Understanding the difficulties of applying international decisions regarding cultural differences: the theoretic dilemmas and the political hazards

Issue 9

“Understanding the difficulties of applying international decisions regarding cultural differences: the theoretic dilemmas and the political hazards”

Giorgos Stamelos



Understanding the difficulties of applying international decisions regarding cultural differences: the theoretic dilemmas and the political hazards

1. Introduction

Over the last decades international and European organizations have increasingly been occupying themselves with the assimilation of culturally different immigrant populations by the host society they live in, in accordance with the growing human mobility throughout the planet.

This paper is dealing with the factors that hinder the application of votings, declarations, charts, or other paperwork provisions aiming at the assimilation of different cultural background immigrants by a host country.

2. The tug-of-war between the ‘individual’ and the ‘group’

Although there may be a series of human rights concerning each individual separately, these are not always acceptable by group entities. An example of this is the previous East Europe block of states, rejecting the right to private property, or the Muslim World regarding women issues. Second, on state level, individual human rights are expressed neither in law , nor politically. This situation leads to tension, a fact which may be understandable in the Western World, but not elsewhere, thus causing cultural misunderstandings which in turn create social and political friction. Another problem, the financial one, is also a hindrance when it comes to a state attempting to materialize provisions of declarations.

2.1. The talk on differentiation

Neither is the definition and collective expression or acceptance of differentiation an easy matter, when it comes to national, ethnic, religious, linguistic and social issues, as the grouping criteria of individuals may prove conflicting and even harmful to the host society.

2.2 Managing differentiation

The management of differentiation can be dealt with either with political terms, which is not the most appropriate way, or by making choices, on the basis of assumptions deriving from scientific research. According to a ‘universal’, Europe-originating, consideration, the common nature of man legalizes cultural variability. A policy of respect and acceptance of differentiation is by all means lawful in the name of humanistic values. However, hierarchy and classification are implied in this view. Besides, not all agree with the existence of human values of worldwide standing. Therefore in the application of declaration and voting provisions regarding cultural difference, the correlation of political and social powers must be taken into account as regards the original-theoretic-choice,(humanistic values) on the one hand and the restrictions as well as importance of publicity on the other. International bodies differ in ‘conservatism’ or ‘modernity’ and even on programme promotion capacity. On the other hand, American thinking is oriented rather towards serving the interests of the already dominant power. Ethnic or religious orientations still count in the interpretation of decisions and actions, therefore imposing a biased outlook on reality and on the further bridging of the cultural gap. Some cultures are so distanced that it would be best if these did not come close together. It seems more than sensible for a state respecting its cultural identity to protect it, ensuring peace and quiet for its society by guarding it against undesired contacts. The policy of forcing immigrants back to their countries of origin would be best applied at this point.

2.2.2. The role of the educational system

The state has always considered education within the framework of the Nation-state being the basic support of the state, aiming at socialization (of the individual), transmission of basic knowledge on which more specialized skills would later be based on, and at the development of student personality. Things have changed after the 1980’s dramatically and the state relies on private-economic interests for its survival as an independent entity. The educational system no longer forms the basis of the nation-state in a world where globalization is the primary economic model, while the state no longer regards the main role of education being the establishment of a national identity and the preparation of the individual for entry to a national economy. However, this issue of education being the base of the nation-state is a matter of taboo in the European Union, not being discussed on the one hand, but also not ceasing to exist. People need to know that they belong to a ‘place’ with distinct features so as to feel secure. The sense of belonging defines/determines the problem of passing on distinct features to the next generations. When this passing on of distinct features is being threatened, reactions arise, which may acquire dangerous dimensions (a revolt). It is against this background that the suggested European Constitution was rejected by the French people.

3. Nationality or identity?

The concept most commonly being promoted is that of ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’, the establishment of the concept of a European nationality, a kind of nationality with the features of identity. We also cannot disregard the sense of general insecurity arising and silent tension accumulating. The convenient western distinction between citizenship and identity does not seem to function as a security valve that would release tension.
3.1 From rising nationalism to the problem of social isolation

Nationalism used to be the ‘embodiment’/form of expression of the aggressive sentiment incited by social insecurity. The collapse of communism and social democracy, the collapse of anti-imperialistic and anti-capitalistic movements as mechanisms of protest have brought about changes in the way that social sentiment expresses itself. The outbreaks of violence due to social unrest may be extreme but short-lived. What the bone of contention has become at present is a kind of society characterized by two-fold isolation (segregation): the powerful classes on the one hand, and the marginalized social classes on the other, lacking identity and nationality in the society where they have come to live.

3.2. The demographic crisis factor

The demographic problem is a serious one for Europe, who must seek its solution to the non-native European people. Therefore immigrants are needed and must stay. What attention must be turned to, thus, at present is the management of heterogeneous populations living together. And again it is a two-fold problem, concerning not only the minorities but the host society populations as well. Policies aiming at the weakening of tensions due to cultural differences must be sought after.

4.1 The talk on citizenship and its hazards.

If citizenship means learning to be democratic, learning to participate, learning to be autonomous and to being related as an individual to society, this is an expression of the Western concept of the individual and the functioning of society and Democracy. Can citizenship work within a collective framework consisting of different value systems and ideas? The answer lies in the establishment of inter-cultural education for children. The aim is not ‘assimilation’ but ‘integration’ or ‘belonging’, for both the minority classes and the dominant majority ones, to a society where each will respect the others’ different value systems. This may sound feasible within the walls of schools but it is more difficult in the broader society. A suggested solution could be the European Social Chart of the Security Council of Europe, voted first time in 1961, revised in 1996, and actions undertaken by other international organizations such as the Chart of Individual and Social Rights of the European Union of 1989, the declaration of 2007 as year of “equal opportunities for all, etc. These are important moves because they set an international climate and legalize talks and actions aiming to promote social and cultural differences on an individual as well as a social level.