'We live in a world in
which migration is part of the lives of many of us. Migration brings
the challenge of integration and means moving away from the ideal
of the homogenous society to one of cultural diversity and pluralism,'
believes Göran Rosenberg, a Swedish sociologist and one of
the researchers invited to the conference on racism and xenophobia
organis à ed by the European Commission last April.
Are these new values gaining ground? A survey
carried out by Eurobarometer(1)
for the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)
showed that two out of three people interviewed believe that the
co-existence of different races, religions and cultures enriches
a society. The Swedes (77%), Spanish (75%) and Dutch (74%) are most
inclined to believe that their society can draw real benefit from
diversity. Ironincally, this same survey showed that a growing number
of Europeans are concerned at the presence of minorities who they
feel could pose a threat to their 'well-being'. Despite this, EUMC
director Beate Winkler believes these results show that attitudes
toward immigrants and minorities have developed positively in many
Member States. 'Over the past three years Europeans have become
more favourably disposed to policies aimed at improving the common
living conditions of majority and minority groups.'
Different countries have opted for different legal
measures and social initiatives in response to the problem. Sweden
and Portugal have a mediator for ethnic discrimination. In Belgium,
magistrates, police and gendarmerie officials follow a special training
programme (Immigrants and justice: eliminating racism and xenophobia).
In Denmark, the social partners work together on improving employment
prospects for immigrants. In Germany, intercultural education promotion
uses 'personalised' tools developed especially for young people
(videos, music, etc.). Italy and Portugal have appointed 'cultural
mediators' among members of the Romany, gypsy and traveller communities
who provide support for children during their early years at school
(3). Lastly, Finland
has set up a national action programme entitled 'Towards a tolerant
Despite these initiatives aimed at removing differences,
inequalities in terms of treatment and status remain. Even if they
are not always terribly significant in themselves, they are nevertheless
indicative of a form of discrimination. In Austria, for example,
workers of immigrant origin cannot vote in trade union elections.
In Germany, documents on citizens' duties and responsibilities are
translated into various languages, while those on citizens' rights
are available only in German. In Sweden, the law continues to differentiate
between immigrants (invandrare) and Swedes (svenskar). In Italy
(and no doubt virtually everywhere) 'the police rarely take action
in response to the insecurity of gypsies, immigrants and even the
underprivileged when they are victims of racist attack or even accidents
at work,' explains Salvatore Palidda of Genoa University (IT).
Why is there this incessant and omnipresent need
to establish differences - even if only minimal - between people?
Tom Burns of Uppsala University is a sociologist seeking to understand
the concept of otherism, this strange need of human beings to always
find an 'other' - an enemy, deviant, or simply someone different
- in whom they see a potential source of danger and which allows
them to forge their own links and strengthen their identity. 'Beneath
the institutions of modern democracies there is always something
informal, unwritten codes of belonging, but also barriers and more
or less subtle mechanisms which discriminate against foreigners,
Jews, gypsies, etc.,' believes Göran Rosenberg.
Klaus Eder, a sociologist at Berlin's Humboldt University, believes
the key to this need for identity politics lies in Europe's history.
The hierarchical systems in which kings and emperors acted as unifying
symbols are no more. Our democratic societies have become associations
of persons who have felt the need to define themselves and come
together around a common link or place. 'The nation states used
the logic of borders to create a demos, a people united by virtue
of their identity,' explains Elder.
By contrast, the transnational institutions have the major benefit
of being able to mobilise groups in the name of an identity they
do not possess. 'The European Union is in this position. While allowing
borders to remain, it must create a European link, but without introducing
a symbolic code which would separate citizens. There are several
national and regional demoï in Europe. It is in the interests
of those who belong to them to share, not a symbolic community,
but an area of freedom and social justice.' This logic of justice
- and not of identity - could provide the basis for a genuinely
open transnational area.
A multicultural citizenship
'The former objective of social equality is evolving
into the challenge of accepting cultural difference,' believes Gerard
Delanty, a sociologist at Liverpool University. He believes that
the apparent absence of a strong European identity is an advantage
which could ultimately give birth to 'a new cultural model which
could be well suited to a transnational democratic multiculturalism.'
But what multiculturalism? We are all familiar with the American
liberal model of a vast but positive 'melting pot' in which (white)
immigrants of different origins come together to build a new society.
But how should we conceive of a European multiculturalism? That
is the fundamental question which underlies many others. 'How are
the dynamics of integration and exclusion forged, at local, European
and even global level? Do these reflect a genuine change in society's
political organisation? Should we then consider that these dynamics
are leading us toward a process in which citizenship is redefined
in opposition to that imposed after World War II? Is there today
a coherence between the idea of citizenship which seems to be gaining
ground within local European societies and wider Union citizenship?'
asks Salvatore Palidda.
Although some observers believe that multiculturalism must encompass
culture in the widest meaning of the term, by embracing all minority
groups (religious, linguistic, elderly or disabled people, etc.),
Gerhard Delanty stresses the need 'to find a common basis, at the
social rather than the cultural or political level.' The anchor
of this new European multiculturalism would be the desire for a
flexible, transnational citizenship which respects mobility - in
particular of nomadic groups such as gypsies. 'One must build on
common links rather than create policies which could be divisive,'
he explains. 'Europe's objective should be pluralism rather than
assimilation or integration.'
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