The Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS) organized a two day European Conference on “Tolerance, Pluralism and Social Cohesion: Responding to the Challenges of the 21st Century in Europe” that took place on 27-28 September 2012 at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus. The Conference was organized within the framework of the project Tolerance, Pluralism and Social Cohesion: Responding to the Challenges of the 21st Century in Europe – ACCEPT PLURALISM funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme, DG Research, Social Sciences and Humanities.
The aim of the conference was to present the main findings of the research undertaken across Europe in relation to tolerance and intolerance on political and civic participation and diversity. Further, the conference aimed to discuss the (in)visibility of the gender dimension in discourses and policies on tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism in Europe and to provide insights on its relevance as an analytical tool and in the formulation of policy.
Please see the conference programme here.
Thursday, 27.09.2012 – Policy Conference
The conference was launched with a welcome address to the participants by Josie Christodoulou (Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies).
The first session started with an introduction by Tariq Modood (University of Bristol) on the basic tenets of the ACCEPT PLURALISM project conceptual framework. Anna Triandafyllidou, (European University Institute Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies) presented the consortium and the project’s structure and research design. The third speaker of this panel was Aristos Tsiartas, Head of the Anti-Discrimination Body of the Commissioner of Public Administration of Cyprus, who has outlined what is currently going on in Cyprus in relation to tolerance and acceptance of migration.
A lively discussion followed with regard to the relationship between accommodating native minority and migrant populations. With regard to the special case of Cyprus the question was raised whether the country’s internal cultural and religious diversity as well as the experience of living together in the past (the two communities: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and the three religious minorities: Maronites, Armenians and Latins, who are recognised in the Constitution) helps face current/new challenges from migration-related diversity
Anthoula Papadopoulou from the Cyprus NGO KISA noted that the “national” problem in Cyprus has been a negative factor for accommodating migrants. If Cyprus had been re-united this would have prompted Cypriot society to open up. Tariq Modood however argued that when there is a fierce controversy between two native communities (eg. African Americans and Whiles in the USA, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) migrants and other minorities may be less visible and less discriminated because they fall in the ‘gap’ between the two. Veit Bader cited the case of Switzerland, an internally diverse country where migrant integration policies are particularly demanding towards the migrant. He noted that previous arrangements among native minorities, achieved after a lot of negotiations and compromise between native minority groups are hard to open up again to accommodate new forms of diversity.
Nikos Trimikliniotis from the University of Nicosia emphasised that Cyprus has a double face: “filoxenia” towards tourists and wealthy migrants; subordination and exploitation of migrant workers. He argued that the dominant discourse in Cyprus distinguishes between the ‘good’ migrant (the domestic worker, the ‘intimate’ other) and the ‘bad’ migrant (the male worker, the asylum seeker, the ‘threatening’ other).
After the coffee break, the Second Plenary Session concentrated on the Tolerance and Intolerance in political life and the challenges that cultural diversity brings in the political life of the 16 countries studied by the project.
Maurizio Ambrosini (University of Milan) in his presentation Local policies of exclusion offered a critical overview of the kind of exclusionary national and local policies enacted in several European countries (Italy, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands) making the lives of migrants more difficult and de-legitimising their position in society.
Jon Fox (University of Bristol) offered a presentation entitled Native minority representation and participation structures (on the basis of a report prepared by Ayhan Kaya, Istanbul Bilgi University) on the challenges that native minorities pose in their countries when they raise claims for political participation and representation in state structures. The case studied include: Samis in Sweden, Silesians in Poland, and Hungarians in Romania and Circassians in Turkey
Flora Burchianti (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) discussed Far right discourses of intolerance and reviewed the rise of extreme right wing parties in Spain, Greece, Hungary, Denmark and Germany and the overall rise of racist discourses of intolerance in these countries. This session concluded with the presentation Religion and politics in France and the UK by Jan Dobbernack (University of Bristol) on the mobilisation of Muslims in both countries.
Veit Bader (University of Amsterdam) introduced the discussion on this session. The debate that followed can be summarised in the five main points below:
The first issue discussed was how the backlash against immigrants at the local level (reported in Italy and Spain) relates to the backlash at the national level registered in countries like in Denmark, where intolerant policies at the national level are contrasted to local policies promoting migrant integration. One actually notes that there is today a varied combination of national and local policies for exclusion with different aims (actual or symbolic) targeting different constituencies.
Native minority claims for accommodation can be seen as manifestations of the imperfect nature of any national state which actually is not culturally or ethnically as homogenous as theory has it. We do note however important differences between the ways in which such minorities are accommodated in each state ranging from rejection to mere tolerance to full respect.
The theoretical framework for making sense of the position of native minorities within the states they live in should expand to include native minorities, national minorities and ethnic minorities (expanding Will Kymlicka’s distinction). However the distinction between native and national minorities can be unclear in many ways (e.g. are Hungarians in Romania an indigenous nation?)
There is a tendency to normalise intolerance arguing that it is not about different political views but rather about scrapping a fake political correctness discourse and talk about the ‘real’ problems that migration or native minorities are posing in ‘our’ society.
The usefulness of tolerance depends on the matter at stake however and the specific context. Perhaps this is the limit of tolerance?
Friday, 28.09.2012 – Gender, Diversity and (In)tolerance in Europe
The first session on far right discourse of intolerance towards diversity was chaired by Maurizio Ambrosini (University of Milan).
Zsuzsa Vidra (Central European University, Budapest) presented a case study on Intolerance discourses towards Roma in Hungary. She noted that intolerance towards the Roma in Hungary is based on racial arguments and the far right calls for breaking down taboos of political correctness.
Hara Kouki (European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies), offered a presentation on Intolerance discourses towards immigrants in Greek politicspointing to the spread of far right arguments in the Greek public sphere and the normalisation of intolerance towards immigrants and Muslims.
Flora Burchianti (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona) made the last speech in this session analyzing Discourses of intolerance towards immigrants in Catalunya. She pointed out that in Catalonia unlike Greece and Hungary the far right remains a marginal electoral force but the mainstream Conservative party has adopted strongly racist and xenophobic discourses towards intra EU migrants from Roma ethnicity in recent times.
Per Mouritsen (Aarhus University) commented on the above presentations arguing that there is a diminishing space for tolerance today in European democratic societies as new forms of intolerance (liberal or nationalist) emerge on the basis of older forms of intolerance based on race or ethnicity or religion.
In the discussion that followed participants questioned the links between ‘old’ and ‘new’ forms of intolerance and racism and asked whether the right-left wing cleavage is relevant for explaining discourses of intolerance. It was argued that in southern European countries such a right vs. left wing cleavage is visible and relevant but that in old migrant receiving countries in northern Europe left wing forces often engage in liberal intolerance views against minority religion people.
The second session of the morning concentrated on Issues of minority participation and representation and was chaired by Jon Fox (University of Bristol).
Marko Hajdinjak (International Centre for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations IMIR, Sofia) discussed the case of Roma and Turkish political representation in Bulgaria presenting recent efforts of the Bulgarian state to curtain Roma and Bulgarian Turks minority vote.
Lasse Lindekilde (University of Aarhus) spoke of The limits of tolerance in Danish political life. He presented two contested events organised by radical Muslim actors in Denmark and questioned the limits of ‘tolerating intolerance’ in Denmark.
Angeline Escaffre Dublet (Sciences Po, Paris) discussed The concept of laicite and Muslim mobilization in France pointing to how the concept was appropriated also by Muslim groups, to claim for equality and denounce discrimination.
Nasar Meer (University of Northumbria) introduced the discussion during the second morning session. He noted the important differences among the three cases but proposed some common threads in particular: The role of civil society for mobilising and ‘appropriating’ the discrimination discourse and turning it on its head (France); The importance of participation through formal institutional channels (e.g. voting rights in Bulgaria but also the right to hold a public meeting as in Denmark).
The discussion that followed revolved around the following questions: What are we opposing in the Danish case: a specific group or extremists from whichever side they come from?
What is the basis for decision: instrumental (let them hold their talk because opposing them would give them more publicity?) or value-driven (what is the bottom line of our tolerance? What is the kind of discourse that we consider intolerable? Where do we draw the line?). And, lastly, why aren’t liberal arguments used against the Roma in Eastern Europe?
After the lunch break, the Conference re-convened with a session entitled Is (in)tolerance gendered?. Nicos Trimikliniotis (University of Nicosia and NGO Symfiliosi) chaired the session while Anna Triandafyllidou presented an introductory speech entitled: Insights on the (in)visibility of gender in the study of tolerance/intolerance in public life.
Nina Muhe (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt a. O) introduced the discussion noting that gender has been implicit in several of the ACCEPT PLURALISM studies particularly in the construction of Muslims as ‘Others’. She agreed with Anna Triandafyllidou that gender inequality is used to create ‘ingroups’ and ‘outgroups’. The attribution of gender inequality to Muslim culture actually relieves the non Muslim population from all burdens and allows them to argue that they have left the challenges of gender equality behind them, Nina Muhe argued. However a closer look at the experiences of Muslim women shows that they are subject to discrimination and contempt which is often triggered by their mere wearing of the veil.
The debate on the issue continued intensely on a number of questions, such as the notion of Muslim feminism and its various meanings. Several participants noted that Muslim feminism can present a challenge to dominant discourses about what gender equality entails and how it can be expressed by women from different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Several participants also emphasised the need to critically address discourses that patronise Muslim women. Similarly it was noted that gender inequality is often instrumentalised by conservative actors (that may not otherwise be at all concerned about gender equality in general) to exclude Muslim groups and stigmatise Muslim culture.
Gender and (in)tolerance in political and public life
The second part of the afternoon was also chaired by Nicos Trimikliniotis (University of Nicosia and NGO Symfiliosi) and concentrated on issues of gender and tolerance/intolerance in political and public life with several contributions by NGOs active in the field of gender and migration.
Josie Christodoulou (Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, MIGS) presented the results of a study on the Civic Participation of Migrant Domestic Workers in Cyprus outlining the exploitative conditions that many of these female migrant workers face.
Anthoula Papadopoulou from the NGO KISA (Action for Equality, Support and Antiracism), offered a talk on Racism and public discourse and its impact on migrant women. She outlined the contours of migration policy in Cyprus and discussed the ways in which this policy perpetuates inequality, exploitation and exclusion among migrants in the country and in particular among women migrants.
The third speaker in this session was Sebihana Skenderovska (National Roma Centrum in Macedonia) who talked about the European Roma Strategy and the issue of Participation in Public Life and Political representation – the European Roma strategy.
The concluding presentation of this session was offered by Alwiye Xusein, Chair of the European Network of Migrant Women. She discussed the issue of Migrant Women and Political Participation in Europe and the challenges that migrant women face regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
After the four presentations, the discussion floor was opened. The themes discussed included the role of the NGOs in formulating policy about Roma or migrant women issues and how they seek to achieve this. Their consultative role leaves them without too strong a voice although developing a network organisation can be particularly helpful. Moreover, another issue raised was the question of irregular migrant domestic workers in Cyprus and Europe in general and the special challenges that they face.
The Conference concluded with the presentation of the Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe