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Managing cultural, ethnic and religious diversities - Discussion Paper 50
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How to research the development of policy to manage cultural, ethnic, and religious diversities in Central European countries?

  • For about five years, since the independence of Slovakia on 1 January 1993 until the elections at the end of 1998, Slovak governments and Parliaments were composed of members of conservative and nationalist parties. Their laws and policies toward minorities were not regarded as favourable. The newly elected Parliament and the new Slovak government are likely to enact more favourable laws and engage in more favourable policies toward minorities. Indeed, when the new government created the new vice-premierships for legal affairs, the economy, and European integration, it also created one responsible for minorities.

    Parliaments and governments are now democratically elected in Slovakia and in other Central European countries. The outcome of these elections cannot be altered by researchers. However, it seems possible, and is recommended for consideration, that researchers try to involve members of political parties – especially those whose attitude toward minorities is not favourable – in discussions of minority rights. Open discussions on the meanings of "autonomy," "self-government," "civil society" and other concepts and issues might produce positive results: better understanding of the objectives of minorities; avoidance or reduction of conflicts based on mistrust; and, ultimately, more favourable legislation.

    Such discussions, involving experts and members of political parties and, perhaps also, representatives of cultural associations, seem to be especially useful in countries such as Slovakia, where historical memories play an important role in the formulation of attitudes. Apart from discussing the terms mentioned above, one might also debate the importance of present versus past "moral principles." One might point out and discuss that while past harmful deeds may have occurred in the context of past moral principles, deeds at present could, and perhaps should, be viewed in light of contemporary moral principles, which present higher moral standards as far as attitudes and policies toward minorities are concerned.

  • It seems to be a consensus among the experts we interviewed in Slovakia that as each country has its own pattern of diversity and history, no other country's solutions to the problems stemming from diversity are applicable to Slovakia. It is not clear to us, however, to what degree this apparent consensus is due, in part, to a lack of full information about solutions elsewhere in the world. It is strongly recommended that the MOST program of UNESCO sponsor workshops with the participation of Slovak and other Central European experts, as well as experts from other regions of the world where specific solutions have been successfully implemented (for example Switzerland, South Tyrol, Belgium), to discuss a range of possible solutions and their applicability in Slovakia as elsewhere.

  • Prevailing moral principles are to be found in international documents. Since virtually all interviewees favour membership in the European Union and in "Western society" in general, recurrent references to international documents relating to minorities may be helpful in promoting peaceful coexistence in diversity. In any case, pressure on elected officials might come from two sources. One source is greater public awareness of the moral principles of rights in general, and the standards of specific international organizations, such as the European Commission, in particular. The overwhelming support for membership in the European Union is an important incentive in that regard. The other source of pressure may derive from associations of the emerging "civil society."

  • Education and "civic society." Not surprisingly, virtually all interviewees suggested that education was the most important means for the attainment of "civil society" among other recommended solutions. In more practical terms, interviewees recommended the creation of a large number of cultural associations to strengthen the foundations of civil society. In this regard, one interesting suggestion was to distinguish between "civic integration" and "national integration." The first seems to refer to integration on the societal level, the gaining of a sense among all inhabitants of Slovakia of being members of one society. National integration, in turn, seems to imply a sense of unity on the level of citizenship that, for example, obliges one to vote and otherwise participate in the political life of the country. We second these recommendations of our interviewees.

  • We consider it crucial to take into account historical memories in any future research project in Central Europe. That requires of future researchers a thorough exploration of the entire history of relations among the various groups in any country researched.

  • In specific reference to the Romanies in Slovakia, it was suggested that the Slovak government has to deal with all aspects of Romani life, including education, housing, and employment. Significantly, it was stressed that the Romanies should be involved in the decision-making process involving issues affecting their lives, including involvement in politics. This approach is recommendable.

  • Although, as noted earlier, we did not find signs of an imminent eruption of ethnic conflict in Slovakia, a deterioration of the standard of living in Slovakia might bring it about. Consequently, we consider it important to enhance economic modernization in Slovakia, as elsewhere, especially in the short term.

  • Striving for the promotion of tolerance and understanding, and for the acceptance of multi-culturalism among diversities in Slovakia, as elsewhere, is our recommendation for the long term. Lastly, we present two specific recommendations, one concerning education and the other concerning the elements of the Central European research project

  • Education. It is recommended that be considered designing and introducing in Slovak elementary and/or high schools a special curriculum on "Diversity." We shall not presume to provide here the content of such a curriculum; it must be prepared by local experts. (It goes without saying that teachers should be involved in the preparation of the curriculum and be trained in administering it.) Suffice it to say that while the first part of the curriculum should perhaps be general (explaining and discussing ethnic, religious, linguistic, and other diversities), the second part should be designed according to the specifics of the country (taking into consideration existing diversities and issues and events related to them.) While education of all age groups and in all institutional settings is important, the greatest importance should be given to the education of the young in schools.

  • Research. It is recommended that research on the "Management of Diversity" be conducted in each Central European country. With the help of UNESCO, a Central European Commission for the Study of Diversity (CECSOD), composed of
    (a) one or more academic experts from each country to be included in the expanded project, who would also serve as coordinators of research in their respective countries,
    (b) representatives of MOST and
    (c) representatives of the Institut fur Konfliktforschung. They would meet periodically (perhaps in Vienna) to overview the draft research project, and to discuss and to react to the draft report at the conclusion of the research project.
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