An inspiring event with many insights and different perspectives on Inclusion, Solidarity and Isolation took place at the Peace Palace in The Hague on May 10th. The following morning after Europe’s day, May 9th,was a great chance for people from different educational, cultural and national backgrounds to meet and interact. The European Cultural Foundation, the Peace Palace together with the Migrationlab and the Haagse Hogeschool invited citizens and various stakeholders to this intergenerational and intercultural meeting.
Such a chance for inspiring and fruitful multifaceted dialogue rose due to the high demand for dealing with the current challenges that European citizens and countries are confronted with. Extreme digitalization rhythms, refugee crisis, nationalism, political distrust and urban gentrification were just amongst the topics discussed at this informal conference. Europe’s fundamental values are being challenged and the ECF has long proved that focusing on culture is a powerful tool to overcome development obstacles.
Princess Laurentien moderated the conference that was held at the Peace palace based in the Hague. However, this Citizens’ dialogue was structured in a non-formal way and suggested the starting point for informal conversations and reflection moments. What made it informal was the format that facilitators of the ECF decided was the best way to approach those issues and bring together people from different generations and backgrounds. Following the introduction and presentation of the day, all 200 participants sat down at ultra diverse world-cafe type tables. Policy-makers, students, civil servants, change-makers, social and creative entrepreneurs worked together in world-cafe workshops. The goal behind forming those discussion tables so diverse was to generate outcomes and ideas whose common ground is underpinned and guided through culture and mutual understanding.
Three key and stimulating questions were assigned to the audience by Princess Laurentien, creating a call for debate and deep conversation. The first one was related to how can we, as European communities, establish online and offline inclusive practices in order to engage everyone in our society. In addition to the above question, inclusivity on local level was touched upon and how we can foster solidarity in Europe. Following that, the third question concerned the scaling-up of those outcomes, from the local to the European level tackling isolation and fostering the co-living of all communities.
Ideas such as embracing acceptance techniques, enhancing the sense of common responsibility and democratic representation were deeply highlighted. During the first round of discussions, participants pointed out the significance of the big gap between the political approach to resolve current problems and the needs themselves. With the intention of tackling this structural frustration, as well as racial discrimination, people came up with ideas that connect and bring citizens together, rather than dividing them. For example, one student claimed the importance of introducing tangible and alternative channels, where ordinary people and newcomers have the possibility to meet and interact with one another. Cultural, athletic or everyday activities are informal settings where the means of interaction is not necessarily based on verbal communication and the sense of belonging is highly and equally shared. Representative media, sports or intercultural events and gatherings can unite people, while bringing to light insights of the newcomers’ culture. Such practices can prove to be successful from the perspective of mutual understanding and sense of belonging.
Other forms of bridging people from all different sorts of backgrounds and mindsets are developing networks through which newcomers can feel ‘at home’ and more welcome. This form of connecting citizens can potentially challenge and reduce the notion of otherness, while both native and international groups feel safe to express them in a ‘meet-me-halfway’ formula. In order to tackle isolation and achieve inclusiveness it is pretty essential to adopt more universalistic attitudes that promote win-win goals, instead of just the adaptation of Western patterns.
All in all, it was a wonderful half-day event open to everyone and designed for fruitful discussions. However, breaking “others’” isolation and engaging “them” in our society posed threats such as “us vs. them” and raised certain questions that we all have to ask ourselves first: “Whose isolation are we talking about?”, “How many types of diversity can we think of?”, “Who decides what the Dutch identity is?” and finally “How can we think in multiple ways?”. Such stimulating questions are meant to pose us in the place of thinking before acting. If we really want to foster a common European liberal thinking and attitude, we have to shape the right entry for newcomers. Are these guidelines boosting the divide “us versus them”?