The first national Network of Intercultural Cities


Cities operate within widely varying national and local jurisdictions and institutional systems. National cultural and legal frameworks contribute to determine to what extent cities are able to re-think their local policies in an intercultural way. A flexible coordination and exchange tool that takes into account national specificities is therefore needed in order to help support a broader range of cities in their intercultural endeavours.


A meeting organised by Reggio Emilia with the support of the Intercultural cities programme on May 22 marked a significant step in this direction and laid the foundations for the creation of the first national intercultural cities network.


Six Deputy Mayors for integration policies or social cohesion representing the following Italian cities took part in the meeting: Genova, Torino, Savignano sul Rubicone, Lodi, Senigallia and Reggio Emilia. They declared strong interest in sharing their experiences in relation to the management of cultural diversity and discussing such issues with the institutions on other levels of governance. Although they could not attend the meeting, three other municipalities (Bari, Pompei, Fermo) expressed strong interest in joining the network. Most of the above mentioned cities sealed their commitment by means of a specific City Council decision. All participants agreed to meet again on 21 September in Reggio Emilia to discuss a draft Charta of the network and officially sign the creation of the first, and so far only, national network of intercultural cities in the world. According to Mrs. Gabriella Battaini, Director General at the Council of Europe "The Network will be affiliated to the European one and will serve to exchange information and good practices in all main policy fields in a city - from education to housing to urban planning and services - as well as governance and media aspects".


Reggio Emilia played a key role during this preliminary phase. As a member of the European Network of Intercultural Cities, it wishes to share with other Italian municipalities the new successful approaches on cultural integration developed at a European level in the framework of the Intercultural Cities Programme.


The Deputy Mayor for Social Cohesion and Social Security policies of Reggio Emilia, Franco Corradini, explained that the network "is an alliance among cities aiming to encourage and strengthen intercultural policies and share their means and goals."


According to the local Imam, Abu Abdelrahman, Reggio Emilia has been selected as an example of a town by the Council of Europe due to the fact that “There is dialogue between associations and religions, institutions and community I see here a will to networking and meeting is already existing among people, I think this is the reason why Europe chose our city as model”.


Some representatives of associations made by citizens of foreign origins took the floor during the meeting. Waleed Gaber of the Italian Egyptian association and Seni Bandaogo of the association of Burkinabé said “the network is good for the future, now it can be easier to connect people and communities, and to improve the political debate”.


According to Moroccan born Youssef Salmi, responsible for Youth and Association policies in Novellara, a neigbbouring city of Reggio Emilia: "This project of our province really matters, we need a strong investment on issues of integration and social cohesion at a national level". Eritrean Hivet Tesfamariam highlights that "This is what we were waiting for: I am in Italy since the sixties, but I still feel I am not really fitting in it". Aziz Sadid, a university student from Morocco, pointed out that "such a network should have been done before, but for sure it is a decisive step to better understand the changes of our society. I bet on the role of youngsters".


The meeting was part of a three days meeting organised by the Intercultural Center of Reggio Emilia called Mondinsieme focussing on Interculturalism.


The first day included the so called "Question Time" where students had the possibility to ask a variety of questions to the Mayor and different experts. On the third and last day an all day long intercultural party “MondinPiazza” was organised in the centre of the city.


Mondinsieme has been working for years with highschool students. It organised a “Question Time” in order to approach city authorities to reflect on all the aspects of social life. 150 young people, coming from 8 schools, came together in the House of the Tricolour, the historical place where the Town Council holds its meetings and the Italian flag was born in the XIX century. The students questioned the mayor of Reggio Emilia, Graziano Delrio, and a representative of the Council of Europe, Marco Busetto, on intercultural dialogue and social disparity.


Besides Vanessa Pellinghelli (from the Filippo Re Institute), Singh Darminder (Ipsia Institute), Marianna Burello (Bus Institute) as well as Francesca Bertelli (Canossa Institute) also questioned Marco Busetto on issues such as the role of media when covering discrimination, diversity, and migration stories or the solution European cities seek in order to prevent social conflicts.


Moreover Imen Bensaid (Iodi Institute) as well as Marjorie Nornoo and Stefania Rinaldini (Scaruffi Institute) were interested in knowing which measures the municipality adopts to face the crisis and support families in need of help, while Gianluigi Iembo (Secchi Institute) wanted to know how discrimination is fought. Shada Spagni (Motti Institute), Anna Chiara Tedeschi (Moro Institute) and Giulia Strozzi (Chierici Institute) focused on the diversity, asking the mayor to enhance places of diversity and promoting intercultural creativity workshops or, for example, a map of ethnic food within the city.


Overall, Anass Zaki (Iodi Institute) emphasized the key role of sons and daughters of migrants raised in Italy. The mayor Graziano Delrio reminded those present that "we can be proud of our history" and that "our heritage is made out of contaminations", claiming respect for everyone, both Italian people and citizen with foreign origins, because "when there is diversity, there is freedom".


By Marco Busetto, Council of Europe and Damiano Razzoli, Intercultural Center Mondinsieme of Reggio Emilia