Since the spreading of COVID-19 virus and disease, public authorities at all government levels and worldwide are facing a large-scale emergency situation which is new for most of today’s societies.

Apart from the immediate threat to health posed by the pandemic, the “future” is already announcing more challenges to our human rights acquis, social, economic and institutional structures, with obvious implications in all areas of our shared daily reality. From an intercultural perspective some challenges that we should avoid are:

  • Threats to equality due to an increase in social inequalities: people, groups and territories which were already vulnerable before Covid will most probably see their socio-economic situation worsening. Besides, not all citizens have access to clear, transparent and understandable information. A more fragmented and segregated society is a realistic scenario unless medium- and long-term strategies are put in place already now to map and address the specific challenges of the most vulnerable groups and individuals, and processes that involve the target groups in the preparation of the responses are promptly launched. These responses shall be comprehensive and aim at long-term sustainability from the social, economic, and environmental point of view. What is the role of intercultural leadership, strategies, and participatory processes in effectively contributing to overcoming social inequalities? Which role for the local authorities and their territories? Which processes should be put in place at what moments?
  • Threats to positive interaction through the temptation of privileging individual solutions to processes that require collective solutions: a deep crisis risks reinforcing individual strategies to ensure self-protection, with the danger of separating, marginalising, and segregating individuals and groups even further. How to reinforce a shared vision, cooperation, sense of belonging, collective responses, and citizens’ participation both during and after lockdown and physical distancing? How to communicate that processes are key and that certain policies and solutions require time and resources to produce their effects?  How to re-organise our societies and develop a vision for real inclusion in the post Covid era?
  • Threats to diversity through increase in racism, prejudice and stereotypes, and discriminatory practices. During the past months some countries have been witnessing public statements against certain nationalities and or hate speech, racial profiling to control quarantine and lockdown, increased risk of discriminatory actions by some police officers, increased risk of gender-based or homo-bi-transphobic violence in confinement. Yet, confinement has also triggered strong solidarity between neighbours regardless from nationality or residence permits, intergenerational support, youth engagement to be part of the solution, strengthening of social relations through digital tools, creativity, simplification of the administrative machines and their bureaucracy, and a strong resilience of human beings facing extreme situations. How to take advantage from these positive effects and sustain them over time? How to empower further neighbourhood associations and citizens’ participation in the spirit of cross-cultural mixing and interaction? How to make the municipal and state machines more creative, flexible and agile, not only in times of crises? How to promote further intercultural solidarity and volunteering? How to value to contribution of each individual to our societies? Which role for the media in the information society?
  • Restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms: State boarders have been closed to contain contagion, travel restrictions have been imposed, and personal data collection and exploitation are being authorised to a greater extent than ever. While exceptional situations call for exceptional measures, it is equally important to ensure that democracy and human rights, solidarity and cohesion will find again – and as soon as possible - their prominent role in our societies. Which firewalls should we put in place? Which warranties? And how to reinforce the existing control mechanisms, including Council of Europe’s ones?
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