INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE ...



Question Α:
How can one contribute towards identifying, evaluating, developing and exchanging experience and good practice in intercultural dialogue on European scale?

The French motto for the movement of social solidarity in the 1990s, "touche pas a mon pot...", a response to Nationalists' racism, i.e. is still prevailing in the European citizens' collective consciousness in regard to an open and tolerant society, based on inter-cultural dialectics.

European cultural pluralism embraces all of Europe's values and comprises a fundamental component of the European political and social model. This component is further reinforced and enriched by cultural diversity and inter-cultural dialogue.

The cultural identity being structured in the European Union cannot replace the vast variety of particular cultural identities, whether they are national and therefore the majority ones or they are minority ones. These are identities the EU has no exogenous relation with, since they are closely associated with the historical memory of its citizens, the social sensitivity and the political culture of Europe, i.e. that of open and tolerant societies.

The entity of the European Union implies the consolidation of a single but not singular European identity and expression, in the sense of being united through diversity and differences.

Such a value may emerge only through a broad participation of citizens in the European Civil Society, which presupposes that the establishment of one's cultural identity is a non-compromised right. Thus, such a composite cultural identity should be associated with the democratic participation of citizens both at the level of a macroscopic vision of a common European future and at the level of their daily "here and now".

Besides, it becomes obvious that it is necessary to recognise a European cultural identity and a single European cultural area, that will be established on the respect for the various national traditions and identities of Member States as well as the recognition and consolidation of minority cultural elements - both old and new - and the contrasts these generate, while also providing the necessary unifying features in the daily lives of European citizens.

Millions of people from South and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa have migrated to Europe in recent years, thus creating a de facto multi-cultural society.

However, beyond immigrants and refugees, there are other social groups, such as the Rom, who comprise a cultural minority group with a long history in European countries; they still encounter discrimination, prejudice and racist attitudes, due to cultural differences, stereotypes and preconceptions. To be more specific, in Greece, there are 200.000 Greek citizens of Rom origin; their overwhelming majority live under conditions of extreme social exclusion.

The bad living conditions of Rom are blatantly visible; their vocations are more or less familiar, so much so that they are considered quaint due to prevailing stereotypes, which easily lead to the inference that the terms and manner of their living is their own choice, based on their particular cultural traditions, i.e. that they are features of their cultural identity, which, in turn, determines their social identity and behaviour.

What is less known, nevertheless, is how all these are translated into the daily life of a Rom, how and to what extent it dictates the terms of their transactions with mechanisms such as schools, health and welfare services, administrational agencies what do they signify for the opportunities and possibilities open to them, what do they indicate for the terms of their survival.

The prevailing collective view on Rom’ living conditions is that they consciously choose their way of life, i.e. the stereotype of the nomad, cut off from social structures (and, therefore, "antisocial") Rom.

This collective stereotype has formed the "cause - effect" ideological basis for distorted and exaggerated attitudes that have gone as far as hidden or open racist views on the Rom' anti-social nature, upon which the Rom choose to live in miserable conditions. Such views have prevailed in most cases and have created collective alibis for a society that does nothing (in the best of cases) or exhibits violent behaviour towards whole Rom communities and groups.

The collective social view claims that Rom are by nature marginal characters, deviant, uneducated and, generally speaking, unable to adapt to life models mainstream societies choose. Let us remember here that such superficially simplistic views have historically created the theoretical background for racial and social discrimination, which led society to well-known shameful acts and extreme atrocities (besides, recent exciting discoveries in the field of genetics, following the decodifying of human DNA, have irrevocably excluded any theories of racial differences from human thought and reflection).

Rom, as a group, experience universal exclusion, being caused and resulting from their particularity and their being different. However, at the same time, they want and seek social inclusion. They seem to be overcoming the phobias and reluctance generated by their long-standing exclusion and they are articulating their assertive discourse, seeking their physical and social establishment, their acceptance by local societies, their peaceful and co-operative co-existence within them, their integration, not in the dominant mainstream culture, but definitely in the context of the Democratic achievements of Greek society, so as to safeguard their uncompromised social rights.

The right to a different social identity and cultural expression is non-negotiable. In this light, any inclusion policy should not be a policy of cultural assimilation in the all-levelling dominant culture.

Question Β:
What information and communication initiatives could contribute towards involving all European Union residents, and particularly young people, in the promotion of intercultural dialogue in day to day life and familiarising them with it?

Social exclusion and cultural divides are born in the environment of the cell of "social biology", i.e. the "neighbourhood". At the neighbourhood level, and especially in "neighbourhoods in crisis", in quarters of urban exclusion, characterised by poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructure, absence of social amenities and all their consequences, i.e. being cut off from local social institutions and deviant behaviour, a vicious circle is created and maintained: it is the vicious circle of social and cultural discrimination. This vicious circle of social exclusion might be reproduced, thus, creating a continuously diminishing balance level ultimately resulting in social annihilation.

In the 1990s, the prevailing motto of European scientific and social thought, "Think globally, act locally", probably expressed in the most accurate manner possible the new dimension of social action. The combination of the need to have a holistic view leading to a theoretical basis of social planning with an imperative demand for local action through measures for social support and action is contained in this impressively concise phrase.

This is why any actions and initiatives undertaken should have the neighbourhood as their unit of reference. It is in the neighbourhoods where citizens of Rom origin live that initiatives should be undertaken for the mutual recognition and acceptance of every citizen. Every action must aim at the creation of small permanent institutions to promote the Rom Cultural Identity and the expression, highlighting and functional inclusion of the Roma in Local Society scale Cultural structures and activities.

Such actions should aim at positively discriminating in favour of the Rom cultural identity, as a feature of the social identity of Rom citizens, through modern terms and means of expression, following communication and exchanges with the rest of the social body. These actions should create a CROSSROADS of multiple encounters, of culture, of social participation, of dialogue and reflection, ultimately aiming at mutual acceptance and understanding of citizens at the neighbourhood and Local Society levels.

CROSSROADS will form a stable point of Cultural encounter and communication, of participation in joint cultural activities of Rom citizens at the level of the municipality, which may develop into a permanent cultural institution and a model for the dissemination of best practices into other areas where there are Roma Communities.

This will be a modular programme of events, of dialogue, of criticism and self-criticism, with an emphasis on the participation of Rom themselves in the institutional expressions of Local Society, at all its levels, where culture is produced directly or indirectly, where cultural products are generated through specific actions.

ACTION 1.
CULTURAL EXPRESSION AND MODERN CULTURAL CREATIVITY: ART WORKSHOPS

1. ROM NOTES: ROM MUSIC MOTIFS AND MODERN MUSIC FORMS
2. MOVEMENT - DANCE - EXPRESSION
3. PHOTOGRAPHING DAILY LIFE
4. PROJECTING THE PAST INTO THE FUTURE: PROMOTION OF POLITICAL TRADITION AND HISTORY THROUGH MODERN TECHNOLOGY

Such actions concern organising biannual Art Workshops on the thematic units presented above, through the Cultural Centre of the Municipality, with the participation of citizens of (mainly) Rom origin. The Workshops aim at highlighting and renewing features of the Rom culture through modern expressive forms and schemes, beyond stereotype perceptions.

ACTION 2.
DIALOGUE AND THINKING WORKSHOPS: CRITICISM AND SELF-CRITICISM

1. CULTURAL IDENTITY - SOCIAL IDENTITY AND SOCIAL INCLUSION
2. INTERPRETING THE PAST - PLANNING THE FUTURE: POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF ROM CULTURAL TRADITION
3. CULTURAL DIFFERENCE: AN INDIVIDUAL RIGHT - A SOCIAL OBLIGATION
4. THE CULTURAL DIMENSION AND THE ROM WAY OF LIFE: INTERACTION AND MUTUAL DEFINITION

These activities concern dialogue and debate workshops involving Rom citizens through their collective expression groups (Panhellenic Federation of Greek Roma, several Associations, etc) and representatives of social institutions, mainly from Local Government, the educational system, Public Administration services as well as Civil Society bodies, through voluntary Non-Governmental Organisations. These workshops aim at reflecting on and developing a common way of thinking on the thematic units mentioned above, in order to explore, through criticism and self-criticism, the interaction of the cultural particularity of the Rom and their social exclusion.

ACTION 3.
THE ROMANY LANGUAGE : ORAL TRADITION - COMMUNICATION - LINGUISTIC ITINERARIES OF A DISAPPEARING LANGUAGE


1. THE ROMANI LANGUAGE: RESEARCH AND TEACHING AT THE HIGHER EDUCATION LEVEL
2. ORAL TRADITION: ROM TALES - MYTHS - POETRY - MOURNING SONGS - RELIGIOUS HYMNS

The Romani language and oral Rom tradition comprises a multivalent linguistic and cultural treasure, which needs research, recording and dictionary compiling so that it may be salvaged as a linguistic achievement that managed to survive and evolve through time and history. In the context of the project, a linguistic workshop will be held, with the participation and co-operation of competent University Departments. The main aim of the workshop will be to collect and record data concerning linguistic issues and oral tradition as well as their influence on the cultural and social cohesion of Rom and the spread of their linguistic expression under modern social terms.

ACTION 4.
CULTURAL CROSSROADS: AN INSTITUTION OF ENCOUNTER - COMMUNICATION - EXPRESSION:


1. FESTIVAL - SPECIAL EVENTS
2. EVENTS BY CULTURAL CENTRES: ROM ARTISTIC GROUPS - MIXED ARTISTIC GROUPS
3. FILMS UNDER THE STARS: ROM CINEMA

This action concerns an annual Festival cycle comprising events that will promote the cultural works and results of the workshops within Local Society. Through Rom and mixed artistic groups of the Cultural Centre, cultural creation/works produced will be presented to the general public along with the positive message of artistic creation, thus establishing cultural communication bonds and highlighting the aspect of cultural diversity.

ACTION 5.
THE ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN THE PROMOTION OF THE ROM CULTURAL IDENTITY

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ENCOUNTERS CIVIL SOCIETY: LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND NGOs IN SEARCH OF A RELATIONSHIP

Local government is a critical field of encountering and unification of Local Society. The development of initiatives by Municipal services and, in particular, by the cultural, sports, and educational agencies, so that they may include Rom children in their structures, promotes equality, favours lifting mutual prejudice, tones down social strife and, thus, has a positive effect on eradicating phenomena of social exclusion and discriminating lines. Such an initiative requires planning and specific goals, demands the training of members of various agencies staff, so that they do not reproduce distortions and new divides.

This action also includes seeking out a new relationship between Local Government, its agencies and NGOs. So far, experience has shown that Local Government and NGOs have found themselves in opposite camps, which leads to tension. Local Authorities have been wary and suspicious vis-a-vis the intentions of NGOs, while NGOs have been aggressive and critical of Local Authorities and their choices.

ACTION 6.
THE ROLE OF EDUCATION IN THE CULTURAL ENCOURAGEMENT OF YOUNG GYPSY CHILDREN

SCHOOL CULTURE AND EQUAL PARTICIPATION - PROMOTING ROM CULTURAL WEALTH THROUGH SCHOOL ARTISTIC ACTIVITIES

The critical role of school education in the shaping of prerequisite conditions for a child's social inclusion is well-recognised. It is within the school environment that contrasts and discriminating behaviour patterns are produced - intentionally or unintentionally - and they stigmatise children subject to them; this way terms of isolation are created that determine the children's failure at school and finalise their social exclusion.

For these reasons, a Programme of school cultural activities will be created to incorporate Rom cultural tradition in schools. This will help promote the children's cultural identity within and outside school, to increase the children’s and their parents' self-esteem concerning their cultural identity and to reinforce, in general, the acceptance of cultural particularities within the critical school environment.

ACTION 7.
SPORTS AT THE SERVICE OF SOCIAL INCLUSION OF THE YOUNG

This process is more effective and functional when actions address the young, who are usually more receptive to social initiatives and more ready to overcome social exclusion stereotypes. Local institutions of social and collective activation, such as Sports, may, under certain conditions, help the prospect of social inclusion of Rom citizens, and, especially, the young.

The aim is to attract young Rom to local Municipal Services (which are responsible for implementing the Programme), to develop a sense of "belonging" in the form of collective expression, and, therefore, to deal with the phenomena of "individual solutions", which, in cases of socially excluded individuals, might lead to deviant behavior, which might ultimately ruin the person involved.

The participation of young Rom in such sport schemes aims at bonding the young, at reinforcing their self-esteem and indirectly bringing them into contact with other group and team schemes, so that they can be involved in them in the long run through their own smooth intentional social inclusion process.

Linking the Youth Sports Programme - in areas where there are Rom communities - with the general strategy for social inclusion at the local level is another significant aim.

The Programme must be part of such planning and operate as a means of communication of the young with Municipal Agencies for the establishment of a permanent channel so that the young and their families may approach Local Authorities.

Question C:
What specific European scale initiatives likely to reach, directly or indirectly, as many people in the European Union as possible- could contribute towards promoting intercultural dialogue?

Communication activities aiming at producing material to promote positive messages in the context of a comprehensive policy for the social inclusion of Rom citizens.

Aims of such initiatives are:
a) to create prerequisite conditions so as to reverse social exclusion phenomena concerning Rom experiencing marginal exclusion conditions;
b) to promote a model of communication between Rom and local societies that will ease and not exacerbate social inequalities;
c) to turn the social exclusion problem into an issue of concern for the whole of the local society rather than a problem that concerns only socially excluded groups;
d) to strengthen the positive image of Rom communities in the eyes of agencies and local societies through "positive messages".

In order to structure the concept of a "positive message", both conceptually and at the level of specific actions, it is necessary to define in a global manner the complexity and depth of this social issue, its particular aspects as well as the subjective perception of the very persons experiencing social exclusion.

On this basis, the elements constituting such a conceptual context are as follows:

The specific aspects of Roma social exclusion, as defined by recent surveys and approaches, are reflected in the Rom' inadequate access to institutions and social rights, especially in the specific “thematic fields" selected:

   Civil and Municipal status,
   Establishment - Residence - Homes,
   Health and Social Welfare,
   Education,
   Employment and Social Security

These 5 references are defined as the 5 aspects of social exclusion and should be perceived as a single system of intertwined factors, rather than as a set of isolated factors.

The 5 dimensions of social exclusion cannot be examined separately and in isolation from each other, since they comprise a single system of exclusion, whereupon each factor feeds on the other. Without the right to residence, there is no right to be institutionally recognised by the Greek State (Civil and Municipal status); without this status, there are no derived fundamental rights, e.g. to education. Without education (of all levels), there cannot be any way into the labour market, without employment there is no income, therefore, survival is not secured, which inevitably leads to deviant behaviour, deeper marginalisation and "fencing out" and deepening of social exclusion.

 
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