The story of a grand design
THE memory of an institution is at once more reliable and more precarious than that of an individual. More reliable, because it is not subject to physical decay and also less subjective, since its collective nature provides it with a permanent capacity for checking and cross-checking.
But at the same time it is more precarious. Partly as a result of compartmentalization, the members of an institution do not always realize the importance of those fragments of the past of which they are the sole repositories. All too often they rely on others to transmit the heritage of history and information which they share with their colleagues. The institutional memory is also fallible because institutions live longer than people. As soon as those who have served an institution since its foundation start to leave it, the record of its history is exposed to destruction, to oblivion.
However essential they may be, and however wellorganized, archives can never fully replace the living testimony of eyewitnesses. The play of influences, the power and charisma of certain personalities, the enthusiasm of great moments of unanimity, the clash of controversy-all these factors elude the archival memory, along with the anecdotes which can bring a situation back to life and which are often, perhaps wrongly, disdained as trivia. The atmosphere in which events unfold and decisions are taken cannot be captured and preserved in dossiers.
Something of this atmosphere seems to me, fortunately, to have been preserved in the chronicle presented on the following pages, which has been prepared not only from documentary evidence but also with the aid of conversations with those who took part in the events described. These individual contributions are important today. Now that UNESCO is forty-five years old, its existence outspans the careers of even those who have served it longest.
The late 1980s were a milestone in UNESCO's history. They were a time for taking stock and breaking new ground. Today one generation is handing over to another. To the new generation I would particularly recommend this chronology, which will provide it with a humus of memory and tradition in which its energy can take root. To the departing generation, to those who at all levels of responsibility, through doubts and certainties, failures and successes, have made the history of UNESCO and are its living memory, this chronology is naturally dedicated.
In such a context it would be equally impossible not to think of the promoters and precursors of UNESCO, the pioneers whose role is recalled in these pages: the resolute men and women-educators, jurists, writers, philosophers, great scientists-who believed, while war was still raging, that one of the priorities of the postwar world would be the dedicated search for alternatives to ignorance and philistinism, injustice and violence.
I wonder whether the exemplary nature of this enterprise has been sufficiently recognized and whether enough thought has been given to the small group of founding fathers who in war-torn London in 1942 pooled their abilities and their convictions in order to give shape to their intuition, with a serenity and farsightedness that enabled them to look beyond the grim events around them. Have we paid due respect to the disinterestedness-so characteristic of devotion to great causes-that involved them in this enterprise whose credibility everything then seemed to deny?
The objectives they set forth are still far from being achieved. "It is UNESCO's vocation to be a permanent question". This phrase, which featured in UNESCO's fortieth anniversary exhibition in 1986, summed up the thinking of some of the Organization's great figures. It seems to me to be extremely apt. It is impossible to be certain of the outcome of such a vast and ambitious mission as ours-one which may sometimes seem thankless to those who seek tangible and immediate results, yet inspiring to those who are convinced of its long-term necessity.
Finally let me express the pride I feel in exercising my responsibilities at a time which is doubtless difficult but when the opening of the last decade of the century and the millennium invites us to look back and to reflect. In this issue the Courier begins publication of a chronological record of UNESCO's history, a testimony to the accomplishments and events which have marked its life since its inception. This record of achievements that are already considerable will, I am sure, serve as a reminder of our springs of action and inspire us with the vigour of renewed commitment.
COPYRIGHT 1991 UNESCO
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning
Bibliography for "The story of a grand design"
View more issues:
Federico Mayor Zaragoza "The story of a grand design". UNESCO Courier. . FindArticles.com. 31 Aug. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1310/is_1991_Oct/ai_11514555
Articles in Oct 1991 issue of UNESCO Courier
- The right to be heard
by Michel Manciaux
- Stress at an early age
by Tariho Fukuda
- A mirror for childhood
by Francois Vallet
- The story of a grand design
by Federico Mayor Zaragoza
- Children of the streets
by Flor Romero
- The spoiled child
by Anne Rose
- Sana'a, the pearl of Arabia
by Lotfallah Soliman
- UNESCO's first 45 years
by Michel Conil Lacoste
- Children in gangs
by Carl Rogers
- The twelve who survive
by Robert G. Myers
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
by Manuel Osorio
- Africa's lost generation
- Child labour in the world today
- Paula Li, Mohammed and their friends
by Ana Vasquez
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child