CULTURAL EXCHANGES IN EDUCATION TO BUILD THE NEW EUROPE Mr. Lio Casini Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to greet the Mayor Fabrizio Neri, the Town Council President, the City Councillors, our Friends from Nowy Sacz, all the Authorities present, the citizens, and thank you for the invitation. Let me stray from the proposed topic, which is very vast, and consider the theme of “cultural diversities”. I am aware that tackling this topic now, would take up more time than I have available and that I would trouble and tire the audience. Hence I will only address a few themes, postponing, to a later debate, the development of this intervention. 1) CULTURAL DIVERSITY IS A RESOURCE The cultural dimensions of human development require special attention for three reasons. Firstly, cultural freedom is an important aspect of human freedom, as it is fundamental for people to be able to live the way they want to, and have total freedom of choice. The progress of cultural freedom must become a fundamental aspect of human development. For that we must look further than social, political and financial opportunities that alone don’t guarantee cultural freedom. Secondly, although in recent years there have been debates on culture and civilization, we have focused on the acknowledgement, even celebration, of cultural conservativism and not of cultural freedom. Rather than enhancing an unreasonable acceptance of inherited traditions, or warning the world of the alleged inevitability of clashes of culture, this perspective highlights the importance of freedom on a cultural level (and on other levels), and the ways to defend and increase cultural freedom that people can enjoy. The main aspect is not only the meaning of traditional culture but the far more relevant importance of cultural choices and freedom. Thirdly, cultural freedom is also important in social, political and financial failures and successes. The various aspects of human life have strong interrelations. Even poverty, which is a fundamental economic concept, cannot be fully understood without taking into account cultural considerations. By giving fair recognition to cultural freedom and cultural influences in human development, we must pay attention to the influence that popular cultures have on our lives, and to the importance of the relation between cultural aspects of human life and other aspects. Denial of freedom, cultural or otherwise, takes on many forms. Often deprivation is brought on by exclusion. We must make a clear distinction between two of these forms. Firstly, cultural exclusion of one person or group can identify with the impossibility of that person or group taking part in social life in the way that others can, or in the way that is suggested. This phenomenon is called exclusion from involvement. In many cases exclusion from involvement (which is the main basis of discrimination ) is the cultural affiliation of people involved, which causes their exclusion from involvement in education, employment or political decisions. The arguments that are used to justify such exclusion tend to blame supposed cultural characteristics of the groups that are involved. So that certain ethnic group are depicted as being lazy, irresponsible or argumentative. It is said that worshippers of minor religions are in conflict with the State. Although these cultural peculiarities often prove to be wrong, they pave the way to discrimination and exclusion. In some cases identifying characteristics used in discriminatory policies blame cultural features; groups are defined according to their language, social origin and other features. Another type of cultural exclusion denies the acknowledgement of a lifestyle that a group decides to take on. And this type of intolerance is accompanied by the idea that, in society, every single person should live like all others. This exclusion, based on a model of life, is evident in religious intolerance. Another example is intolerance towards personal choices: discrimination towards homosexuals is a common aspect of exclusion based on a model of life. These exclusions cause a violation of cultural freedom as well as denying diversity. This type of exclusion can cause serious problems in multicultural societies with different ethnic groups, especially when the discrimination is against recent emigrants. Today, a common type of intolerance towards a lifestyle is the insistence for immigrants to abandon their customs to take on the lifestyle of the country they have moved to. Cultural diversity, however, can be positive. A culturally diverse society can be beneficial to other communities thanks to its many experiences. A good example is the rich african-american music tradition, which not only helped improve cultural freedom and the african-americans’ self-esteem, but also broadened cultural choices of people (whether african-americans or not) enriching the cultural scene of America and the world. The relation between cultural freedom and cultural diversity, however, needs to be further analyzed. Insisting on cultural conservativism (of immigrants for example) may discourage people from taking on a different lifestyle and could be seen as excessively interfering. Diversity would thus be reached at the price of cultural freedom. Finally, there is a connection between cultural fanaticism and political tyranny. When unbalanced power between those who rule and those who are ruled is combined with cultural prejudice, every attempt to govern fails. This was evident during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. In England Irish poverty was viewed as a consequence of their laziness, indifference and incompetence. The English didn’t consider the British mission as a means of easing the suffering of the Irish but as a way of civilizing them and make them think and behave like human beings. Cultural prejudice has been similarly used for political purposes in the Asian and African empires. Cultural criticism towards victims can be used by the ruling forces to justify inefficient and unfair tyrannies. The creation of fair and humane societies needs an adequate acknowledgement of the importance of freedom, including cultural freedom. For this to be accomplished people must have freedom of choice when it comes to lifestyle, making alternative ways of life possible. Cultural considerations can assume a significant role in these decisions. Emphasizing cultural freedom doesn’t, however, mean doing everything for cultural diversity. In this context the question «Is multiculturalism negative for women?» is fundamental. This issue reconnects to the fact that the persistence of male dominated customs may go against women’s interests. Extreme occurrences of this conflict may entail the permitting by law of practices, such as physical mutilations, in male-dominated countries. In defense of these practices it has to be said that it is often women themselves who accept them without protesting. All the unfairness still going on in the world makes victims become accomplices denying their chance to take into consideration an alternative and making it impossible for them to know other customs. It is therefore important not to support traditionalist choices, at least not without critical judgement, that are part of cultural freedom. We have to ask ourselves whether losers in society, in this case women, had the chance to consider alternatives, and whether they had the freedom to know how people in the rest of the world live. (see: European paper for Equality of Men and Women in local and regional life). 2) DREAM OR REALITY From the “European Dream” of the founding Fathers of Europe we have passed on to the reality of the European Union, which puts the emphasis on community relations rather than individuality, on cultural diversity rather than absorption, on quality of life rather than the build up of wealth, on universal human and natural rights rather than on property rights and on global cooperation rather than unilateral power. The European Dream bridges the two eras in which it started, the postmodern and the global era. The intention of the protests and experiments in the Sixties were to knock down the barriers binding the human spirit and explore new realities, that’s when postmodern school of thought started. The Postmodernists asked themselves how the world came to be in such a state. What are the reasons behind the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, concentration camps in Europe, Gulag in the Soviet Union and Maoism in China? How did the world become torn between the rich and the poor? Why are women, blacks and ethnic minorities still discriminated against or enslaved in some parts of the world? Why are we destroying the environment and poisoning the biosphere? Why do some nations oppress others and seek hegemony with wars and domination? When did people stop enjoying themselves and become automatons to the point that non-stop work defines individuals’ existence? When and how did materialism replace idealism and consumer’s culture become a positive concept? The European Dream is powerful because it dares suggest a new history which pays attention to aspects such as quality of life, sustainability, peace and harmony. The “American Dream” has become so popular that people from many countries know the precise meaning of these two words.. It is surprising to Americans that people from other countries don’t have their own equivalent dream, and that they don’t know what to answer when asked what their dream is. It must be strange to know the American Dream so well and not have a dream of one’s own. The situation is changing: I have the feeling that an already well defined European dream is taking shape. In many aspects, the European Dream is a mirror image of the American Dream, this makes their comparison and understanding easier. The American Dream and the European Dream are two opposite ideas of freedom and security. For Americans freedom has always been associated with autonomy: if you’re autonomous, you don’t depend on anyone and you’re not exposed to uncontrollable events. In order to be autonomous you must own goods: the more you have, the more independent you are from others. Freedom is accomplished with independence. Wealth leads to exclusiveness and exclusiveness to security. The new European Dream focuses on completely different points: freedom and security. For Europeans freedom comes from integration and not from autonomy. Being free means being in contact with other people: the more people you know , the more choices and opportunities you’ll have. Relationships lead to inclusiveness which leads to security. The American Dream focuses on financial growth, personal wealth and independence; the new European Dream focuses on sustainable expansion, quality of life and independence. The American Dream is assimilationist (Americans associate success with the ability to do away with cultural ties and act freely in the melting pot that distinguishes their country); the European Dream is based on the preservation of cultural identity in a multicultural environment. Despite all the talk on inclusion, diversity and preservation of cultural identities, Europeans are increasingly hostile towards new immigrants and refugees. Cases of intolerance are frequent in various areas of the continent. We are reliving anti-Semitism and discrimination of Muslims and other religious minorities. Europe is tearing down walls, borders and frontiers, all the demarcations that for more than two thousand years have separated people.. Nowadays you can rent a car and cross the whole continent without ever meeting a frontier. How do you know when you have arrived in Spain and you are not in France anymore? Everything seems bigger and more open. It’s not the same as the vast American landscapes but the feeling of restriction you once had when travelling across Europe has now gone. One thing is for sure: a new experiment is taking place in the Old continent. Europe has become a experimental territory for reinterpreting economy and politics and expressing cultural differences. The statistics are striking and show the real size of the experiment. Twenty five differently sized European countries put theirs human and natural resources together to share a common destiny. Europe is still developing. Adding another four or five countries to the current twenty five in the next ten years would make the European Union spread form Finland to the Mediterranean and from Ireland to the Black Sea. Much of the Union’s potential depends on its ability to create a functional internal marketplace. From the start it was said that a vast continental transport network, an integrated network of energy distribution, a communication network and common legislation would be created. European education programs are also being developed. The European Union has already created three high profile education programs: Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and Youth. The Socrates project focuses on basic education, from nursery school through to adult training. The program establishes common educational objectives. It encourages teachers’ and students’ mobility in the European Union and aims to harmonize the teaching syllabus. The Socrates/Erasmus project has already given out more than a million grants to European students who spent a year in any other Member State. The Socrates/Comenius project has brought together more than 10.000 schools in an educational endeavor that involved the whole of Europe. The Leonardo da Vinci project has helped more than 200.000 young people get vocational training abroad. The Youth project offers 15 to 25 year olds the chance to do voluntary services locally or abroad in the EU. Possibly the most difficult task for European integration is finding a solution to the enormous differences in salary and qualifications across the continent. The entrance into Europe of 75 million citizens from southern and eastern countries has caused concern in some western countries for the influx of cheap labour in the old European steady economy. Another major concern is the possibility for western businesses to move their production establishments to eastern Europe where labour costs are significantly lower. This is already happening. Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and soon Romania and Bulgaria are very appealing to western businesses interested in saving on labour costs. Some businesses have already opened branches in eastern Europe. Europeans are also concerned that the arrival of poor immigrants from eastern Europe will put another burden on the already strained welfare system. Most of the fifteen founding nations of the Union have arranged restrictive measures to keep Eastern European workers away for many years to come. While Eastern Europeans fear the availability of Western products will weaken the local economy. The are many other difficulties to overcome to create a united internal European market. But there are far more positive results than there are obstacles left to defeat. With English now becoming the main and most spoken language in Europe, Europeans can exchange work, goods and services more easily just like in the USA. The euro has been very successful, even more successful than was expected. Today it’s not only more powerful than the american dollar but it is also on its way to becoming a rival to the dollar in the international financial system. The European institutional crisis (see: ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe) grants a rare historical opportunity that must be grasped quickly or else the European experiment will lose momentum, with serious consequences for Europe and the world. Could this meditation period be transformed into a conversation about the future of Europe? A debate about the hopes, fears and worries that Europeans from every small community or town have? There is no better time than this for a series of meetings about the future of Europe, or for the creation of a forum in every community formed by students, unions, traders, intellectuals, parents and new immigrants. The time has come for society, the third sector in Europe, to come forward and ease public debate. The best place to start from would be the 250 regions that Europe is made up of. Every regional authority could set up a meeting with the locals and set out an organizational plan for European forums. Representatives from local, regional, national and EU administrations should take part and see what their electors have to say. 3) THE SEARCH FOR A COMMON GROUND BETWEEN UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND LOCAL CULTURAL IDENTITY The biggest political change of the last thirty years is the gradual involvement of society in politics. In society there are three great trends. The first is made-up by all organizations that promote religion, education and art and offer social services, take care of the community and encourage recreation, sport and entertainment. These activities are carried out mainly within the nation and do not involve politics. The second is made-up by rights organizations. Their objectives are more politic oriented and their activities are, generally, transnational. The third is made-up by various organizations that are concerned with local cultures and ethnic minorities. Their goal is to preserve traditions, rituals and values and ensure survival and prosperity of these minorities within the nation and abroad. The civil rights, environmental, women’s rights, human rights movements, the campaigns against poverty, the pacifist, animal rights, disabled and homosexual rights movements and the movement against eugenics have redesigned the political scene. These organizations go beyond the State borders: their vision is universal and their objectives are global. Their aim is to give awareness and consciousness on individual rights and unity of all living creatures. The European Union is where these movements first started to be acknowledged. Although the EU’s motto is “unity in diversity”, often local cultures are xenophobic and afraid of the effects of globalization on their communities. Local cultures tend to be defensive, building barriers rather than knocking them down, as opposed to society organizations (OSC) that are more cosmopolitan and open. The problem, with many local cultures in Europe, is that their history is deeply rooted in their territory. In a globalized world where borders are rapidly vanishing and travelling is getting easier, local cultures feel threatened, they address their fear and anger towards immigrants and refugees that are seen as a threat to their cultural identities. The feeling of “invasion” encourages xenophobia and the success of the political right wing. In many cases, nowadays, local cultures are able to bypass the restrictions of the Nation and establish social, political and financial ties on a community level, enjoying greater independence and autonomy (I’m referring to town twinning too). Often human rights groups are in contrast with ethnic groups because the first represent global interests of free individuals and the others are concerned with the more traditional interests of their community. It’s not easy to reconcile multiculturalism and human rights. We must not forget that cultural communities unite thanks to family ties, shared religious experiences, in a specific area where human rights movements concentrate on individuals, not groups: their environment is the biosphere not the territory. The real question is whether Europeans can extend their targets from definite to universal and from local to global. Can someone from Tuscany be Italian, European and a citizen of the world at the same time? As much as they feel threatened by national, international and global forces, local cultures also feel like they are a “property to defend”, falling into the “Mine against Yours” mentality. In the way that Europeanization and globalization are seen as a way of becoming free from the national State and gain greater independence, freedom of choice and access to the outside world, these cultures can consider their heritage as a “gift to share” bringing themselves on a more cooperative and less conflictual level with others. The idea networked Europe is definitely more compatible with the second scenario. Organizations representing local cultures are fighting to put a limit to national government authorities. They are trying to find new ways of guaranteeing greater regional and local autonomy, in order to give a more independent voice to the people. Nations understand that the objectives of human rights movements and those of local culture safeguard organizations jeopardize their supremacy and power. They try to integrate the activists’ efforts to take hold of the political processes, whilst trying to ignore them. The European Union has, after all, proved to be open on the subject of societies integration in the political sphere, although there is still some resistance in Brussels on the promotion of greater participation of OSCs (Society Organizations). The reason for Brussels’ willingness to share its power with Society Organizations is their credibility. It’s not hard to understand why the European Union (see the 2007-2013 Citizens for Europe program) has embraced the idea of sharing government procedures with OSCs (Society Organizations): OSCs are greatly supported by people and they bring a new feeling of involvement in democracy to politics. OSCc (Society Organizations) are rooted in the local cultures and communities and they cross nation borders and expand on a global level. They are locally, nationally and globally active and represent the ideal political partner for Europe. A partner that aims to safeguard cultural diversity as well as universal human rights. What is indisputable is that, in a world mainly concerned with finance, authorities on all levels, from local to national, must set up political networks that put them in direct contact with society. Ladies and Gentlemen Thank you for your patience and attention. I’m available for further clarifications. Thank you.
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