The Global Expert Meeting “Multilingualism in Cyberspace for Inclusive Sustainable Development” was successfully hosted in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russian Federation, from 5 to 9 June 2017, in the framework of the IX annual International IT Forum, organized with SCO and BRICS participation with a goal to strengthen the international cooperation in the digital era and promote innovative technologies. It gathered around 2700 participants from some 46 countries, including government representatives, private companies and IT specialists.
In this context, the Global Expert Meeting initiated by UNESCO’s Information for All Programme (IFAP), was the first-ever international forum to address the importance of multilingualism and linguistic diversity in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. The meeting was organized by the Russian Committee of the UNESCO Information for All Programme in cooperation with the Government of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area – Ugra, UNESCO’s Institute for Information Technologies in Education, the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation.
This major event gathered some 100 representatives of intergovernmental, regional and national public and private organizations, universities and research centres from the following countries: Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Ghana, Georgia, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, The Netherlands, Norway, Palestine, Paraguay, The Philippines, Russian Federation, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, United Kingdom, USA and Zambia.
In his opening address, the Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Council for IFAP, Chair of the IFAP Working Group for Multilingualism in Cyberspace, Chair of the Russian IFAP Committee, President of the Interregional Library Cooperation Centre, Mr Evgeny Kuzmin said: “Every language is a unique instrument for the understanding and the description of the surrounding reality, a fabulously rich store of information about the ethnic entity speaking it, and about the evolution of its culture. Languages are amazingly rich and diverse products of human creativity, valuable to their speakers. Languages reflect nations’ historical and social experiences and serve as instruments of individual socialization and means of self-identification.” He also underscored that “cyberspace provides vast opportunities for access to information and communication, promotion of freedom of expression, access to education and dissemination of cultures. These opportunities are realized through competent use of the Internet and other IT for preserving and promoting diversity. Therefore, the development of linguistic diversity on the Internet has not only cultural, but also political and economic importance.”
In his address to the Forum, the representative of UNESCO, Dr Boyan Radoykov, spoke about the role of cultural diversity and multilingualism in fostering pluralistic, equitable, open and inclusive knowledge societies. Over the last 15 years, the Organization consistently and strongly encouraged its Member States and its partners from the civil society, academia and the private sector to contribute to the formulation of comprehensive language-related policies, to allocate the necessary resources, and to develop and use appropriate tools in order to promote and facilitate linguistic diversity and multilingualism, including on the Internet. This is why, according to Radoykov, the Global Expert Meeting on Multilingualism in Cyberspace for Inclusive Sustainable Development is a substantial contribution to the overall endeavor to shape appropriate solutions to some of the most challenging questions faced by decision-makers today.
In his remarks, Dr Radoykov also called attention to the unparalleled possibilities for improving livelihoods and well-being of peoples and societies provided by ICTs. “In this sense, the empowerment of women and men depends on strengthening their capacity to transform information into knowledge,” he said. “Having this personal capability, this personal sovereignty is becoming the fundamental criteria for all citizens’ active, competent and productive participation in society. This is why we should not, we cannot invest just in technology –- we must invest in ecosystems – in public policies fostering universal access to information and knowledge that will give women and men the ability to own their destinies, to make competent social choices, to face the reality with no groundless fears”.
The Global Meeting was building upon the result of the debates on language preservation and the development of linguistic and cultural diversity in cyberspace organized at the global, regional and national levels. Thus, nine major international events were held from 2008 to 2016, including five within the framework of the UNESCO Information for All Programme, which were focusing on the cultural, social and ethical aspects of research and development in the sphere of linguistic diversity in cyberspace and using ICT for effective language preservation.