Part a

key concepts
and basis for intercultural education

Chapter 1
Challenges, Problems and their Origins

Looking at

• 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 situations

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 societies.

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 for all.

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 or rejection

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 deaths.

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 processes.

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 near countries.

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: (accessed January 2004) Department of Peace and Conflict Research:

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