IPA 2009

Excerpts from the contents of the bulletin “Multi-ethnicity and development” (Bulletin no. 3)

Mitja Žagar, professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana, scientific advisor of the Institute for Ethnic Studies, and expert of the European Council and OESS for questions of national minorities

 (......) If Europe does not do something serious on the level of promotion of multiculturalism, on the level of education, on the level of informing about advantages, values, functions and significance of that multiculturalism which already exists, it will be a great threat to the future of Europe, certain countries and European integrations in general. In real terms, it may be an even greater threat and danger than the actual economic crisis, especially because those problems of interethnic relations, bigotry and intolerance will become even stronger in economic crisis. It is very significant to point out that the practices of xenophobia, reductionism, cultural exclusivism, and different kinds of nationalisms primarily decrease the potentials of societies and their possibility to solve the crisis and strengthen their own development. Otherwise, I am of the opinion that those themes should necessarily be considered in a broader context and especially in that of the permanent and sustainable development. I think those are the themes which, in fact, define the future and that we should think not only in the concepts of growth, as was the case till now, but in the concepts of the development of new qualities. By that I want to say that the production in global proportions is big enough to already satisfy our needs, but the distribution is deficient and dissatisfying. And the distribution mainly is not adequate exactly because of exclusivist concepts of the development and capitalistic economy which limit it. The forgetting of multicultural significance of our societies is equal to ignoring the ecological problems of those societies. That neglecting of multiculturalism will return to us like a boomerang, and if we do not pull ourselves together on time the expenses of that will be very great, so great maybe that they may endanger the human race’s self-viability itself. It seems to me that it is very important to stress that ecological and climatic problems as well as the problems of inadequate management of the dissimilarities are in fact the problems which can be decisive and even fatal for the future of humanity.

The management of dissimilarities

(......) First of all, it is important to be conscious that the dissimilarity exists and that the dissimilarity is a normal state of affairs. Secondly, it is important to be tolerant. Not just passively tolerant, but actively, which in fact enables us to get to know other cultures and communities, and consequently to accept them easier. It is very important to enable those different communities to express, develop and present their own identity and culture to a wider social community. On the other hand, it is of the significance to create the conditions and measures which will influence their connection and integration in a stimulating manner. It is very important to create the adequate educational policies, and policies of integration on certain areas such as economy, labour market, fight against discrimination, etc. Only one global approach of this kind, one defined strategy of management of dissimilarities, which at the same time takes care of ecological and other factors, can offer sustainable answers to burning social issues over the long term.

Davor Gjenero, Independent political analyst

(......) Only two counties in Croatia function as regions in the true sense of the word: Međimurje and Istra. These are also two units of regional self-government which function very efficiently, and regarding the efficiency only the public governments of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and Varaždin County could be compared to them. Istra and Međimurje are historical Croatian regions and it is possible to define clearly their cultural particularities and distinct political identity. Because of the fact that they are situated on the edges of Croatian country, they are not fragmented or tied up in the county with the territories with which they do not share the historical and cultural identity.
It is interesting that these two historical Croatian regions, as separate units of regional self-government, also developed their own separate political identities which are pronouncedly liberal-democratic. These are the only two counties in which the rule of nationalistic, populist movements was never possible and in which every kind of political radicalism was systematically avoided – be it left or right. Furthermore, these counties also established the culture of efficient management, despite the highly fragmented system of local self-government. The flexible connection of the units of local self-government and coordination within a county in doing the jobs of acquisition of public goods for the citizens is one of the important characteristics of functioning of system in these counties. They belong to different “cultural circles”: Istra is under the influence of Mediterranean political tradition based on the autonomy of small towns, and Međimurje is under the influence of Middle-European tradition of highly organized peasant communities. However, both models are adapted to the Croatian highly fragmented system of local self-government.
Political stability and continuity, that is, political compatibility of the government in the majority of boroughs and small towns on the territories of those counties, enabled this kind of political development. Tolerance higher than in other parts of Croatia is a characteristic of the political processes in these counties, and that tradition of tolerance also affected the development of specific relations towards minority-communities. Both regions are border regions and from that also emanate their multiethnic tradition and orientation toward trans-boundary cooperation. (......)
(......) The establishment of the new system of regional self-government, which has been already spoken about in Croatia for quite a while, which would ensure the defragmentation of the present state, must be carried out in such way that its carrying out does not endanger already established positive examples of regional organization. Furthermore, the process should be carried out in such manner that the system of division into the counties, which is often harmful for minorities, is not replaced by a regional model which would be even more harmful to the realization of minority-rights that it was the case with the division into the counties. Unlike the positive examples of “liberal regionalism” of Istra and Međimurje, a concept of populist protest regionalism which is established in some Slavonian counties has also started to be outlined in the last 5-6 years in Croatia, and outlines of such organization are also visible in Dalmatia. In those projects regional identity is being defined as extremely antipluralistic, but also as a variant of the ethnocentrist non-plural social concept. Instead of principles of the inclusion in regional identity of contributions of national-minority communities and different linguistic and cultural traditions, in those conceptions is being defined the virtual monoethnic regional identity, and all those things which is not possible to lead under that identity are being pushed out as “non-autochthonous”, imposed and unacceptable. In doing so, the legitimacy of local and regional governments is not being built upon the ability of the bearers of the executive power to efficiently obtain public goods for the citizens, but on the construction of conflict with central government which is defined as denationalized, “unnational”, the one that does not respect the sovereignty and those things which in nationalistic political philosophy of such movements are considered to be “national values”.
Strengthening of regionalist movements for protection of minority-rights in that way can have totally different meaning. When it comes to liberal movements which endeavour to define the regional identity by the inclusion of different national traditions represented in some region, which endeavour to encourage the concepts of regional cooperation and strengthening of cooperation with “countries of mother nation” of minority communities, then political regionalism can be stimulating for integration of minorities, with simultaneous preservation of their traditions. However, in the case of protest regional movements which are only a reinterpretation of nationalistic movements from the recent history, which are adapted to the new conditions – when on the level of central state is not possible to impose social dynamics of a nationalistic movement any more, than we speak of the process which is extremely unfavourable for integration of minority communities and realization of the fundamental collective rights of members of national minorities. But, what’s worse, over the long term such movements can start to question also the individual civil rights of members of minority communities.

 Antonija Petričušić, Faculty of Low , University of Zagreb

 (......) Cultural autonomy is the beginning of the realization of right to cultural specificity which should be followed by the intercultural dialogue. The White Book of the European Council about the intercultural dialogue, which in 2008 was adopted by the ministers of foreign affairs as a guide for decision-makers in member states which stand in front of complex challenges of multiculturalism and cultural diversity, defines multicultural dialogue as a process which encompasses open and dignified exchange of the opinions between the individuals and groups of different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic origin and heritage with mutual understanding and respect. It contributes to social integration and cohesion of culturally different societies. Besides that, it develops interethnic understanding which is so necessary in countries in which there is a tension between the ethnic groups.
For the sake of illustration, in order to point out to several examples of good practice, I cite several more recent initiatives which promote cultural pluralism and contribute to intercultural dialogue. It is not by chance that the examples I cite speak of the educational initiatives which in the same time contribute to the overcoming of interethnic divisions which are caused by recent war conflicts, but also to the strengthening of cultural pluralism.
In April 2012 was promoted a manual for educators of the children of preschool (kindergarten) age titled “Children-protectors of ancestral heritage: Model of a kindergarten with Croatian identity and with cultivation of inter-culturality” which contains the practical instructions and examples of how to teach preschoolers to respect the people of different cultures and countries, to accept the diversities, as well as how to bring to consciousness their cultural heritage. As early as 2008 Nansen Dialogue Centre has been conducting the project “Little ones together” whose aim is the integrated and intercultural learning through the workshops in ethnically divided kindergartens in Vukovar-Srymia County. It is never to early to begin with learning about coexistence and mutual respect, considering that segregated system of education in Vukovar begins already at kindergarten age when parents must decide will they enlist their child in Serbian or Croatian kindergarten group.
Believing that the best protection of minority identities is guaranteed only through the interactions of minority and majority identities in multicultural environment, the same non-governmental association also conducts the project “New school” in Vukovar. The project is offered as an alternative to those parents who are not satisfied with the existent educational, ethnically segregated models of elementary-schools. Furthermore, Nansen Dialogue Centre suggested the introduction of the subject titled “Culture and spiritual heritage of homeland” with the aim of developing the multicultural competences among the pupils of elementary-schools. This subject, although optional, allows the pupils to learn about culture and customs of all nations of their homeland which prevents educational-cultural ghettoization which for now is still present. Namely, the minorities in Croatia learn exclusively about cultural heritage of their own communities, and the children who are members of majority nation learn about the majority culture and heritage. This kind of educational model enables the children to learn about all ethnic groups with which they live together. Initiators of the project believe that the development of intercultural competencies is the basis for the overcoming of consequences of the war, a contribution to the process of establishment of trust among the members of different ethnic groups, but also a way of preparation of young people for their future life in united, multicultural Europe.
From the above mentioned examples of good practice results that measures of preservation of the minority-cultural specificity are being efficacious even when they strive to familiarizing of an overall population with cultural treasure and heritage of all ethnic groups of a social community. Only in that way the mutual understanding between national minorities and majority population is being promoted, and mutual respect and quality, mutually enriching coexistence is being achieved.