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Diversity policies in European institutions: intercultural cities

Irena Guidikova presents the case of the intercultural cities network to explain how cultural diversity can be concretely promoted in Europe
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The Council of Europe is a pan-European intergovernmental organisation with 47 countries. And it’s in itself very diverse. So we do understand diversity fundamentally from our daily work. But in terms of legal instruments and policies, the Council of Europe has focused on diversity in two main ways. One is emulating discrimination on diversity grounds, and through the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as a monitoring body on discrimination called ECRI, which makes recommendations to member states of how can they can reduce ethnic, cultural discrimination as well as other forms of discrimination. But perhaps more interesting and innovative is the Council of Europe’s approach to diversity as an advantage.
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And it has created specific policy framework called intercultural integration, which helps cities, local authorities, to manage diversity as a resource.
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So intercultural cities approach starts from the idea that has been proven by research, by sociology, economy, social psychology, that diverse groups, diverse companies, enterprises, organisations, and even cities, more creative, more dynamic, more productive, but on certain conditions. And these are precisely the conditions that the council of Europe is encouraging cities and countries to put in place, how to manage diversity as a resource and not as a problem. So the intercultural cities network is a tool that helps cities put in place such policies.
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Now interculturalism tries to balance between the culture of the receiving country and the cultures of newcomers, and say that the public policies need to ensure equality, and reciprocity, and mutual respect between these cultures in order for them to become a resource for the city. Now today, in more than 90 cities across Europe and actually worldwide are applying this intercultural integration policy paradigm in order to build trust between citizens of different cultural backgrounds and open opportunities for all of them. That means redesigning public institutions, services, even decision making systems so that they recognise the resources and the contributions these newcomers make, and give them opportunities to influence the decisions in these institutions.
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For instance, I give you the example of Botkyrka, a city in the Stockholm region, where the urban police is working with youngsters from minority backgrounds, and not only from minority background, in order to understand the dynamics of youth culture, the challenges, and problems that these young people might have. And those are to bring them to understand how the police work. So there’s a fundamental process of building a relationship and trust between diverse people and the police. This leads to a very interesting phenomenon that whenever there’s urban unrest or any kind of problem, the police are aware because they have this close relationship with youngsters.
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They are aware, and they can anticipate, and actually stop in the bud any kind of unrest. So when recently, two or three years ago, there were large, large scale riots in the Stockholm outer areas, in Botkyrka, that was very contained– almost nothing happened– which proves that that kind of intercultural approach, building trust between institutions and citizens of diverse backgrounds works.

Irena Guidikova presents her institution, the Council of Europe, which gathers a wide variety of countries and operates to promote cultural diversity in two ways:

First, it strives to eliminate discriminations, through the European Convention on Human Rights as well as other instruments.

Second, the Council of Europe promotes diversity as an asset. More precisely, Irena Guidikova presents the Intercultural City network, which helps cities to manage cultural diversity as a resource. She develops the case of Botkirka in Sweden, where the building of trust between citizens and institutions contributed to alleviate social unrest.

What do you think about the role that cities can play in managing diversity?

And what is the role that programmes such as the Intercultural Cities programme of the Council of Europe can play in this respect?

Can you think of similar examples/challenges in your own city/country?

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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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