Tag Archive for club de madrid

Positive Peace and Shared Societies

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The Shared Societies Project was represented at “From Theory to Practice: Inaugural Positive Peace Conference” held by the Institute for Economics and Peace at Standford University, California, USA, on October 5, 2015.

The Institute for Economics and Peace has sought to better understand the drivers of peaceful societies through the development of an empirical framework that identifies the optimum environment in which peace can flourish. This is termed Positive Peace. The main contribution has been the development of a framework of inter-related factors or Pillars of Peace, identified by analyzing over 4,700 different indices, datasets and attitudinal surveys. Countries with higher levels of Positive Peace are less likely to slip into major conflicts, are more likely to experience less violence, and are better equipped to bounce back from internal or external shocks caused by economic conditions, societal disagreements and natural disasters.

During the Conference’s session “Positive Peace and Systems Thinking”, aimed to examine positive peace through the lens of systems thinking, Necla Tshirgi, Professor of Practice, Human Security and Peacebuilding at the University of San Diego and and member of their Project Expert Advisory Panel, participated on behalf of the Shared Societies Project.

Necla Tshirgi spoke about the fundamental interrelationships between positive peace factors and Shared Societies. See copy of her presentation here

Cities Against Racism

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The International Coalition of Cities against Racism is an initiative launched by UNESCO in 2004 to establish a network of cities interested in sharing experiences in order to improve their policies to fight racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

In times of growing globalisation and urbanization, municipalities are a key factor in ensuring that all their citizens, regardless of their nationality, ethnic, cultural, religious or social origin can live in dignity, security and justice. The initiative is expressly supported by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the world’s largest organisation of municipalities, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).

On December 10th 2004, the “European Coalition of Cities against Racism” was established in Nuremberg, and a “Ten-Point-Plan of Action” was adopted. In order to take into account the special conditions and priorities of different regions of the world, further regional coalitions have been established in the two following years and have worked out their own action plans.

The “Welcoming Cities – Keys for an anti-racist culture” General Conference was held in Karlsruhe, Germany, October 8-9, organized by the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism. In these intense two days, representatives of European Cities identified and shared good practices to fight against racism, promote social inclusion and improve the efficiency of the public services offered to migrant and refugee’s population.

The Club de Madrid Shared Societies Project has decided that involvement with local activities has a number of advantages; promoting social inclusion at this level may be possible when national governments are not ready to engage with issues of inter-group relations at the level of national policy. To develop this area of work, the Club de Madrid has developed a publication to emphasize the role of Shared Societies at the local level with dedicated materials based on the existing Shared Societies Project documents and made specifically relevant to local contexts. The English and French versions of the publication, “Local Government for Shared Societies”, was disseminated during the Conference in Karlsruhe.

Benedetto Zacchiroli, ECCAR President and representative of the City of Bologna, gave the keynote speech focused on the challenges of the recent refugee crisis in Europe. He stressed that “the Mayors of European cities are in the forefront of receiving the requests of help for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, to facilitate their acceptance and their integration.”

Turning to the issue of migration, Frank Mentrup, Mayor of Karlsruhe, stressed that “the exchange of best practices is the best tool to combat racism and discrimination.” The Mayor also explained how the City of Karlsruhe is undertaking special measures to promote a culture of anti-racism through cooperation with civil society organizations and actions in public spaces of the city.

Club de Madrid staff officer, Rafael Moreno, and representatives of the ECCAR Secretariat and UNESCO held bilateral meetings in order to discuss further cooperation on initiatives to promote social inclusion and diversity at the local level.

Refugees attitudes in Europe

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On August 6th, The Guardian published an article: “German TV presenter sparks debate and hatred with her support for refugees”. The article’s author wrote how the German TV presenter Anja Reschke denounced that, racist comments have recently become socially acceptable and it’s common to make them under real names. Her declarations generated debates about emerging racism in Germany.

Until recently, such commentators were hidden behind pseudonyms, but now these things are being aired under real names, (…) in reaction to phrases like “filthy vermin should drown in the sea”, you get excited consensus and a lot of “likes” on social media.

However, the article’s author mentioned that the aggressive response towards foreigners is seen as a minority reacting to the changing face of Germany where one fifth of the population is now of a migrant background, according to statistics out this week.

Since then the Germany Government has accepted many more refugees and advocated within the European Union for a better system for receiving refugees. The situation is changing day by day.

The mainstream debate and attitudes have been overwhelmingly positive, with many communities and individual families welcoming refugees, most of whom have fled conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In most towns, inhabitants received new arrivals, offering help, collecting food and clothing, offering language lessons for free, and even inviting them to live with them. Some neighbors help them with the shopping and with the bureaucratic issues, others give them presents and even install a satellite dish for them so they could watch Syrian TV.

Yahian, a Syrian refugee with his family in a village in Germany told their experience arriving in Germany to The Guardian:

There were flowers, candles, milk and coffee waiting for us. They tried to make it as comfortable as possible. It was cold, wet and dark. My wife was crying, she was so nervous, but we’ll never forget the warmth of their welcome.

The Pastor of his village, also help him to negotiate with the butcher to provide halal meat.

The Guardian, also published an article on the same topic that emphasizes the desire of Germans citizens to improve the situation of refugees, and described a project created by a couple that felt uncomfortable with the way Germany were treating them, “Refugee Welcome” (http://www.refugees-welcome.net/). This initiative consists in sharing home with refugees; “Accommodating a refugee does not have to mean losing out on the rent of a room, Refugees Welcome representative said. In a third of the cases, costs are covered either by the job centre or social welfare payments, and a quarter of the rents are paid for via micro-donations to the site”. 26 people have been placed in private’s houses so far, and more than 780 Germans have signed up to the website.

Acts like the ones described above demonstrates that most of the Germans do their best to make the refugees feel like home. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Germany is a country used to integrate both immigrants and refugees, having “one of Europe’s most hospitable asylum systems”.

 

“No to Xenophobia”: the Twitter Community Speaks Up

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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.”

“My Synagogue is your Synagogue”: Muslim caretakers in India

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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.

Diversity Schools in Georgia

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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[1], 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.



[1] Directorate General for External Policies, European Parliament: “Minorities in the South Caucasus: New visibility amid old frustrations”, June 2014.

 

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