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International Conference Report

The Mediterranean: Cultural Identity and Prospects for Intercultural Dialogue


The conference on the Mediterranean: Cultural Identity and Prospects for Intercultural Dialogue was held in Dubrovnik, 5 - 7 December 1997, organized by Europe House Zagreb and the Culturelink Network/IMO. It brought together some fifty participants from France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, F.R. Yugoslavia, Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, the United States, the European Commission, the European Cultural Foundation, and UNESCO.

The Conference met in six sessions to debate the following topics: Mediterranean Cultural Identity, Mediterranean Culture(s) in the Crossfire of Political Realism, Geopolitics and Globalisation, Inter-ethnic and Inter-religious Dialogue in the Mediterranean, Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Programmes: Which Policy for Cooperation and Dialogue?, Intercultural Relations and Peace Prospects in South-Eastern Europe, Prospects for Mediterranean Intercultural Dialogue.

Mediterranean Cultural Identity

The Mediterranean cultural identity is understood primarily as an awareness of diversity and a search for intercultural dialogue. The key words to designate such identity are 'heritage' and 'mediation' (Geffroy). A better prospect perhaps would be the creation of a living civilization rather than the constant invocation of heritage.

Mediterranean Culture(s) in the Crossfire of Political Realism, Geopolitics and Globalisation

The Mediterranean culture(s) in the crossfire of political realism, geopolitics and globalisation pointed towards a new understanding of interdependence in the Mediterranean in the light of the rapid depletion of resources such as water and energy, rapid population growth, and threats to the survival of the region (nuclear, biological, and other threats). In this situation, cultural diversity becomes the key resource to initiate change. And change presupposes communication. However, the type of integration imposed upon the Mediterranean countries and cultures makes the Mediterranean subservient to the more developed European Union and wipes out the existing cultural differences. For this reason, a reinterpretation of the Mediterranean as a region is an absolute necessity, as is also a diversification at a different level than at present. The post-integration diversification should come about as a result of de-territorialization and individualization of differences, so as not to hinder the region's further development. The present identity of the Mediterranean reflects imposed Eurocentrism and developmental marginalization and stimulates ethnic and religious conflicts. It also makes possible manipulations, playing one region against another.

Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Mediterranean

Inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue in the Mediterranean is needed to alleviate the conflicts between particularisms opposed to openness, communication and cooperation. The states have the key role in combatting nationalism and religious hatred ('religious nationalism') and in stimulating democracy and civil society. The Mediterranean as it is at present, however, 'suffers from irrationalism', while its peoples are living through the worst scenario: 'religion of conflicts'.

Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Programmes: Which Policy for Cooperation and Dialogue?

The Euro-Mediterranean cultural programmes: which policy for cooperation and dialogue? This session heard presentations of the Barcelona Declaration, the Euromed civic forum, and a number of specialized programmes of cooperation in fields such as theatre, education, and others. It was very clear from these presentations that such programmes function largely thanks to the efforts of the partners and the support of different foundations. The European Union treats them in a bureaucratic manner, which only helps to marginalize them. Only occasionally does it provide some funding, usually after exhausting negotiations. Many Mediterranean countries and organizations are expressly excluded from any cooperation and communication. In this situation, pompous declarations about cooperation in and with the Mediterranean region have hardly any practical effect.

Intercultural Relations and Prospects for Peace in South-Eastern Europe

Intercultural relations and prospects for peace in south-eastern Europe was a session in which most of the talking was done by the participants from the former Yugoslavia. Multiculturalism does not prosper in the region because the process of creation of nation-states is the dominant feature. The post-socialist societies are undergoing an identity crisis, and ethnicity is a very dynamic category in them, while the state borders are static. All multicultural societies are unstable and dynamic; if there is no dialogue, democracy and communication among their communities, they develop conflicts. Neither the Mediterranean nor south-eastern Europe are regions boasting democracy and tolerance. For this reason, the mediation of the international community is necessary. But 'Dayton turned all citizens of Bosnia into national minorities', and the problem of minorities is marginalized in all post-socialist societies anyway. That is why the search for 'cultural responses to challenges of war', even when cultures stimulate tolerance and an awareness of the global context in which individual tragedies unfold, looks more like a fig-leaf than a cultural catalyst.

Prospects for the Mediterranean Intercultural Dialogue

The prospects for the Mediterranean intercultural dialogue should receive a greater boost from the fact that 'survival is the result of linkages' than from the invention of concepts in accordance with which one should act. The Mediterranean is a broader concept than the European Union, but Project Europe could link the Mediterranean with Scandinavia and stimulate the integration of (European) identities. In order to perceive the Mediterranean as an integrated region, we must become conscious of the limitations and boundaries of the European Union. The European Union appears as a standard that we must adopt. Only by doing so can we transcend Europe on our way towards Mediterraneanism as acceptable globalism.

The Proceedings of the Conference will be published by Culturelink.