From 26 to 30 January 1987, UNESCO held an international conference at the University of Kiev on “teaching foreign languages for peace and understanding.” Miquel Siguan, who was participating as Director of the Institute of Educational Sciences at the University of Barcelona, was called upon to chair this expert consultation and to draw up final conclusions and recommendations which he would entitle Linguapax – Kiev Declaration. The UNESCO secretariat would approve the text and settle a genuine program promoted by this United Nations organisation until the UNESCO Center of Catalonia assumed its coordination.
Miquel Siguan in person evoked these memories during a conference organised by Linguapax in commemoration of the International Mother Language Day 2006:”… As an anecdotal detail, I’ll add that it was very cold in Kiev at that time (on the first day the thermometer read 18 degrees below zero as we left the hotel), and that same day we were all very surprised to hear Gorbachev’s announcement on the radio that
perestroika had begun. The basic idea of the seminar in Kiev, which was explicit in its title, was that foreign language instruction gave students broader perspectives on the world, broke national egocentricity and thereby contributed to international understanding and solidarity. In the final session, the organisers charged me with formulating the conclusions and resolutions that could be deduced from the
presentations throughout the seminar. Shamelessly relying on the paper that I had presented, I asserted that the objective sought would not simply be achieved by teaching foreign languages but depended on the spirit and purpose for which they were taught. It was not an issue of adding an ethnocentric view linked with one language to an equally ethnocentric view linked with another language, as foreign language teachers needed to consider that their task is to open students’ eyes to the linguistic and cultural diversity of the world, as well as to the fact that languages are tools of communication that should be placed first of all in the service of understanding and solidarity. Emphasis should be placed on what they have in common rather than what differentiates them, and the importance of translation should be stressed.
The final declaration was welcomed at UNESCO’s headquarters, and Linguapax became a programme sponsored by the organisation, especially when Federico Mayor assumed the post of director general of the organisation shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, UNESCO was steeped in an economic crisis that made it impossible to earmark funds for new programmes. Moreover and more significantly, UNESCO had been reticent to take on language-related initiatives because state governments are extremely possessive and touchy on this subject. Thus, since its beginnings, Linguapax was only surrounded by the enthusiasm of those of us who had launched it.”…
Read Miquel Siguan’s full speech and other historical memories in the first issue of the Linguapax Review