28th Jan 2020

EU launches intercultural dialogue year amid criticism

The newly launched 'European Year of Intercultural Dialogue' has been criticised by personalities in the field of culture who say that the European Commission's sudden interest in cultural pluralism is at odds with its own day-to-day policy-making.

Slovenia, as current holder of the EU presidency, hosted the official inauguration of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue with a grand ceremony in capital Ljubljana on Tuesday (8 January).

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The project, with a budget of €10 million, plus monies from EU capitals, includes seven flagship trans-European projects and 27 national projects involving culture, education, youth, sport and citizenship. It aims to encourage understanding, tolerance, solidarity and a sense of common destiny among people in Europe.

A two-day international conference on the issue was held prior to the launch in Ljubljana, discussing the role of the media, education and the economy in relations between different EU cultures.

Opening the conference, Slovenian culture minister Vasko Simoniti said that the Slovenian presidency would try to give meaning to the "positive dimension of Europe's historical interlinkage," and underlined respect for each nation's language as a basis for co-existence between different cultures.

According to European Commission data presented in December, three out of four EU citizens welcome dialogue with other cultures.

Not without cultural diversity

But Brussels' push on intercultural issues has met with some criticism. German Conservative MEP and member of the European Parliament's culture committee Ruth Hieronymi pointed to discrepancies between the promotion of intercultural dialogue and competition laws proposed by the same institution.

"To practice intercultural dialogue, it is necessary to perceive, preserve and protect cultural diversity," the MEP said.

She warned that smaller countries' media and creative sectors risk being eaten up by "big business", if submitted to ordinary competition rules.

"Look at online music, the diversity is reducing rapidly, it has already started," Ms Hieronymi said.

EU law says that the union should preserve and promote cultural diversity in all its legislation, but according to the MEP, this is not taken into account in legislative work.

Ms Hieronymi was referring to a public consultation launched by the European Commission, asking citizens about their view on creative content online.

"There is no reference to cultural diversity at all in the consultation form; the Commission does not even ask if the citizens want culturally diverse internet media".

Cosmopolitan awareness

According to culture commissioner Jan Figel, "Cultural diversity is Europe's wealth, rather than its problem."

"The expansion of the EU and migration are only increasing this diversity. We therefore need more dialogue between cultures as a contribution to a higher level of mutual understanding between various nations, ethnicities and religions, and in order to overcome nationalism and xenophobia."

Members of a round-table discussion on culture and dialogue, however warned about the use and definitions of "intercultural dialogue" and "culture" in such a context.

"Intercultural dialogue is a beautiful expression," said Odile Chenal, deputy director of the European Cultural Foundation, which supports cultural cooperation activities across Europe.

"But I have some hesitation in using this expression, because it is often used in a celebratory way, out of any context, as a magic against all kinds of problems, conflicts, tensions our contemporary societies are facing," the director continued.

"The danger when calling too systematically for intercultural dialogue is that of 'culturalisation' of differences. Cultural differences are closely interwoven with social issues. We run the risk of misusing culture and intercultural dialogue as a way of hiding social and economic differences, and of stigmatising these differences as "cultural", Ms Chenal stated.

Slovenian poet, professor and expert on European cultural and identity policies, Ales Debeljak, spoke out against a static classification of cultural belonging.

He said Europe should promote "cosmopolitan awareness" of the individual rather than stick to "narcissistic differences".

Mit kritischen Stimmen ins Europäische Jahr des interkulturellen Dialogs

Mit kritischen Stimmen ins Europäische Jahr des interkulturellen Dialogs

Das kürzlich eingeläutete "Europäische Jahr des interkulturellen Dialogs" hat Kritik aus den Reihen Kulturverantwortlicher geerntet, die das plötzliche Interesse der Europäischen Kommission an kulturellem Pluralismus als gegensätzlich zum täglichen Politikgeschäft sehen.

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