Living Together: European leaders discuss the impact of migration

‘The new century demands not promotion of nebulous British values, but an appreciation of diversity and complexity.’ (Z.Sardar, New Statesman, 17 March 2008)

Thus, being aware of the changing realities, the British Council starts a new stage of transformation. In the coming years, we should see the replacement of a big number of small national projects by a few major regional initiatives, such as the Living Together programme, which embraces more than 30 countries in Europe.

As part of the same programme, the British Council has created a Living Together Summit, which was held on 12-14 March 2008. For three days, the summit brought European policy makers, journalists, academics and the leaders of civil society together to look for common approaches on migration and the participation of minorities. Among the speakers, there were the president of the Republic of Slovenia, HRH Prince Radu of Romania, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and a number of other prominent public figures. The sessions of the conference were organized around 6 following workshops: ‘Developing citizenship skills through the school curriculum’; ‘The representation of minority communities in the media’; ‘Developing approaches to religion and society’; ‘The relationship between migration and radicalisation of youth’; ‘The impact of remittances from diaspora communities on development’; and ‘Negotiating cultural identities in a complex society’.

Below you can find the summaries of some of the workshops:

Workshop: ‘Developing citizenship skills through the school curriculum’

– The citizenship curriculum at schools needs to be renewed to incorporate the agenda of living together with migrant minorities.
– The development of citizenship curriculum should not be dependent on the changing governments, but rather be independent and seek to engage public, e.g. youth parliament members (student representatives).
– Citizenship education should be a compulsory module, rather than optional or an extracurricular activity, so that everyone has the needed access.
– Citizenship education can reach better results if also incorporated into the teaching of other modules, e.g. mathematics.
– Citizenship skills can be significantly improved by the use of practice-oriented and interactive teaching, e.g. situational tasks, drama, creation of a family tree, meetings with politicians and community members, etc.
– The development of relevant skills should start from the local level, i.e. school and family.
– Individual responsibility and active participation could be encouraged by a wider use of e-government, student media, mock elections at schools and other initiatives of a similar kind, as, for example, the declaration of independence at Kelso High School, Scotland, UK.

Workshop: ‘The representation of minority communities in the media’

– Media plays a very important role in the representation of minority communities, since it tends to use stereotypes, which are created as a result of continuous repeating of particular things about certain people.
– It is important to be aware that journalism is about interpretations, not re-telling.
– Journalists might be unwilling or unaware of the need to be more analytical.
– They might find it difficult to cope with big amount of different information.
– They tend to present certain details in a certain way to better attract the reader’s interest.
– Minority representatives might benefit from the establishment of TANDEM relations with journalists.
– When communicating with journalists, minority representatives should have a good plan for the details to be presented; they should focus on narrow areas rather than broad ones; they should get ready material data and not forget that their appearance is also important.
– When writing about minorities, journalists should include representatives of those communities; they should give context; they should avoid ‘black-white’ and similar terms and the expressions like ‘as everyone knows’.

Workshop: ‘The representation of minority communities in the media’

– Religious minorities should have equal rights, rather than be treated in a special way.
– The children of minorities should be neither excluded from religious education, nor forced to attend theological lessons.
– Religious education at schools should be treated different from religious practices in other public or private areas.
– When teaching religion at schools, the main focus should be the awareness of each other’s values.
– Religion education should encourage analytical thinking.
– Religion education should be based on human rights rather than one particular theological doctrine.
– Religion should be taught by a competent teacher, not a priest.
– It should include history of different religions and their social context.

Other interesting events of the conference included a short film highlighting one of the major cross-cultural projects (LoFT) of the Living Together programme, and the Living Together exhibition of a travelling photography. One of the photographers featured in the exibition was Yuval Yairi. His collection is called ‘Memory Suitcases’. Memory suitcases indicate representations of the homeland by displaced people. The photography reveals an interesting human phenomenon: having been forced into exile, people tend to mythologize their memories and to present their country of origin as a lost paradise. Very similar issues are explored in an anthropological paper by Jeffery, L. (2007) ‘How a Plantation Became Paradise: Changing Representations of the Homeland among Displaced Chagos Islanders’.

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