Interculturality: a value for citizens
Meeting and socialising with people from different cultures is one of those offerings of live that we, humans, very often take for granted. These interactions are always enriching as they bring new perspectives, concepts, visions, ideas...
For almost a decade from now, the Intercultural Cities Programme has been working with cities across the continent and beyond analysing the experience of the cities that regard diversity as an asset, and helping them to develop policies for advantageous diversity management.
These cities are representing a variety of countries and people for whom diversity is "the way the world should be" and who carry on and apply this conviction to their everyday activities.
A few examples from Ukraine are worth mentioning. A number of Ukrainian cities have shown their genuine interest in the urban model of intercultural integration following the military conflict in the east of the country, which resulted in a number of internally displaced individuals. The Ukrainian ICC Network (ICC-UA) soon became a dynamic source of exchange, experience’ sharing, strategies design, expert support provision, and inter-cities learning.
Melitopol - a city in Azov region in Ukraine - launched the development of the intercultural integration strategy in 2014, by adapting best European practices to the needs of its community. It was indeed a grass-root initiative that started from voluntary after-work gatherings of ordinary citizens and activists. When asked later what impelled them to do so, they said they wanted to be involved in the process of change in their city and be a part of the decisions making for the future development of their community. Very soon, these gatherings grew into the 'all-city project' to which the city administration, representatives of its various departments, civil society organizations, religious groups, minority groups, entrepreneurs, media and educators all contributed. In June 2015, the project resulting document - Melitopol Intercultural Integration Plan 2015-2010 - was voted and approved by the Melitopol City Hall.
“For us, it is not just a plan, or another document”, - say Melitopolers – “it is the way for –the future development of our city in collaboration with European partners. In Ukraine we used to live in a multi-ethnic society, where the equality was emphasised. Yet, no one was really paying attention to our diverse cultural identities nor was interested in our origins. The intercultural integration approach allows to rehabilitate ethic richness of our community and to fully enjoy it. We realized that we can be rightfully proud of the diverse cultural background of our municipality, to respect and share our values and traditions, to appreciate our individualities creating by this a unique atmosphere of our own city”.
This opinion is echoed by Vinnitsa, another ICC-UA member-city: “Now we have reliable partners who will help us to bring together residents of different origins and backgrounds to work on the issues that are not delimited by ethnic or cultural matters, and to form a common municipal identity crossing cultural and ethnic boundaries”, – commented the city mayor. “For us 'interculturality' is also a way to better engage different minority groups and community representatives in the life of our city”, - remarks a city official, - “as the intercultural integration model recognises their differences and valorises their experiences and inputs”.
Given these practices, it doesn't come as a surprise that the concept of 'interculturality' was included as one of the key criteria to a public survey recently conducted in Melitopol by the Center of Sociological Research of the Melitopol University.
26.6 % of the surveyed city residents agreed that one of the strengths of their city, compared to other cities in Ukraine, is that it is an intercultural city, a city where diverse ethnic communities live, work, vote together. Interculturality came second in the list of Melitopol strengths after the "economically beneficial geographic location of Melitopol" (located on the crossroads and railways from south to north).
The intercultural strategy implementation allowed us not only to realize the uniqueness of our city as a historically multi-ethnic place but also to become an integral and natural part of the development process of the common European urban space, noted the mayor of Melitopol, who personally took part in the survey.
The ICC practices confirm that concrete benefits for people from the intercultural model implementation may vary from country to country, from place to place, as the factors defining these benefits differ across unique social environments of the cities. What the most citizens from different ICC municipalities in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Norway or any other country agree upon is that intercultural is 'the way the world should be'.