Three Halves of a Whole – Redefining East and West in UNESCO’s East-West Major Project 1957-1966
In 1946 Julian Huxley, UNESCO’s rst Director-General, suggested that two opposing philosophies of life were confronting each other from the East and the West, setting the focus on the cultural aspect of this polarisation and de ning the possibility of an East- West conflict as the main threat to world peace. A decade later, in 1957, UNESCO launched The Major Project on the Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values to promote its ideas of intercultural understanding as a means to maintaining peace. The core concepts of the Project, East and West, were not strictly defined. Here East and West, as concepts, fit Reinhart Koselleck’s definition of Grundbegriffe, or basic concept – something which by nature is complex, controversial, ambiguous and contested, but also indispensable. The purpose of this article is to trace the evolution of the concepts during the ten years of the Project. The concepts are analysed with the tools of conceptual history and contextualised primarily in a cultural framework. An analysis of the concepts reveals that East and West were, at first, referred to as two opposing elements that could only be understood in relation to each other, leading to a binary opposition. This original depiction developed into the recognition of several civilisations existing within and outside the East-West dichotomy and thus to an ongoing discussion of the nature of intercultural relations within the UNESCO context. The conceptual transformation reflects UNESCO’s evolution from an essentially Western European organisation to a forum of intercultural dialogue of a truly worldwide nature. This article suggests an alternative understanding of international cultural relations of the 1950s and 1960s outside both the Cold War and post-colonial frameworks.
Keywords: UNESCO, East, West, cultural conflict, conflict prevention