ALEXANDER LANGER: A tentative decalogue of living together
The multi-ethnic coexistence will be the norm more than the exception; the alternative is between ethnic exclusivism and convivial cohabitation.
Situations of coexistence of communities of different language, culture, religion, ethnicity on the same territory will be increasingly frequent, especially in cities. This, on the other hand, is nothing new. Even in ancient and medieval cities there were African, Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Polish, German and Spanish neighborhoods...
The multi-ethnic (1), multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-national cohabitation... therefore belongs, and will increasingly belong, to normality, not to exception. This does not mean, however, that it is easy or obvious, on the contrary. Diversity, the unknown, the stranger complicates life, it can be frightening, it can become an object of distrust and hatred, it can provoke competition to the extreme of "mors tua, vita mea". The very experience of those who from one valley marry in another valley in the same region, and must therefore adapt and in turn require respect and adaptation, proves it. The increasingly massive migrations and the mobility that modern life entails inevitably make the rate of inter-ethnic and inter-cultural intertwining in all parts of the world higher.
For the first time in history one can - perhaps - consciously choose to face and resolve in a peaceful way such numerous movements of persons, communities, peoples, even if at their origin usually lies violence (poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation, war, persecution...). But rhetoric and declared voluntarism are not enough: if you really want to build the coexistence between different people on the same territory, you need to develop a complex art of cohabitation. On the other hand it becomes increasingly clear that approaches based on the affirmation of ethnic or related rights - e.g. national, confessional, tribal, "racial" - through objectives such as ethnic state, ethnic secession, ethnic purge, national homogenization, etc.. lead to conflicts and wars of unpredictable scope. The alternative between ethnic exclusivism (however motivated, even for self-defense) and multi-ethnic cohabitation is the real key issue in ethnic matters today. Be they oppressed or minority ethnic groups, recent or older immigrants, religious minorities, ethnic awakenings or inter-ethnic conflicts, and inter- confessional, inter-cultural ones.
Multi-ethnic cohabitation can be perceived and lived as enrichment and opportunity rather than condemnation: there is no need to preach against racism, intolerance and xenophobia, but rather positive experiences and projects and a culture of cohabitation.
Identity and cohabitation: never one without the other; neither forced inclusion nor forced exclusion.
"The more clearly we will separate, the better we will understand each other": there is today a strong tendency to address the problems of multi-ethnic coexistence through clearer separations. The "melting pots", the crucibles declaredly pursued as an objective (for example in the USA), are not widely accepted, and there is an increasing number of uprisings against more or less forced assimilations. At the same time there are movements for equality, against marginalization and ethnic discrimination, for equal dignity.
The policies of forced inclusion (assimilation, prohibitions of languages and religions, etc.) and forced exclusion (marginalization, ghettoization, expulsion, extermination...) have not proved their worth. It is necessary to allow a wider range of individual and collective choices, accepting and offering moments of ethnic "intimacy" as well as inter-ethnic meeting and cooperation. Ensuring the maintenance of identity, on the one hand, and equal dignity and participation on the other, must complement each other. This requires, of course, that not only the public rules and regulations, but above all the communities concerned are oriented towards this option of civic cooperation.
Get to know each other, talk to each other, inquire, interact: "the more we deal with each other, the better we will understand each other".
Cohabitation offers and requires many possibilities of mutual acquaintance. In order for it to take place with equal dignity and without marginalization, the highest possible level of mutual knowledge must be developed. "The more we deal with each other, the better we will understand each other", could be the counter-proposal to the separatist slogan mentioned above. Learning about the language, history, culture, habits, prejudices and stereotypes, fears of different communities living together is an essential step in the good inter-ethnic relationship. A great role can be played by common sources of information (newspapers, radio broadcasts), can help a lot to avoid the risk that ethnocentric visions consolidate to become obvious and taken for granted.
Ethnic maybe yes, but not to as simple as one dimension: territory, gender, social position, free time and many other common denominators.
It has its legitimacy, and sometimes perhaps even its good reasons, the ethnic organization of a community, of the different communities: as long as it is freely chosen, and does not become in turn integralist and totalitarian. So we will have to accept ethnic parties, ethnic associations, ethnic clubs, often even schools and ethnic demands. But it is clear that if you want to promote coexistence rather than (self-)ethnic isolation, you will have to value all the other dimensions of personal and community life that are not in the forefront of ethnicity. First of all the common territory and its care, but also professional, social, age ... and especially gender objectives and interests; women can discover and practice common goals and sensitivities. It is necessary to avoid that a person spends his whole life and all the moments of his day within ethnic structures and dimensions, and also offer other opportunities that will normally be inter-ethnic-based.It is essential that people meet and talk and assert themselves not only through the "diplomatic representation" of their ethnicity, but directly: so it is very important that every person can enjoy strong individual human rights, in addition to the necessary collective rights, some of which will also have an ethnic connotation (use of language, protection of traditions, etc.); not all collective rights must be enjoyed and channeled by ethnic lines (e.g. social rights - home, employment, care, health or environmental rights).
Define and delimit membership in the least rigid way possible, do not exclude multiple affiliations and interferences
Usually ethnicity does not require a particular definition or delimitation: it is the result of history, tradition, education, habits, rather than option, will, precise choice. More rigid and artificial becomes the definition of belonging and demarcation against others, more dangerously the vocation to conflict is inherent. The emphasis of discipline or even ethnic imposition in the use of language, religious practice, dressing (up to the uniform imposed), in everyday behavior, and even legal definition of membership (records, notes on documents, etc..) bring in itself an insane urge to self counting, to the test of strength, tug-of-war, the erection of barricades and physical borders, the demand for a territory all and only own.
Allowing and encouraging, instead, a more flexible and less exclusive practical notion of belonging and thus allowing a certain osmosis between different communities and multiple reference by subjects "border" favors the existence of "gray areas", low definition and ethnic discipline and therefore more free trade, inter-communication, inter-action.
Avoiding any legal form to "tag" people from an ethnic (or confessional, etc.) is part of the necessary preventive measures of conflict, xenophobia, racism.
The self-determination of subjects and communities must not start from the definition of their own borders and prohibitions of access, but rather from the positive definition of their values and objectives, and must not arrive at exclusivism and separateness. It must be possible to have a loyalty open to more communities, not exclusive, in which the children of immigrants, the children of "mixed families", the people of more pluralist and cosmopolitan backgrounds, will be accepted above all.
Recognizing and making visible the multi-ethnic dimension: rights, public signs, everyday gestures, the right to feel at home.
The coexistence of different ethnic groups, languages, cultures, religions and traditions on the same territory, in the same city, must be recognized and made visible. The members of the different communities living together must feel that they are "at home", that they have citizenship, that they are accepted and rooted (or that they can put down roots). The bi- (or pluri-)linguism, the viability for different religious, cultural, linguistic institutions, the existence of structures and specific opportunities to recognize and enhance each ethnicity present are important elements for a culture of cohabitation. The more we organize the coexistence of languages, cultures, religions, characteristic signs, the less we will have to deal with disputes about the relevance of places and territory to this or that ethnicity: any form of exclusivism or ethnic fundamentalism must be diluted in the natural coexistence of signs, sounds and multiform institutions. (Franjo Komarica, bishop of Banja Luka, a multi-ethnic town with a Serbian majority in Croatia, today much disputed between Serbs and Croats, says it in a nutshell): "a meadow with many different flowers is more beautiful than a meadow where only one variety of flowers grows".
With difficulty, Europe has learnt to accept the presence of several confessions that can coexist on the same territory and not aim to dominate everyone and everything or to expel each other: now the same process must explicitly happen about a multi-ethnic reality; living together between different ethnic groups on the same process must explicitly happen about a multi-ethnic reality; living together between different ethnic groups on the same space, with appropriate individual and collective rights to ensure equal freedom and dignity to all, must become the rule and not the exception.
Rights and guarantees are essential but not enough; ethnocentric norms favour ethnocentric behaviour
Do not believe that ethnic identity and inter-ethnic cohabitation can be ensured primarily by laws, institutions, structures and courts, if they are not rooted among the people and are not based on a widespread social consensus; but do not underestimate the importance of a clear and reassuring regulatory framework, which guarantees everyone the right to their identity (through linguistic, cultural, educational, media rights, etc.. ), to equal dignity (through guarantees of full participation, against any discrimination), to the necessary self-government, without temptations of annexation in favor of some of the ethnic communities living together.In particular, it seems very important that situations of inter-ethnic cohabitation enjoy a framework of autonomy that pushes the local community (all, without ethnic discrimination) to take its fate into their own hands and that compels inter-ethnic cooperation, so as to develop a common territorial awareness (and "Heimat"): this may help to discourage attempts to resolve tensions and conflicts with forcing on the territorial "status" (annexation, border changes, etc.).
And do not forget that laws and structures strongly ethnocentric (i.e. based on the continuous emphasis of ethnicity, clear ethnic separation, etc.) inevitably end up exacerbating conflicts and tensions and generate or strengthen ethnocentric attitudes, while - on the contrary - laws and structures favorable to inter-ethnic cooperation can encourage and strengthen choices of good living together.
The importance of mediators, bridge builders, wall jumpers, frontier explorers. We need "traitors of ethnic unity", but not "defectors".
In any situation of inter-ethnic coexistence there is, in principle, a lack of mutual knowledge, relationships, familiarity. Extreme positive importance can have people, groups, institutions that consciously place themselves on the borders between living communities and cultivate in all ways knowledge, dialogue, cooperation. The promotion of common events and opportunities for meeting and common action is not born from nothing, but requires a tenacious and delicate work of awareness, mediation and familiarization, which must be developed with care and credibility. Beside the identity and the more or less clear borders of the different ethnic groups, it is of fundamental importance that someone, in such societies, is dedicated to the exploration and overcoming of borders: activities that maybe in situations of tension and conflict will look like smuggling, but they are crucial to soften the rigidities, relativize the borders, promote interactions.
Explosions of nationalism, chauvinism, racism, religious fanaticism, etc. are among the most disruptive factors of civil coexistence that we know (more than social, ecological or economic tensions), and involve practically all dimensions of collective life: culture, economy, daily life, prejudices, habits, as well as politics or religion. Therefore, a great capacity is needed to face and dissolve ethnic conflict. This will require that in every ethnic community people and forces capable of self-criticism towards their own community are valued: real "traitors of ethnic unity", but they must never turn into defectors, if they want to maintain their roots and remain credible. Just in case of conflict is essential to relativize and reduce the pressures that lead the different ethnic communities to seek external support (protective powers, external intervention, etc..) and enhance the elements of common bond to the territory.
A vital condition: to banish all violence.
In inter-ethnic coexistence it is difficult that there are no tensions, competition, conflicts: unfortunately, ethnic, religious, national, racial conflicts, etc.. has an enormous power of involvement and mobilization and puts in place so many and such elements of collective emotion that it is very difficult to govern and to reach reasonable solutions if it gets out of hand.
One necessity therefore stands imperiously above all others: to ban all forms of violence, to react with the utmost decision every time the germ of ethnic violence appears, which - if tolerated - risks triggering truly devastating and uncontrollable spirals. And even in this case, laws or police are not enough, but a decisive social and moral repulsion is needed, with strong roots: a convinced and convincing no to violence.
The pioneer plants of the culture of cohabitation: mixed inter-ethnic groups
Small mixed groups ( as small as they can be) can be invaluable in situations of tension, conflict or even simple inter-ethnic coexistence.They can experience the problems, difficulties and opportunities of inter-ethnic coexistence on their own skin and as in a courageous pioneering laboratory. Inter-ethnic groups can have their precious value and carry out their work in the most diverse fields: from religion to politics, from sport to leisure time sociality, from trade unionism to cultural commitment.
In any case, they will be the most advanced ground for experimentation in living together, and therefore deserve every support from those who care about the art and culture of cohabitation as the only realistic alternative to the re-emergence of a generalized ethnocentric Barbarity.
(Translator: Marianella Sclavi)
1 The term "ethnic", "ethnicity" is used here as the most comprehensive of national, linguistic, religious, cultural characteristics that define a collective identity and can exasperate it to the point of ethnocentrism: the most widespread collective ego-mania today.