Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Input given by Michael RAPHAEL
Diversity and Cohesion was the name given to today’s session, I would like to give it a little bit of a youthful spin. In yesterday’s session we acknowledged the fact that in today’s globalized and digital world many factors influence the formation of cultural and social identities. We have also acknowledged that more than in the past, today’s youth identify themselves through many complex identities including subcultures and virtual culture. The discussion of cultural diversity in Europe must become inclusive and relevant to the new generation who perceive culture in a different way.
Cultural identity is more fluid and dynamic today than it ever was. Intercultural dialogue is happening across Europe through the internet and other digital means. Traditional cultural borders are disintegrating and losing their relevance, even the language barrier one of the cultural signifiers, is slowly disappearing. In today’s Europe, youth interact and connect more and more without the mediation of institutions and a formal education system. At rock concerts, tourist sights, and large-scale raves, a multi cultural youth meet. What can we do in youth work that will support a healthy and positive cultural interaction? How does intercultural learning stay relevant in a fast paced and dynamic cultural orientation?
Historical narratives played an important role in the old cultural paradigm but historical debate or consensus on major events is no longer the first relevant issue for youth. The youth today is interested in building social relationships that are relevant to today’s new, borderless Europe. The majority of youth today understand that personal and social success depends on their ability to interact and to understand other cultures. Those left behind and isolated because of cultural orientation, be it an immigrant to the west or due to geographical alienation, need to be included in the discourse. Failure to do so could lead to choices of cultural chauvinism or religious fanaticism to compensate the feelings of exclusion.
Intercultural learning fundamentally is teaching skills that improve relationship building. Intercultural learning is not learning about the “different” culture, as an anthropologist or historian, but experiencing the “other” through an existing interactive and dynamic social relationship. The cultural historical narrative is no longer about a perceived truth, but a reflection of a perceived relationship between cultures. The quality of social relationships therefore is at the center of the cultural dialogue.
One of the members of this panel mentioned young Turkish immigrants in Germany turning to fanatic Islamic ideologies and asked if we should be tolerant of these movements in our societies? For me the question that should be asked is, “What are the needs of these young men and women who choose these ideologies?” Should we not examine our own relationships with the immigrants who feel alienated and denied social mobility?
We must open up a transparent dialogue within our communities and understand the needs of other ethnic and religious groups within European societies. Only a true process can create a diverse and cohesive European community. Those religious and cultural groups who feel confused, vulnerable and unsafe should be invited to express their concerns before channels of communication breakdown. This vulnerability needs to be addressed by creating space throughout the communities especially for youth to meet and exchange cultural ideas. Spaces like this exist at the Council of Europe Youth Centers. One is here in Strasbourg and the other in Budapest. These model centers need to replicated in every country in Europe as an investment that will contribute greatly to the social and economic development of those countries.
Young people should be part of the process and have free and equal access to intercultural education both in the formal and informal system. The process must be inclusive and reach out to the young religious and ethnic minorities. Communities must be empowered to take part of the process by creating incentives and offering a real change in dynamics. Recognition of wrongdoing and transgressions in the relationship will be a strong base to develop a real dialogue. Confronting both racism and islamophobia in public campaigns like “All different All equal” of the Council of Europe help those in Europe who feel threatened by growing suspicion and alienation. A diverse and cohesive Europe is possible only through a process where all sides will feel their needs have been satisfied.