22nd Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

Intercultural cities: “Showing all citizens the advantages of diversity”

Strasbourg, 21 March 2012 - The Congress is associated with the “Intercultural Cities” programme launched by the Council of Europe and the European Union, and is also working to promote diversity at the municipal level.  On 21 March, the Chamber of Local Authorities in the framework of the Congress 22nd Session, invited the mayors of six European towns and cities to present their achievements in this field, leading on to a debate centring on these experiences.

Opening the debate, the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Ireland), Andrew Montague, presented the committees which his city had set up in order to combat racism, as well as the many events geared to promoting the fact of “living together”.  Even the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations were now intercultural, while the Irish themselves joined in the city’s Chinese and African festivals.  Going beyond dialogue, Andrew Montague said that the emphasis also had to be on the benefits of opening up to the world: “After Silicon Valley in California, Dublin is the home of the largest number of computer specialists worldwide, and we owe this success to our policy of openness to the world and interculturalism”.  Similarly, the Deputy Mayor of Limassol (Cyprus), Savvas Stouppas, stressed that the city constantly reminded all its inhabitants that bringing in foreign enterprise was a means of economic development for the whole population, not a threat.

Rotterdam, the major Dutch port, 50% of whose population was now of foreign extraction, also saw the advantages of interculturalism for its development, but noted that some groups “are marking time in social terms”, especially Turkish women who stayed at home, while others were making swifter progress, as Korrie Louwes, Deputy Mayor of this city, put it.  Rotterdam was also using urbanism to bind the different communities together, for example by building a new bridge between the centre and the city’s northern districts.  Another example was Geneva, which, for different reasons, was one of the most intercultural cities in Europe, with 46% foreigners.  “Although our foreign residents are diplomats, international civil servants and business men, we still have to come up with the means of living together”, said Sandrine Salério, a Geneva administrative councillor.  While the idea of “cultural diversity” often evoked the fairly recent arrival of foreign populations in a country of immigration, in some towns and cities such diversity went back to much earlier times: Irina Tesleva, Deputy Mayor of Izhevsk in the Russian Federation, explained that her city housed no fewer than 132 different ethnic groups, all of whom had learnt to live together over time: nowadays the religious groups helped each other build new places of worship, education passed through the crucible of cultural diversity, and their music festivals were celebrated throughout Russia. Mustafa Dundar, mayor of Osmangazi/Bursa (Turkey), for his part reiterated the long tradition of "living together" and the coexistence of cultures in his city, which was also the first capital of the Ottomans.

Beyond the places of encounter, joint institutions and action to encourage dialogue, the intercultural towns and cities were striving to pinpoint joint solutions to improve exchanges and coexistence among all their communities.  The debate which followed the city presentations also highlighted the importance of promoting each community’s historical and cultural heritage.  A further topic discussed was inter-faith dialogue, also touching on the issue of secularism.