AER Summer Academy, Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia 17-23 August 2014,

Multicultural, Multiethnic and Multilingual regions, Regional diversity for socio-economic growth

Speech by Dobrica Milovanovic (Serbia, Ppe/Cce), Congress Member


Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues,

I would like to start by thanking the AER for giving the Congress and myself the opportunity to participate in this Summer Academy and to share our experiences with you.

These debates are taking place at a time when the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of our continent has become a major challenge for European democracy. This is also a time when the economic crisis - but also a crisis of confidence in democratic institutions- has brought to the fore the need to strengthen social cohesion and solidarity in our societies. That is why, today it is essential, more than ever to consolidate the construction of a society based on active participation of all citizens regardless of their origin, and harmonious relations between different cultural groups in Europe.

Today I have been invited to talk about multiculturalism and multilingualism. I will add to this “interculturalism”. Naming and defining our reality and our aims is an important part of the debate. I would like to make some distinctions.

But before I do that, I would like to refer to a recent controversy around this theme that arose in the United Kingdom. You may have seen in the press how the British Prime Minister David Cameron accused multiculturalism for being at the root of rising religious fundamentalism. He said, as quoted in the Daily Mail on 12 August, “the mistake of multiculturalism aided extremists”. Mr Cameron evaluates multiculturalism as ‘encouraging different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream”.  His critics were quick to point out that “Britain is stronger because of its open, multi-faith and multi-racial communities.

I think both parties have hit upon a point here that needs thinking about. Multiculturalism is a reality on the one hand: people from different cultures exist together in our countries.  It is also true that we also aspire to some sort of unified society. Then there are different perceptions of how this unity should come about. If there is not one set of truths about the world, but rather many, how are we to live together in diversity?

Since the 1990s when the concept of multiculturalism entered the sociological jargon, we have seen an evolution a multiculturalist perspective to an interculturalist one.  In my speech, I will mainly use the words intercultural, multilingual and plurilingual. Let me explain why I will do this.

A multicultural society is one where people from different cultures, nationalities, ethnic and religious groups live in the same area, but may not necessarily be in contact with one another. Mutual differences may become the basis for discrimination and resentment and where minorities may be tolerated but not necessarily fully accepted or valued. Multicultural societies are a reality. 

An intercultural society is an aspiration. It is about living together and embracing diversity. It is about societies where people from different cultures, nationalities, ethnic and religious groups live in the same area and keep an open and impartial relationship with one another. They recognise each other’s way of life and accept these differences, live together and actively encourage a balance of interest, tolerance and self–achievement. This aspiration has found its expression in many Congress projects.

Interculturalism means accepting cultures as living entities, which evolve and transform themselves through encounters with other cultures. It must, however, be based on an inclusive approach, on the respect and realisation of the human rights and the fundamental freedoms of each and every member of the community.

The Congress believes that interculturalism is the best policy approach to achieve social cohesion and sustainable urban development, as it actively promotes pluralism, justice and equal opportunities within local communities.

Now I come to the second theme of my speech: a natural consequence of multicultural societies is a multilingual public and if we wish to promote cultural diversity, the corollary of this is the implementation of plurilingual policies.

'Multilingualism' refers to the presence in a geographical area, large or small, of more than one 'variety of language' spoken by a social group, whether it is formally recognised as a language or not. People may be speaking only the language of their ancestors which is not the official language of their State.

'Plurilingualism' refers to situations where there is a whole repertoire of languages spoken by the same individuals; which includes a 'mother tongue' or 'first language' and any number of other languages, official or not. So, the fact is that, in some multilingual areas some individuals are monolingual and some are plurilingual.

Council of Europe policy attaches particular importance to the development of plurilingualism, which combines education in a national language with education in a regional or minority language. This means acquiring a repertoire made up of different languages at different levels of proficiency.  Language is a key aspect of cultural identity. It is central to the collective memory of the population and the process in which complex cultural identities are transmitted.

I would like to underline the dynamic aspect of language learning: a person’s language repertoire changes in its composition throughout the individual’s life. The use and development of an individual’s plurilingual competence is possible because different languages are not learned in isolation and can influence each other in the learning process. This is why the Council of Europe language education policies aim to promote both PLURILINGUALISM: and LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY.

I should underline that the Council of Europe has a strong arsenal supporting these policies:

The right to use and to learn one’s language(s) is protected in Council of Europe Conventions. The “European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages”, opened for signature in 1992, in force since 1998, has been ratified by 25 States and signed by eight others. It promotes cultural heritage and its purpose is to enable speakers of a regional or minority language to use it in private and public life.

Another important treaty in this regard is the “Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities”, in force since 1998, and ratified by 39 States and signed by 4 others. Its key words are: cultural diversity, protection of minorities and intercultural dialogue.

I should perhaps also mention, as part of the Council of Europe arsenal for promoting living together in diversity, the European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level of 1992. This Convention provides foreigners who have five or more years of residence with the right to participate in local political life and elections.

Last but not least, let me mention the main Congress document, the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which enshrines the right to participate in the management of local affairs as a cornerstone of democracy.

Our understanding of DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP requires participation which may be facilitated by the plurilingual competence of individuals.  This is also necessary for SOCIAL COHESION, for equality of opportunity for personal development, education, employment, mobility, access to information and cultural enrichment depends on access to language learning throughout life.

Linked to all this - and of major importance for the Congress - is the concept of INTERCULTURAL CITIES. This is about targeted municipal policies and the creation of public spaces which allow people of different cultural origins to mix and exchange, for better mutual comprehension. The philosophy of “Intercultural Cities” stems from the simple truth that despite our differences, we are all living together in our communities and towns, and share the responsibility for our common well-being.

Managing diversity is very much a local government affair:  Most efforts and most of the funding allocated to manage diversity is deployed locally – which is why the Congress is a proponent of all policies geared to promote intercultural policies.

Now, I would like to go back in time and trace the history of Congress activities in these three domains.

Over the past two decades, the Congress has adopted a wealth of proposals for intercultural action at the grassroots and has been actively involved in promoting multi- or intercultural and plurilingual societies.

The Congress involvement with this approach started when its predecessor, the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe adopted a Resolution in 1992 on “a new Municipal policy for multicultural integration in Europe and the Frankfurt Declaration[1]”.

Noting that “European societies are irrevocably led to develop as multi-ethnic and multicultural societies”, the Congress recognised the necessity for a change of direction, especially in the structures and policies of the public authorities, beginning with municipalities and regions, towards multicultural integration.

This is why the Congress approved the establishment of a new local and regional policy for multicultural integration in Europe and it adopted a twofold strategy centering on the reinforcement of local citizenship and the emergence of a European citizenship gradually breaking away from nationality and based on the principles of democracy, citizen participation and freedom of movement of all residents on European territory.

This was followed by a series of texts, all geared to promoting integration and participation. In 2000 the Congress formulated recommendations on the participation of foreign residents in local public life, in 2002 on “consultative councils of foreign residents” and in 2004 on “A pact for the integration and participation of people of immigrant origin in Europe’s towns, cities and regions”.

In 2006, the Congress elaborated the “12 principles of interreligious dialogue for local authorities”, which laid down the groundwork for its action to foster and to build productive intercultural relations at the grassroots.

This was followed by a series of recommendations[2]  for improving the integration of migrants through local housing policies and on diversity in local authority employment as well as a resolution on minority Languages, which declared them to be AN ASSET FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

The Congress has been very receptive to the approach which draws attention to the economic component of cultural variety. Its 2010 report on “Minority languages – an asset for regional development” and its 2013 Recommendation on “Integration through self-employment: promoting migrant entrepreneurship in European municipalities” are proof of this.

About 60 of a total of 90 European languages are regional or minority languages with more than 100 million speakers. This means that nearly one out of seven Europeans is a native speaker of a minority language. 

Economic growth and survival and preservation of minority languages are interdependent. On the one hand the preservation of minority languages is only possible in economically developed regions, whose population is not threatened by migration. On the other hand, cultural activities have a stimulating effect on employment because they tend to be labour-intensive. Tourism, transfrontier cooperation and schools as businesses stimulate employment.

As regards the integration of migrants, regional authorities were encouraged to mainstream migrant employment and enforcing non-discrimination legislative measures in order to increase social cohesion and foster regional economic development.

So, to summarise, the Congress basis its action on the premise that, for democracy and for economic prosperity, we must find ways of living together that unite us while recognising our diversity – and we must do this starting at local and regional levels.

The most recent Congress action in this field has been aimed at changing perceptions of diversity through intercultural education and effective communication at the grassroots. The Congress is working on a report in order to identify the existing problems and to recommend measures for improving understanding of what we call “diversity advantages”. The report and recomendation, which draws on the experiences and good practices of networks active in this field,  will be discussed and adopted by the Congress at its October session this year.

To conclude, I would like to underline that interculturalism is not about diluting or compromising fundamental rights and freedoms and democratic rules based on the rule of law. On the contrary, in order to be able to ensure and promote the development of social cohesion, dignity and equal opportunities for all members of society, regardless of their ethnic, cultural and social roots, we would need this strong platform of fundamental values that the Council of Europe stands for and whose implementation the Congress is promoting at the local and regional level.

[1] The Frankfurt Declaration towards a new municipal policy for multicultural integration in Europe was adopted at the close of the International Conference "Europe 1990-2000: Multiculturalism in the city - The integration of immigrants", Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany (29-31 May 1991), organised by the Congress in co-operation with the Council of Europe Community Relations Project and the Multicultural Affairs Department of the City of Frankfurt-am-Main.

[2] Recommendation 252 (2008) on Improving the integration of migrants through local housing policies”; the Recommendation 262 (2009 on “Equality and diversity in local authority employment and service provision”; Resolution 301 (2010) on  Minority Languages.