On today’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, Maria Paula Meneses, Sara Araújo, Laura Brito at CES in Coimbra, Portugal reflect on solidarity, learning, and embracing differences.

Cultural diversity is a landmark of our world. In a context where the legal structure is founded upon the ideas of envisioned “national communities” (nation-states) and of the European community, the challenges around cultural diversity are enormous.

Broadly speaking, culture represents a set of assumptions, values and beliefs that are shared by a group of people. These strongly influence (but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviours and cultures. In this sense, cultures are about boundaries that define belonging and exclusion. But cultures can also be about building bridges across countries and continents, intercultural translation, and reciprocal learning.

Europe is heterogeneous, including multiple cultural traditions and narratives and must be understood as a creole continent, characterized by its cultural richness and diversity – this is a legacy not only to be recognized but also to actively promote. It is this lively diversity that the World Day for Cultural Diversity, Dialogue and Development seeks to celebrate.

The recognition of cultural rights and of the right to culture must be key pillars of contemporary policies. On a global scale, the protection of cultural diversity is set as an ethical imperative, inseparable from the respect for human rights (UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, article 4). The Charter on Fundamental Rights of The European Union states that the preservation of common values must be pursued while respecting the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe, as well as the national identities (see the Preamble).

The 21st of May has a meaning broader than only the celebration of the world’s differences. Cultural diversity must be encouraged as a living and renewable treasure and the dialogue and connection between the various cultures must be boosted. This world day seeks to prevent segregation and fundamentalist discourses and practices, whichcounter the message conveyed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This celebration must be about more than tolerating diversity or conservative multiculturalism that accepts difference but refuses to learn from them. We are talking about converting vertical differences into horizontal differences; (re-)learning each other’s history; recognizing past oppressions and current continuities of that past; creating a more welcoming Europe; allowing different groups to speak for themselves and encourage people to active listen to each other and learn.

Embracing cultural diversity is a way to identify and support innovative ideas, as well as to learn more from the world that surrounds us. It develops creativity and increases the ability to solve problems by suggesting multiple perspectives and knowledges that are invisible to mono-cultural eyes and silent to mono-cultural ears. The absence of real contact with different ways of thinking and knowledges leads to misunderstandings, to the fallacy that one’s own culture is superior, and to the  approval of laws and rules that do not fit into the reality of various groups and lead to unacceptable structural inequalities.

This day must be an appeal to embrace diversity in Europe as something to preserve, to collectively create knowledge and grow through processes of reciprocal learning, to respect the right to be different without threatening the right to equality, to be able to live in a world of diversity every day and in every way we live our lives.

By Maria Paula Meneses, Sara Araújo, Laura Brito