, correctly, as aimed at the PLO in Lebanon, responds with a storm of indignation. The Americans withdraw the resolution after both the bloc countries and one or two Western allies warn that the entire conference may collapse if the effort to bring this proposal to a vote persists.
In Commission One, in the meantime, they are passing draft resolution 51. This resolution, whose title, “Culture and Society: Cultural Identity and Intercultural Relations, Specificity and Universality of Cultural Values,” reflects a certain determination not to ignore the official theme of the conference, states that certain peoples suffer because of “colonialist, imperialist, and Zionist aggression,” and recommends, therefore, “elimination of all the manifestations” of cultural alienation and of “visible or hidden ideological penetration,” and “rejection of any new form of colonialism including Zionist colonialism and racial discrimination.”
I leave the voting session—there is a day more left, the outcome a foregone conclusion—to catch a plane back to New York. On the way out I see in the hall the NGO delegate to whom I owe the information that children is what this conference is all about. I ask her if she is waiting for them to get to the part about children. She ignores this comment but takes its spirit, observing that no experience can be all bad or all good.
It does not seem necessary to dispute the question now. Across the street from the conference center, a gang of men are laboriously painting over the huge sign declaring Israel a lackey of U.S. imperialism.
I head for a taxi and the hotel where, from the lobby, I can see the same sight I have seen every day here, the hordes of Mexicans lined up across the street in front of the American embassy. The primary message of the UNESCO conference has apparently not yet reached these citizens, who—oblivious to the dangers of life in a vile and decadent imperialist culture—stand in queues from early morning till evening waiting for the visas that will get them into the United States.
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