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Coordinated by Andreea ZAMFIRA

Need Of Intercultural Dialogue Between Black Sea Countries

Selami Ahmet SALGÜR

University of South-East Europe Lumina

 

 

Abstract: In human history, living together in peace without violence and problem has been a challenge for all humanity. Sometimes it has achieved, but it has just as frequently failed. It means that human beings prefer living together with people who are like them rather than with people who are different in appearance, speaking, eating, dressing, behaviour and beliefs, i.e. people from different cultures. However, cultural diversity and difference is a standard characteristic of modern societies. In these societies, individuals have to live with the people from different nations, colors, religions, languages and cultures. Black Sea Region is one of the most diverse regions in the world in terms of all these differences. Ethnic and religious diversity is an historical reality in this part of the world. There are Christians, Muslims and Jewish populations living together over centuries in a peaceful atmosphere. The States in Black Sea Region should develop cultural, educational and social policies to maintain this coexistence for the future generations.

 

Keywords: Black Sea, intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity.

 

 

1. WHAT IS INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE?

 

1.1. Origin of the intercultural dialogue concept

 

The Council of Europe used the term of “Intercultural Dialogue” at the beginning of the 1980s in the social work area to encourage the citizens’ involvement into the political process. As a result of the collapse of the communist regime in Eastern Europe and the enlargement of the Council of Europe with new members, the concept of intercultural dialogue became one of the most important agendas in the new Europe at the end of the 1990s and at the beginning of 2000s. This importance was the result of the increasingly pressing question of the “meeting of cultures”, caused both by the migration of people to Europe or in Europe and by the nature of national identities. People in Europe have to interact with different cultures because of travelling, technological improvements, or because of various economic reasons.

As a result of all these changes in social, economic and political situations in Europe, intercultural concept and policies related with intercultural dialogue have become more pivotal at the European policy level. The promotion of Intercultural Dialogue has been identified in the European Commission’s Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World as a tool contributing to the governance of cultural diversity within European societies, trans – nationally across European countries and internationally with other regions of the world. For this reason, the European Union has to create means by which to raise the awareness of and promote the cultural sphere, with a view to encouraging the European Union’s inhabitants to manage cultural diversity. Finally, the Commission proposed that 2008 be declared the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. This declaration was the result of this modern concept concerning the intercultural dialogue in Europe. The European Year of Intercultural Dialogue seeks to increase the visibility, efficiency and coherence of all European programs and actions that contribute to intercultural dialogue, such as the “Europe for Citizens 2007-2013” and the “Culture” program. This initiative also aims at integrating, as much as possible, intercultural dialogue in other European policies, actions and programs (European Union, 2008). The general objectives of the European Year were the following:

  • to promote intercultural dialogue as an instrument to assist European citizens, and all those living in the European Union, in acquiring the knowledge and aptitudes that enable them to deal with a more open and more complex environment;
  • to raise the awareness of the European citizens, and of all those living in the European Union, about the importance of developing active European citizenship which is open to the world, respectful of cultural diversity and based on common values (European Commission, 2008).

 

1.2. Definition of intercultural dialogue

 

There is no accepted definition for Intercultural Dialogue. The term is an adaptation of other terms, all of which remain current, such as multiculturalism, social cohesion and assimilation. Intercultural dialogue is a process that includes an open interaction between individuals from different cultural identities, with the aim of understanding each other’s opinions, ideas and values. This approach creates a chance to understand the origin of their differences, but also to appreciate the similarities that they share.

Intercultural dialogue is not a specific legal category that is regulated by international, European or national law in the strict sense. However, it is argued that the intercultural dialogue can only take place in an environment where a person is guaranteed safety and dignity, equality of opportunity and participation, where different views can be voiced openly without fear, where there are shared spaces for exchanges between different cultures to take place. From this point of view, there are indeed several international or European conventions, the European Union directives and national legal frameworks outlining basic human, civic, economic and social rights, upon which intercultural dialogue depends. As regards cultural rights, there are instruments, which recognize and enable the support for maintaining cultural difference, providing special rights to ethnic or linguistic minorities, such as promoting their cultures and the use of their languages in education or through media.

Intercultural dialogue is an important concept that contributes to overcome the boundaries that separate people and groups. However, dialogue is only the first part of the concept. It is necessary to go beyond dialogue and take concrete measures that reflect an understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity.

The best formulation at the moment is perhaps the terminology used by the Council of Europe in its White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, which states: “Intercultural Dialogue is understood as an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage”.

 

 

1.3. Importance of intercultural dialogue

 

In human history, living together in peace without violence and animosity has been a challenge for all humanity. Sometimes this goal was achieved, but it has just as frequently failed. It means that human beings prefer living together with the people who are like them rather than with people who are different in appearance, speech, eating, dressing, behaviour and creed as compared to their own community, shortly, people from different cultures. However, cultural diversity and difference are a standard characteristic of modern societies. In fact, this standard character is not always something “desirable”. In these societies, individuals have to live together with people from different nations, colours, religions, languages and cultures. This situation can cause a feeling of alienation of individuals and distrust between them. Cultural diversity in a society should be a treasure to celebrate and to be proud of, rather than a problem to overcome. Intercultural dialogue gives an opportunity to a forward – looking model for managing cultural diversity (Council of Europe, 2008). To understand a situation like that, people from different cultures living in the same society need to interact with each other in their daily lives.

Moreover, most people in certain societies have to cope with several cultures in their daily lives. Individuals in such societies need to have a dialogue with all different cultures[1]. For this reason, intercultural dialogue is a long – lasting process that requires a worldwide participation at all the levels of the society. Intercultural dialogue must represent the first issue of all politicians and policy makers. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to establish a world in which people understand each other.

Intercultural dialogue shares in managing multiple cultural connections in a multicultural atmosphere. As a result of intercultural dialogue, individuals have a chance to achieve a new identity balance, to respond to new challenges and experiences and to add new understandings to their identity without relinquishing someone else’s origin. Intercultural dialogue also contributes to avoiding pitfalls of identity policies and to remain open to the challenges of modern societies. Intercultural dialogue is progressively understood as one of the most important alternatives for developing mutual understanding, better living together and an active sense of European citizenship and membership. Intercultural dialogue can only expand when certain requirements are met. The democratic governance of cultural diversity should be adopted in many aspects to develop intercultural dialogue. Democratic citizenship and participation should also be strengthened; intercultural competences should be taught and learned; spaces for intercultural dialogue should be provided and guaranteed at international level.

Intercultural dialogue gives a good opportunity to the community integration. In contrast with assimilation which charges exclusively immigrants with the burden of integration, and multiculturalism which was light – hearted with regard to integration, interculturalism presupposes efforts and compromises on the part of both migrants or newcomers and host communities.

 

 

2. BLACK SEA REGION

 

             2.1. The geopolitical importance of the region

 

The Black Sea region is geographically a foreordained area to be controversial. The Black Sea has been a contested region for centuries because of its location between Europe and Asia. This fact has been confirmed so many times in human history. This area saw many political and economic transformations in history. In the past, the region belonged to and was claimed by several important powers. After World War II, it was the frontline between the democratic and liberal Western Europe and communist Eastern Europe. Turkey and Greece were guards of Western Europe as members of NATO along the south and south - east of Europe, and the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria occupied the rest of the region and were members of the Warsaw Pact. This situation restricted the chance to economic and social relations between these countries and also affected the communication and cooperation between the nations of the region.

This situation continued until the 1990s, with the demise of communism. Its importance has completely changed after the end of the Cold War. We have witnessed the transformation of communist states into democratic states and we have also observed the deep impact of the globalization on most of the countries in the region. As a result of these quick changes in the region during the last several decades, some authorities have named the region the Bermuda Triangle of Western strategic studies[2]. The geopolitical position of this space has changed completely with the birth of six new states and some secessionist events. As a result of these changes, the number of the states in the Black Sea region has almost doubled. Additionally the region attracted several great global powers. The states started their economic and political cooperation and deeper integration with the rest of the world. These economic and political changes provided some profits to the peoples living in this region.

The geopolitical and economical importance of the region has increased at the beginning of 2000s. The region plays a key role in the transportation of oil and gas through Asia to Europe, and offers a new economic market for global powers such as Russia, USA and the EU. All these powers developed their own policies regarding this region. As a result of the increasing importance of the region, we can classify these powers or interests in the region into three groups:

  1. 1.The interests of Western countries: this group includes the US and the major European countries in the EU. They produce different strategies for the region.
  2. 2.The interests of Russia and Turkey: these two countries have an increasing power in the region countries and have also some important strategies about them.
  3. 3.The interests of the rest of the region countries: these countries are very diverse and are confronted with different problems and issues.

(Major Interests And Strategies For The Black Sea Region, p. 3)

Within the new post-bipolar conditions of world order, regionalization has been seen as a positive and promising response to contemporary problems and challenges. Regional cooperation has been suggested to be particularly valuable in the regions that undergo fundamental political and economic transformations, as well as in the areas, which might originally lack mutual trust and confidence. Several authors have expressed their doubts whether the Black Sea area actually constitutes a region, arguing that it makes little sense geographically, historically, or even culturally. However, directly facing the real challenges such ideas may appear rather as a distant intellectual exercise. Although accepting that the Black Sea states do not show any dominant common regional identity, the area shares a lot of economic and political incentives, which create appropriate opportunities, even needs, for regional cooperation[3].

 

2.2. The economic situation of the region

 

The economic situation of these countries in transition worsened sharply just after 1989 until mid - 1990s. This happened so because of the sudden collapse of the communist system that affected the production and distribution of goods in these countries. The first phase continued until 1995, and constituted the initial economic transition in eight of the ten Black Sea countries. We can underline the reasons for this situation as follows:

  • The collapse of the old systems of production and distribution;
  • The weak or non - existent legal frameworks;
  • The non - functioning financial sector;
  • The radial though often misunderstood and inconsistently implemented structural reforms;
  • The macroeconomic instability characterized by high inflation (and sometimes hyperinflation) and a lack of fiscal control;
  • The added challenge of establishing the structures and institutions of new sovereign states.

Even non - transitional countries such as Turkey and Greece were affected by these economic crises and saw relatively high inflation, fiscal imbalances and weak or uneven growth in the same period. This situation started to change at the end of the 1990s and the economic and political power of the region began to stabilise. The economic decline was arrested and in some cases reversed, the initial market - oriented structural reforms began to have a positive impact, and the macroeconomic situation stabilized. The living standards, the welfare of these countries, the integration of these societies in the wider world, investment and trade increased after this period.

This economic development continued until the end of 2008. This was a period of high and sustained growth based on a series of factors, which included:

  • adaptation to a market - oriented system and all that it entailed for the population in general, including improvements in the legal framework and its implementation;
  • the fact that previous reforms, which had often been painful and expensive, began to pay dividends and have a positive impact, and that there was a robust response from industries which benefited from declining interest rates and earlier currency devaluations;
  • vast improvements in macroeconomic stability, including the greater credibility of governments, declining inflation, smaller fiscal deficits, and reduced external debt and debt service coverage ratios;
  • benign global economic conditions and enhanced trade and investment links with the wealthy markets of Western and Central Europe.

However, the global financial crisis that broke out in 2008 influenced the stability and economic situation of the region. This crisis almost led to the collapse of financial markets from all over the world. Its virulent impact on the Black Sea region resulted in a sharp halt of its growth. The economic crisis stressed the financial structure of the region and this affected the growth rate of these countries. In spite of these crises, the economic and political structure of the region is much better than it was in the 1990s, in terms of per capita incomes, goods and services.

 

2.3. The democratisation process

 

The Black Sea region suffered important political changes starting from the end of the 1980s. The democratic life and process of the region was influenced by the communist regime, with the exception of Turkey and Greece. 20 years after the collapse of the communist regime, the effects of this period on the democratic process are still topical in certain countries of this region. These effects still play important roles in overcoming the problems related to the democratisation process. While the democratisation process is completed in certain countries, the semi - authoritarian system is still valid in some others. Democratic institutions are still weak and people have no or have little experience related to democratic rights and political processes in these countries. Moreover, the party systems in most of the countries in the region are not yet stable.

 

2.4. Regional and international cooperation and organisations

 

It is obvious that the countries of this area can get more benefits from regional and international cooperation than from having independent relations with different countries, because of the geopolitical position of the region. International powers and organisations are also aware of this geographical importance. For this reason, international powers such as the EU, the US, Russia, China, NATO started to establish new relations and cooperation with this region.

As a result of this renewal of the relations, many organisations, structures and programs in the Black Sea region have been established since the collapse of the communist regime. Most of these organisations and programs are basically political, but economic relationships are also envisaged. Some of the main organisations are the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC), Black Sea Euro-region (BSER), Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM), Black Sea Cross Border Cooperation, the Black Sea Forum, Black Sea Organisation for Integration and Sustainable Development, the Transport Corridor Europe - Caucasus - Asia (TRACECA), the Danube Black Sea Task Force (DABLAS), the Interstate Oil and Gas Transportation to Europe (INOGATE), Black Sea Security Program (BSSP).

Most the countries of this region became members of these organisations and programs, and also started to participate in the activities they organise.

 

2.5. The need of dialogue in the region

 

In fact, the countries in the Black Sea region are very different in terms of size, economic situation and social life of the people. On the one hand, there are European countries such as Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and on the other hand there are small countries like Moldova and Georgia. In addition to this diversity, there are some states in the Russian Federation such as Caucasus. This structure of the Black Sea countries attracted the global powers including the EU, the US, China to this region. Among these powers, the EU is the most critical power for financing, lending, investment, and other official assistance for the local countries. This concern of the EU affected the regional cooperation between the respective countries. Moreover, the region has become even more important as it effects the connection between East and West and North to South as a result of the increase of crude oil and natural gas transportation by pipelines and other economical movements. For this reason, promoting the regional cooperation and relationship between these countries is the main issue in the region.

Unfortunately, all economic, political and geopolitical changes and developments did not avail to the solution of the problems and conflicts persisting between the states of this region. The global powers mentioned above created a more fragile situation and affected the normalisation of these states. They caused secessionism, ethnic conflicts, economic and political crises in the region. Instead of finding solutions to the main issues of the region, the Black Sea states tend to vie each other for power and influence.

However, the economic, political and social development of the region needs a successful regional cooperation, which can only be obtained by promoting the dialogue between the local countries that includes debates about various issues - social, economic, cultural, environmental, energy sources, and transportation.

Moreover, the regional states and international policy makers can also act as follows to develop the stability and security of the region:

  • The states should not use the force in their relations with the other states and be respectful of international conventions in their relations.
  • The developed countries should encourage the regional states politically and economically.
  • The international policy makers should support the peace and efforts for peace.

 

2.6. The importance of intercultural dialogue

 

The Black Sea region is one of the most diverse regions in the world in terms of cultural and religious differences. Ethnic and religious diversity is a historical reality in this part of the world. We find here Christians, Muslims and Jewish populations living together over centuries in the same atmosphere. The structure of the Black Sea countries is very different in terms of population, size, economic and financial situations, governance system, and social life. Because of this diversity, it is very hard to establish regional organisations or integrations that include all the local countries. However, if new approaches and ideas are developed by regional and international powers, the region can become a peaceful zone with a powerful economy and stable political systems. The states in Black Sea region should develop cultural, educational and social policies to preserve this coexistence for future generations.

For these reasons, there should be new understandings and relations between the countries and the societies of the region so that pending problems and priorities be discussed and solved with the help of new strategies. This can happen also by intercultural dialogue and relations between the Black Sea countries and other neighbourhood countries. This dialogue can aid the new approaches to solve the main problems of the region and also to give new chances to the local policy makers to create more secure, stable and welfare societies.

It is clear that the intercultural dialogue between the Black Sea countries promotes the regional stability and cooperation. Moreover, the intercultural dialogue plays an extremely important role in advancing regional cooperation and finding the best solutions for the problems of the region. This dialogue should be established between all the components of society. Political leaders, religious leaders, non - governmental organisations, universities, schools all should involve themselves to develop the intercultural relation between the regional countries. Some through training should be organised to form this dialogue with these different social groups such as students, politicians, members of NGOs, public servants, etc. These activities are very important especially in conflict regions.

To establish the intercultural dialogue in the Black Sea region, international powers, organisations and policy makers have an important role to play along with the regional states. Among these international powers, the EU plays the main role, because three countries of this region, namely Greece, Romania and Bulgaria, are members of the European Union and Turkey is in the negotiating process to become a member state too. Moreover, the EU established very good economic relations and became the most important economic power in the region. Additionally, the Union plays an important role in implementing social and political changes in the region. Intercultural dialogue remains a political priority, which reflects, facilitates and fosters the core objectives of the Council of Europe and its member states to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Intercultural dialogue is not only an enhanced means of communication, which can build trust and mutual understanding, but it can also serve as a basis for peace and sustainable development in the Black Sea region and its neighbouring regions.

Intercultural dialogue should be a political priority for the region states and international policy makers. For this reason, the European Council started to support several international conferences and organisations for the development of intercultural dialogue. The Council published the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue described as a ‘key policy document’ for intercultural dialogue. The EU supported the “intercultural dialogue as a basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighbouring regions” conference that was organised in Baku, in 2008. Ministers of different countries responsible of culture participated in this conference. They adopted the following decisions made during the conference:

  • to acknowledge cultural diversity between and within countries as a common heritage of humankind;
  • to agree to contribute to sustainable economic, social and personal development, favourable to cultural creativity;
  • to promote a sustained process of intercultural dialogue, which is essential for international co - operation, with a view to promoting Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law;
  • to reaffirm the important role of cultural policies at national, regional and local level and their contribution for promoting intercultural dialogue;
  • to promote intercultural dialogue, including its religious dimension, as a process that requires a coherent interplay between different policy sectors and the full participation of the different stakeholders - including public authorities, the media and civil society.

The European Council is not the only intergovernmental organization that focuses on intercultural dialogue in the region. The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) has a consistent and positive role in the context of globalization and, in this sense, contributes to global governance[4]. Political stability and dialogue, and the strengthening of human rights, democracy and the rule of law were suggested by the BSEC[5]. The BSEC is also aware of the importance of dialogue among different cultures in establishing a good relation between the regional countries. The intercultural dialogue concept is necessary for understanding the differences and diversity of the region. This idea is enriching interaction and promotes the respectful sharing of different opinions and ideas. BSEC recognizes that tolerance is a basic value for all civilizations and that means respect for others, regardless of their diversity of religion, culture and language.

Moreover, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation recommends to the parliaments and governments of the BSEC member states:

  • to encourage the respect for differences and the tolerance of others in society, regardless of their sex, race, ethnic groups, religion or political affiliation, as well as the respect and tolerance for other cultures and civilizations;
  • to recognize that dialogue among different cultures - within the member states as well as between the states - can contribute to making their common values, including universal human rights, more discernible;
  • to welcome the contribution of the positive and mutually beneficial interaction among cultures throughout human history to the peaceful coexistence of nations and to the cultural enrichment of people;
  • to take into account that education contributes to the better understanding of other cultures and civilizations;
  • to encourage the fulfilment of all cultures present in the BSEC region by enacting laws providing for freedom of expression and creation;
  • to guarantee equal access and participation in cultural life for every group of society, so that the cultural diversity is promoted in the spirit of democracy;
  • to foster, while fully respecting human rights, and with a particular focus on the local and regional level, the development of tolerant and equitable relations between BSEC member states and between all culturally diverse groups in the BSEC region of each State;
  • to involve the International Centre for the Black Sea Studies (ICBSS) in order to promote cooperation, exchange and scientific researches in the field of culture;
  • to encourage at local and regional level participation in intercultural dialogue in the spirit of cultural citizenship and with a view to cultural democracy;
  • to create a space for dialogue and cultural citizenship in which it is possible to express disagreement, which is not only part of the democratic process, but also its guarantor;
  • to consider the development of knowledge of history, cultures, arts and religions from school age onwards to be of central importance;
  • to contribute to the development of intercultural dialogue by encouraging, whenever possible, action intended to bring together different cultural groups through intercultural events and practices, aimed at all age groups and all socio - cultural groups, within programs implemented by cultural institutions responsible for the fine arts, theatre, literature, etc.;
  • to counteract the conflict of civilizations with the dialogue of cultures in a way that none of the cultures have dominance over others providing a possibility for the nations to perceive cultural diversity provided that national identity is preserved (BSEC Assembly Report, 2006).

 

 

Bibliography

 

ALIBONI, Roberto, “Globalization and the Wider Black Sea Area: Interaction with the European Union, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, No. 2, Vol. 6, 2006, p. 166.

AYDIN, Mustafa, “Regional Cooperation in the Black Sea and Integration into Euro-Atlantic Structure”, Perceptions, Vol. X, 2005, pp. 29-30.

BSEC Assembly Report, Report on “Dialogue among cultures in order to build trust among nations”, Belgrade, 2006.

CELAC, Sergiu, Panagiota MANOLI, “Towards a New Model of Comprehensive Regionalism in the Black Sea Area”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, No. 2, Vol. 6, 2006.

DONSKIS, Leonidas, Troubled Identity and the Modern World, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2009.

STRITECKY, Vit, Challenges for the Black Sea Region, last accessed on May 2012, [http://www.mfa.gov.tr/challenges - for - the - black - sea - region -.tr.mfa].

***European Commission, “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue”, 2008, last accessed on May 2012, [http://ec.europa.eu/culture/portal/action/dialogue/2008_dial_en.htm]

***European Union, “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue”, last accessed on May 2012, [http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/culture/l29017_en.htm].

 


 



[1] Leonidas DONSKIS, Troubled Identity and the Modern World, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2009, p. 19.

 

[2] Vit STRITECKY, “Challenges for the Black Sea Region”, May 2012 [http://www.mfa.gov.tr/challenges - for - the - black - sea - region -.tr.mfa].

[3] Mustafa AYDIN, “Regional Cooperation in the Black Sea and Integration into Euro-Atlantic Structure”, Perceptions, Vol. X, 2005, pp. 29-30.

 

[4] Roberto ALIBONI, “Globalization and the Wider Black Sea Area: Interaction with the European Union, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, No. 2, Vol. 6, 2006, p. 166.

[5] Sergiu CELAC, Panagiota MANOLI, “Towards a New Model of Comprehensive Regionalism in the Black Sea Area”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, No. 2, Vol. 6, 2006, p. 201.