Izhevsk: learning from the past, looking to the future
Izhevsk is the easternmost member of the Intercultural Cities Network (ICC). Intercultural interaction among its citizens is built in the local
tradition. Founded two-and-a-half centuries ago around ironworks and armament industry, it is still one of the biggest industrial centres in Russia. The designing and construction of the Kalashnikov submachine is one of the city's claim to fame. On 3-4 September 2010 the population of Izhevsk celebrated its 250th anniversary.
Izhevsk is the capital city of the Udmurt Republic. Out of a total 611,000 inhabitants, there are, approximately, 59% Russians, 30% Udmurts and 10% Tatars. 130 ethnic groups make up the rest of the population. The Udmurts, Tatars or Mari have lived in this area for centuries. They have developed traditions of mutual respect and tolerance. Others are newcomers and have yet to adjust to the local cultural environment. This is the case, for instance, of those who have recently migrated from the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The city's strategy relies upon long-lasting multicultural traditions and applies the principles of tolerance and intercultural dialogue to its increasingly diverse population.
Educational establishments in the city have implemented several of the ICC best practice recommendations. They are targeted at migrant children who are newcomers to the city. These initiatives include training courses on intercultural issues for pupils and teachers alike. Some schools have gone one step further and added intercultural issues to their curriculum. Future policy directions comprise teaching foreign and minority languages, as well as creating an open educational establishment tailored for the needs of elderly migrants.
Izhevsk is also a member of the Child Friendly Cities Network. Exchanges between
the two networks have allowed for ground-breaking policy initiatives. For
instance, intercultural cooperation has become a key issue discussed in the
Izhevsk Children's Parliament.
But the majority of projects developed in the framework of ICC programme belong to the cultural field. At first, the programme was focused on, thus showcasing these cultures for the multicultural audiences. It has soon become clear, though, that the cultures should be displayed not only in the form of traditional festivities but also in their connection to everyday life and, most importantly, to the contemporary urban culture.
A number of 'ethno-futuristic' projects have been developed. They are based on a mixture of traditional and contemporary art and media, in the fields of music, literature, fashion and visual arts. An intercultural festival
'The Beatles: Chapter Two' has become very popular amongst local inhabitants. Local bands interpret the Beatles' songs in various minority languages.
'The Gates' project is an annual visual arts project. It is developed under the framework of the Izhevsk Art Assembly 2010. The public can explore different aspects of various cultures as expressed through artwork.. An information point and legal support for newly arrived foreign citizens has just opened in one of the Izhevsk libraries.
The city policies have followed closely ICC "good governance" recommendations. Izhevsk's participation in the ICC network is covered frequently in the local media and on the city's website. This ensures a high level of media visibility. The Mayor has also demonstrated his commitment. He recently announced the intercultural agenda as one of his policy priorities. The local administration has implemented an efficient system for governing the programme.
An ICC Organising Committee has been set up. It is supervised by the Mayor and includes representatives of the local municipality and members of the national Government. The Russian Federal Migration Service has also been created. This arrangement operates interdepartmentally and is financially viable as it implements a multi-source funding strategy.
An interdisciplinary ICC Work Group has been created. It consists of five sub-groups focusing. Their project priorities fall under five pillars: education, communication, city planning, culture and social services. They seek to to raise awareness of intercultural issues in the city community and mainstream the intercultural agenda.
In 2008 the House of Peoples' Friendship was opened. The city first joined the ICC network during the same year. An effective working partnership has been maintained between the local institution and the ICC program. The House of People's friendship has become a key partner. In addition the Intercultural approach has helped structure this organizations activities.
In 2009 a grant scheme initiative was set up. This has proven to be a real break through for the cities intercultural program. Since this project was first launched it has provided funding for five intercultural projects. They have aimed at: developing intercultural spaces, stimulating intercultural dialogue and addressing the needs of the younger generation. In 2010 another competition was launched to provide further funding for future projects. This is a pivotal instrument for the program and will continue operating in the future. Openness and transparency when allocating grants are key philosophies behind the ICC initiative.
Two brainstorming seminars on enhancing intercultural dialogue took place in Izhevsk. Local city representatives took part in six international meetings organized by the ICC network. An in-depth research project will take place to investigate intercultural issues facing the cities population.
Izhevsk is on its way to becoming a truly intercultural city immersed in the ICC program Intercultural approach. Participation in the initiative has given the city a new more humane dimension, identity and reputation. Say good bye to the industrial centre famed for producing the Kalashnikov sub-machine gun!