and basis for intercultural education
Challenges, Problems and their Origins
• valuing difference
• the world divided economically
between North and South
• our changing continent
• people on the move
• our reaction to the changes
• the need for new responses to new
The Reality of Our Societies: Difference
We human beings are all different
in many ways and can be identified according to many criteria:
gender, age, physical characteristics, sexual orientation,
personality, hobbies, standard of living, beliefs... In
this pack we focus on cultural, social and ethnic differences.
We will be looking at the interaction between people who
are different, their lifestyles, values and cultures and
the relationships between majorities and minorities in our
We will be working from the basis of difference:
seeing different viewpoints, ideas, values and behaviour
as the starting points from which to work towards common
ground. Through the interaction of differences it is possible
to reach new solutions and arrive at new principles for
action. They are based on the equality of dignity and rights
Such issues may appear clearer whenever
we think about people from other societies or countries,
but we also need to talk about what happens within our own
geographical frontiers. We feel different from those born
and living in our country but whose cultures and ways of
life differ somewhat from ours. Our big challenge is to
discover how to live and interact with difference creatively.
Throughout history there have been waves
of immigration so that today Europe is home to peoples of
many different cultures. This makes life more challenging
and exciting and it makes life more complicated. This is
reality as we start the 21st century: we live
in multicultural societies.
Differences between people
are not valued as an asset, they more usually lead to suspicion
We live in a confusing world.
In some ways we seem to be coming closer together. For the
few with access to information highways or satellite television
it is possible to be in contact with the other side of the
planet in seconds. But nearer to home the distances between
us are increasing. We do not enjoy our multicultural societies
as we could: as a phenomenon which enriches us with diversity
and which we should not allow ourselves to waste.
Sadly, the presence of "different"
people in a country may lead to disinterest and indifference
if not discrimination and intolerance. For minorities in
our societies discrimination permeates all areas of
life: provision of public services; employment opportunities;
levels of police custody; housing; political organisation
and representation; access to education.
Escalating intolerance leads often to
violence and, in the most extreme cases, to armed conflict.
We use the definition used by the Uppsala University Conflict
Data Project: An armed conflict is a contested incompatibility
that concerns government and/or territory where the use
of armed force between two parties, of which at least one
is the government of a state, results in at least 25 battle-related
According to the project, there were at
least 90 armed conflicts in the world between 1989 and 1994.
Of these, only four were between states; the remaining 86
took place within states. They included civil wars over
territorial and political issues, as well as ethnic, nationalist
and religious conflicts. In 2002, the latest date for which
figures are available, there were 29 active armed conflicts
and, again, nearly all of them were within states.1
Almost every country has been built through
the integration of different cultures. In Europe, only Iceland
could be said to be a mainly mono-cultural society.
And even there things are changing!
If diversity is the norm within our own
societies, why do we find such intolerance towards people
we consider different? Clearly, there is no single answer
to this question and developing every aspect that should
be taken into consideration would take more than this pack.
Nevertheless it may help to clarify things if we try to
explore the origin of these "new" multicultural
societies whose appearance is less sudden than it seems.
When did you
first hear the expression "multicultural society"?
What did it mean to you then? What does it mean to you now?
Today's multicultural societies are,
to a great extent, the consequence of political and economic
In Europe, the development of
multicultural societies became more marked following the
end of the Second World War. As the East-West ideological
divide grew, great movements of people took place within
and around the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. Economic
regeneration in the northern and central countries (mainly
Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands) meant
that more workers were required.
During the Fifties and Sixties two main
types of migration occurred. First, we can see those who
would say "we are over here, because you were over
there". The majority of immigrants from colonies and
ex-colonies were people wanting to return to the 'mother-country'
and individuals from different ethnic groups, for instance:
Great Britain- India, France - Algeria, the Netherlands
- Indonesia. Secondly, the more industrialised countries
began to recruit people from the South of Europe (Spain,
Portugal, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey) and from other
Generally, they joined the labour market
of the receiver countries as manual workers and, as a rule,
were given a friendly reception. They were "needed".
What types of migration occurred into or away from the country
where you live from 1950 to 1970?
The economic crisis which began
in 1973, changed the situation. Previously unthinkable
rises in oil prices encouraged the development of new technology
and forms of production. Consequently rapid increases in
unemployment were experienced in every industrialised country.
This was structural unemployment and affected
mainly "the weakest" in the production system,
that is to say, those working in unskilled jobs, especially
foreign immigrants. The initial friendly reception turned
into fear or suspicion: "you are not needed anymore".
Foreigners were made into scapegoats for the economic problems
and blamed for taking jobs away from the host population.
Many emigrants from the Fifties and Sixties returned to
their native countries which were also suffering under the
economic crisis. One of the less well-known effects of the
massive changes in Central and Eastern Europe in recent
years has been the forced return of workers and students
to such countries as Vietnam, Mozambique and Cuba - they
were not "needed" anymore either.
Since the end of the seventies, Europe
has become an important destination of a new migratory flow
principally formed by people from the Southern Mediterranean
and so-called "Third World" countries. In contrast
to the immigration of the Fifties and Sixties, it has not
been initiated by European countries, but it has its origins
and explanation in the precarious social, economic and political
situation of the majority of countries in the world.
1 Sources: Armed Conflicts Active
in 2002: www.prio.no/cwp/armedconflict/current/active_conflicts_2002.pdf
(accessed January 2004) Department of Peace and Conflict