On May 10th, the Spanish newspaper El País published an online article titled Twitter, al Rescate del Sueño de Mandela (Twitter to the Rescue of the Mandela Dream) depicting the efforts of the Twitter communityto raise its voice against hate crimes in South Africa. Solidarity and social cohesion became loud and clear after South Africa
Photo: The Jews in Kolkata came from Baghdad about 220 years ago [Priyanka Borpujari/Al Jazeera] Could you imagine a deeply religious person in the service of an alien-faith institution, say a Buddhist taking care of an abandoned Christian Church? Well, you can now not only imagine it but also believe it. Al Jazeera’s article about
The Diversity School is an educational program implemented by the NGO Iris Group in Georgia in the South Caucasus. It offers young activists a platform of capacity building and ideas execution. The program strives for a pluralistic society “focusing on educating young people to give them the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to strengthen
On May 10th, the Spanish newspaper El País published an online article titled Twitter, al Rescate del Sueño de Mandela (Twitter to the Rescue of the Mandela Dream) depicting the efforts of the Twitter communityto raise its voice against hate crimes in South Africa.
Solidarity and social cohesion became loud and clear after South Africa and the international community turned to Twitter to take a stand regarding the latest outbreaks of violence, which specifically targeted immigrants in South Africa mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabue, Malawi and Ethiopia. The most recent outbreaks, fueled by xenophobic sentiments, began in March in the city of Durban, but have spread throughout South Africa including Johannesburg. Twitter served as a platform for all those who felt the moral and social duty to speak up against the unfortunate series of violent occurrences. On April 14th, Twitter users started raising their voices and identified their call to social justice and human rights with different hashtags, which quickly caught on among the Twitter users and reached outstanding numbers of supporters. Among the most notable hashtags are #XenophobiaSA which almost reached 100,000 #NoToXenophobia, which surpassed 90,000 #SayNoToXenophobia is around 68,000, while #StopXenophobia has surpassed 38,000. Winnie Mandela, one of the most recognized and important figures of this Twitter movement, expressed her heartfelt sentiments on April 14th, “This is not the freedom that we fought for. I am hearth broken #StopXenophobia. (WM).”
Other media are launching campaigns to do their part to raise consciousness that aims to create social cohesion given that the great majority of the victims are from other parts of Africa. LeadSA is an organization that promotes social progress and justice. Foundation Africa 2.0 launched a campaign at the end of January through social media to reject the wave of violence that Boko Haram has created.
It became apparent that South Africans and the international community, individuals and organizations alike, felt the urge to react against the hate crimes with the aim of creating public awareness and cease the violence. As Nelson Mandela said, “We can build a society grounded on friendship & our common humanity–a society founded on tolerance.”
Photo: The Jews in Kolkata came from Baghdad about 220 years ago [Priyanka Borpujari/Al Jazeera]
Could you imagine a deeply religious person in the service of an alien-faith institution, say a Buddhist taking care of an abandoned Christian Church? Well, you can now not only imagine it but also believe it. Al Jazeera’s article about the Kolkata Synagogue keepers (“Muslim families look after Kolkata Synagogues”) presents us with a heartening reality for future developments on a Shared Societies path. Just like medieval Spain, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together respecting and learning from one another’s cultures and beliefs, Kolkata in Eastern India- introduces us to a surprising panorama in which several Muslim families and one Hindu, take care of the three synagogues which are the almost abandoned Jewish heritage in their hometown.
The account of faith-based belligerency has spattered many of the pages of history books, with blood spilled in different wars in different times and between different identity groups. Such has been the impact of religions and the competition between them, that many of the conflicts alive or latent nowadays, can mostly be traced back to this kind of controversy: from the Charlie Hebdo attacks to the everlasting Arab-Israeli conflict. Sadly, the testimony of a religious person selflessly minding an institution of a different faith is an odd bird; however it suggests that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
The caretakers’ accounts are truly hopeful for a comeback to communal coexistence: “My father raised me by working here, and today I have the same job. It is God’s home, and it is my livelihood. I would give my life for this place”. Moreover, they shed an encouraging light on our awareness of the nature of religious wars: “The Quran, the Torah and the Bible have similar origins. How then could we be fighting?”
Living in the Synagogue’s compound and taking care of both the wellbeing and respect for the prayers, as well as acting in the capacity of “on-site” rent collectors for many of the Jewish property owners who have fled, has also provided these people a unique point of view that, if shared and agreed upon by their neighbours and countrymen, could prompt new developments, leading to a Shared Societies reality of peace and communal understanding: “The wars are taking place in other countries. If the Jews had any issues with our religion, they wouldn’t have hired us. Religion has its own place, while we have ours. This is something that we never think of. The Jews respect us and we respect them”
There are still many problems, in which a Shared Societies approach would struggle, as one of the caretakers stated: “Communal coexistence has been common across India and hence we don’t think of it as important. Yet, there is also a problem in becoming conscious about it”; however, their insider view could be vital for a better understanding of events.
The Diversity School is an educational program implemented by the NGO Iris Group in Georgia in the South Caucasus. It offers young activists a platform of capacity building and ideas execution. The program strives for a pluralistic society “focusing on educating young people to give them the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to strengthen a tolerant Georgian society.”
More specifically, the Diversity School Programme aims to increase the inclusion of minorities while promoting equal opportunities in school and youth employment. On the program’s website the organization stated the main objectives and values, among them:
- “to promote a pluralism of identities enabling members of different social groups in Georgia to better understand each other” and;
- “to empower young people to use the potential offered by diversity to shape Georgia’s future as a country with space for a variety of ethnic groups, each possessing a broad range of aspirations and beliefs.”
To participate in the Diversity School activities candidates must be aged between 18 and 24, have an affinity with ethnic minority issues, be active in the local community and have an interest in diversity education and youth activism.
The NGO Iris Group was founded in Tbilisi in 2010 as a non-profit and non-governmental organization with a main purpose “to support young people to figure out their potential, use the strength of diversity and contribute to the development of their society by active participation.” Prior to 2012, the activities of Iris Group were mainly focused on the South Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). Since then Iris group has started to implement activities in Russia and Turkey working with ethnic minorities and strengthening them to become full members of the society.
Through workshops and specific material the organization provides resources for project management, mentoring, non-formal education and development of Educational Programs in the field of active citizenship. One of these training activities was published in an article in the local newspaper Georgia Today, where one of the participants mentioned that “Diversity School taught me to write, gave me experience as a project manager and taught me to overcome hardships (…).”
As stated in a European Parliament report, Georgia is the most ethnically diverse state in the South Caucasus. Its minorities constitute 16% of the population including large Armenian and Azeri minorities, each speaking their own language. Georgians themselves are divided into four separate groups: Georgians proper, Megrelians, Svans and Laz. The report highlighted that minorities are poorly represented in the political system and state structures. In the 150-member Georgian Parliament there are three Armenians and three Azeris. Insufficient knowledge of Georgian, the national working language, among minorities hampers more active participation by them in the decision-making process of the country.
The Diversity School program alludes to one of the fundamental components of Shared Societies Project, the creation of a shared vision of society at local and national level through projects in schools and other institutions in order for young people to think about their society and their place in it and the place for other identity groups. Initiatives such as the project implemented in Georgia encourage young people to envisage a shared society for the future.
The Club de Madrid has had a long interest in Georgia as one of the countries coming out of the Soviet Bloc, and at present is considering a more active involvement to help the government and people to work on diversity issues.
 Directorate General for External Policies, European Parliament: “Minorities in the South Caucasus: New visibility amid old frustrations”, June 2014.