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International Course Report

Redefining Cultural Identities: The Multicultural Contexts of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions

Culturelink Network Project

The Culturelink Network is implementing the project on Redefining Cultural Identities: The Multicultural Contexts of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions, supported by the Royaumont group from Bruxelles. The project involves partners from Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia in an assessment of the identity changes in the region. It is devoted to the study of cultural identities and to aspects of intercultural communication and dialogue. One of the activities within the project has been a course under the same title held at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, 10-20 May 2000.

The programme of the course encompassed some aspects of the specialized policies (cultural, mass media, educational and language) that directly influence the redefinition of cultural identities. The recent history of transition in Central Europe and in the Mediterranean has indeed triggered fast and sometimes very chaotic changes in the understanding and interpretation of both collective and individual cultural identities. The process of redefinition is not confined to the cultural and intellectual sphere only. Sometimes it is externalized as intolerance and even aggression. Open or hidden conflicts have become characteristic of these regions in the last decade. Denial and lack of respect for cultural diversity, intolerance and inability to manage differences and to organize and rationalize transitional processes have thrown these societies into a series of open or hidden conflicts. The southeastern regions of Europe, both Mediterranean and Central European, have been perceived as the domain of unstable, unreliable, chaotic societies and social groups that are hardly able to rationalize their developmental and international position and join the rest of Europe in an integration effort.

t has become evident by now that such developments are not inherent to societies and social groups of these regions only. Historical analysis may further enlighten the economic, political and institutional problems of transitional changes at the end of the twentieth century and in the context of globalization. The regional approach and regional characteristics of such changes still need to be systematized. It is, however, already evident that the changes in cultural identities are the result of opening up of these societies and of the inner dynamics of their cultural development.

They have become fully aware of their multicultural character and of the cultural differences which are the result of contemporary and not past developments. Self-assertion of different cultural and social groups has become possible with the introduction of democracy and the fall of the traditional group identification, be it class or national. The democratic pluralism, associated with post-industrialism or post-modernism, has brought different cultural and social standards and thus produced new types of identification and new relationships among different cultural and social groups. These new types of identification are to a large extent opposed to the traditional types of ethnic or national identification, promoted until recently by nationalistic (cultural) policies. In this sense, they represent a possible source of conflicts within societies.

The introductory part of the programme was devoted to the conceptual and policy issues of multiculturalism. Distinctions of notions of multiculturalism / interculturalism / transculturalism / pluriculturalism were presented and discussed. While multiculturalism is generally understood as a conceptual and policy response to cultural diversity in a region or state, interculturalism stresses communication and general interaction among cultures, as well as all types of exchanges that may take place among them. Transculturalism covers the establishment of common identities that may transcend particular national or ethnic identities (e.g., the European or the American identity). Pluriculturalism stresses cultural plurality and participation and is therefore particularly linked to the processes of cultural and overall social democratization that indicate also the economic and social plurality.

Different interpretations of terms and notions did not prevent the basic understanding of multiculturalism as a set of concepts and policies developed in order to understand and manage cultural diversity. The constant cultural diversification implies identity changes, the existence of multiple identities and all other processes linked to the individual or group identification. Cultural diversity has become widely recognized as the starting point for development and management of cultural relationships. Since such relationships influence and even define the social positions of groups and individuals, cultural rights are included in the category of basic human rights. They are viewed as a substantial part of democratization processes on national, sub-national, regional and global levels.

Modern regionalism and the creation of regional identities were discussed in this connection. Regionalism was presented as the basic interactive level between the global and local development, and as a conceptual and practical response of the states to globalization and emergence of the dominant global trends.

The 'hidden history' of regionalism was mentioned in the discussion of Ferdinand Braudel's analysis of the Mediterranean region. Braudel's concept of the region as a historical and geographical whole providing a basis for the formation of regional identity can hardly be applied to the analysis of modern regionalism that is quite different. Modern regionalism stands for a type of links and interrelations that may offer an easier and more functional way for the global integration of states and societies and for their participation in global developments and global markets. The contemporary regionalism displays a high degree of flexibility and openness, ability to share common resources among the regional partners and to develop them, as well as to concentrate on solidarity actions when necessary. In this sense, regionalism is a new phenomenon affecting the contemporary cultures and a challenge in developing regional cultural identities. It may offer a possibility to identify cultural wholes notwithstanding the state borders. It may, therefore, refer to smaller wholes within states, or to the larger cultural areas transcending the states. Trans-border regions are not uncommon today, as they link sub-regions from different states.

The building up of regional cultural identities has become a rather dynamic process based on the recognition of both local and national cultural differences. Regional cultural identification is much more dynamic, challenging and problematic than national identification. It is based on questioning, reinventing and comparison of values. Regional identities are therefore much more unstable than the established national identities. They link traditional (ethnic, gender, national) and new cultural differentiations based on comparisons and choice of values. That is why regional cultural identities may be socially and developmentally functional. Their dynamism adds to democratic tendencies and stimulates cultural development.

However, some of the recently defined regions, like Southeast Europe, cannot be said to be supportive of the new cultural identification or of the awareness of common belonging. In other cases, such as in the Baltic region, the ideas of regional identity are tested through the process of re-evaluation of the intellectual histories and cultural and political heritage. In other regions, e.g., Central European, the efforts to rethink the regional identity have been strong enough to revive the regionalist cultural 'project'. The renewed efforts to reassess and compare the intellectual, cultural and political experiences of many societies in the region contribute to such a project, but still with unclear results.

The present experiences stemming from the overall changes in the South, Central and Eastern European countries may show that the formation of regional identities is, perhaps, closest to what Jürgen Habermas has described as 'our own project'. The recognition of identity is the basis for the recognition of cultural diversity, and therefore of the multicultural character of all societies in Central Europe and in the Mediterranean. The process implies an interaction of the past, the present and the future. It is the expression of not only what we are, but also of what we want to be. In this sense, any contemporary regional cultural identity is indeed our own project that demands both group and individual 'capacities for flexibility, adaptation, solidarity, collaboration and resistance'.

It is difficult to tell whether the regional development in Central Europe and the Mediterranean will enhance good intercultural relationships among national and ethnic groups that only recently fought each other in bloody wars. This raised the issue of multiple identities, of memory and change, and the questioning of the social role of ethnic identities. The need to accept cultural diversity as the basis for a redefinition of national identities may help in the formation of regional identities. This process should be based on mutual tolerance and interactions that might eventually develop through exchange and cooperation.

In this respect, four types of policies were compared and analyzed: cultural policies, media policies, educational policies, and language policies.

The cultural policies of most Central and Southeastern European countries reflect the consequences of the recent nation-building revival. The cultural histories are linked to the issues of cultural identity and of political power. Nevertheless, no standard of identity formation has been set. The hard nationalistic pressure has not succeeded in imposing a set of values and ideas that would stand for the idea of a national identity. Cultures have been deeply involved in all social movements in the post-socialist period and it reflects a deep split between the traditional nationalists and cosmopolitans. The ideas of cultural emancipation tend to be reduced to the basic nationalistic interests, and to undermine the cultural and intercultural communication as a source of cultural development. Cultural policies in this context appear to be defensive, past-oriented and haunted by the romantic myth of cultural creationism. People have developed conservative feelings about themselves. Now the processes of redefinition of national identities are at work on many levels: local, national and regional. Cultural memories are not exclusively in the function of reinvention of national heroism, but they are ever more oriented towards defining the national position in relation to others, be it neighbouring nations or different cultural groups within the national cultural space. Most countries are opening up under the pressure of European policies and influences of global communication. This requires the rethinking of cultural values, and cultural policies are being redefined in this respect.

Media policies are supposedly based on the assumption that the media freedom is recognized as a formative part of the contemporary cultural identity and political responsibility. In the countries in transition, including the Central European and Mediterranean ones, there is a widespread belief that the media have a major social and political impact. It is reflected in the political consensus on the importance of the media for designing any type of social change. Two paradigms dominate such a consensus: the 'state-building' paradigm (centralized media policies serving the general ideas of national emancipation and state building), and the pluralist paradigm (media reflect social diversity and stand for tolerance in society and for the development of civil society). In this respect, the issues of media freedom and media democracy were discussed. Two major frameworks of such discussions may be identified:

  • the emphasis is on the common political culture (or common political values developed in the European context, such as citizenship, freedom, democracy, etc.), and,
  • the emphasis is on the analyses of current media policies in the transitional countries (e.g., normative policies, functioning of particular or specialized media, analyses of the media contents, etc.).

It has been stressed that the media have indeed far-reaching effects on the formation of cultural identity. However, the contemporary analysis of the relationship between the media and cultural identity is quite varied. In the post-socialist countries the state media have been transformed into 'national' media and given the particularly important role in cultural emancipation and reculturation. The number and type of media (sub-national, regional, local, etc.) has been increased, resulting in an extensive diversification of the media and communication. This leads to a direct encounter between the relatively vaguely structured local media and the global trends in media communication. Thus, media diversification may result in a type of cultural ghettoisation. This might be a new start for the discussion of the role of the mass media and media policies in the formation of cultural identities.

The language policies in the formation of identities were approached from both theoretical and practical aspects of the use of languages. The use of language confronts two types of identities: the identity of language and the identity of the speaker. In other words, the use of a language does not ensure the sameness of language, which indeed is and always remains a construct with a powerful symbolic meaning. The identity of language reflects its social function, which is to support the ethnic, cultural, political or economic identity of a human group. Language therefore appears as an object and an important instrument of the identity creation. Language policies are recent phenomena that appeared with the emergence of modern states in the nineteenth century and that were used as a means of achieving the national (standardized) linguistic identity and regulating the relationships among different human groups.

In modern times, the number of languages spoken is steadily diminishing. In contemporary Europe the predominance of a domestic language in its territory is observed, while the 'languages of communication' are learned in the positive perspective. So far, no standards on minorities or minority languages have been accepted in the European Union. However, as the economic and political power is devolving towards the regions, and as the national state is less present in education and culture, the revival of 'small' languages runs in parallel with the revival of smaller areas (regions) and smaller cultures or cultural groups.

In the participatory system of the EU, democracy is language-dependent. Therefore, the unresolved language policy issues may reflect the 'democratic deficit' both in the EU and in a number of the European regions, including particularly the Central European and Mediterranean regions, where the transitional processes have triggered off extreme reactions in the use of languages and language policies.

The role of education in the formation of identities was discussed in relation to cultural identities, language policies and media policies. The social differences in any contemporary society - gender, class, race, ethnic, religious, etc. - should not prevent the 'moving from the margins to the centre' and might be expressed in a call for 'multicentric' education. Such multicentric education would stand for more flexible and more adaptable types of education and for the 'decolonization of the mind'.

However, the implementation of educational policies and functioning of education in the post-socialist countries of Central Europe and the Mediterranean are very far from modernization and structural reform. Multicentrism may be a major issue in all structural educational reforms in these countries, but not much has been achieved in the change of standards and values, or in modernizing education. One example of a flexible approach to intercultural education was presented in Dubrovnik, namely, the example of bilingual education in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia. Nevertheless, bilingual education seems to pose as many problems as any other type of education, and it would be impossible to talk about clearly defined models of multicentric and decentralized types of education. From the point of view of multiculturalism, the main relevant issue is the curriculum, or the value-approach to the contents of education. Since the homogeneity of the minority groups is an ever more open question, cultural mediation cannot always bring the expected results.

Some other issues linked to the process of redefining identities in the Central European and Mediterranean cultural contexts were also discussed. The position of minority groups was covered in relation to all other issues. It is quite evident that all post-socialist 'national' states are multicultural, even if all the minorities have not yet become organized and ready to demand and promote their minority rights. The same situation is characteristic of all the Mediterranean states. It is therefore necessary to analyze and discuss the dynamic change of cultural identities not only in the global, 'postmodernist' situation, but also in the context of cultural variety and cultural differences that should be managed in an overall democratic and modernizing context.


The papers presented in Dubrovnik will be published in the Culturelink Joint Series of publications. Here are some excerpts from the contributions by Laszlo Kürti (Hungary), Dona Kolar Panov (Macedonia) and Peter Mayo (Malta) that illustrate the approaches to the issue of cultural identities and some of the contents discussed during the course.

Cultural Policy and the Arts
by Laszlo Kürti

...From literature to cinema and rock music to sports, Hungarian culture has produced some impressive results and can boast of several outstanding representatives in both the immediate and the more distant past. Not surprisingly, the political and economic transformations after 1989 created equally noticeable and sometimes questionable developments in the country's cultural sphere as a result of the general trend towards privatization and the development of the civil sphere. Between 1990 and 1996, Hungary's nationalized media were subjected to tremendous privatization pressures. Book and newspaper publishing was one of the more visible successes: joint ventures proliferated as a result of large-scale privatization. While some state companies did experience a healthy dose of 'downsizing' in their workforce and budget, most underwent privatization only to reappear on the publishing market with renewed vigour. New publishing houses (Osiris, Balassi, Korona, and others of lesser fame) are often well-situated in a more positive competitive environment, even though their international connections are hardly a match for those of the former large state enterprises that were privatized (Európa or Corvina, for example), or the companies partly owned by Western firms (for instance, the publishing house Akadémia now is a subsidiary of Kluwer). Not all East-West publishing joint ventures, however, have proved successful. The German publishing giant, Bertelsmann, for example, announced recently that it was withdrawing from the book publishing market in Hungary, despite the fact that in 1997 the company eagerly invested in its publishing venues.

...The once famous Hungarian film industry is now gone; in its place there are many smaller studios vying for state funding and visibility on the European screens. Hungary's film production is still impressive despite the decentralization and privatization after 1990: Hungary's annual feature film output closely approximates those of Greece, the Netherlands, and Norway. Although state subsidies have been radically cut, Hungarian film makers are still able to produce a number of feature films, and they manage to compete successfully in international film festivals, just as they did before 1989. While in 1988 Hungarian film makers produced forty feature films, in 1997 only sixteen were released, and among them only eight were Hungarian-financed (only one from strictly private funds); the rest were supported by international investors. Viewing the films produced in the 1990s, one senses that film makers are more and more involved with copying glossy, commercialized, and sensationalized Western productions in order to increase ticket sales, leaving the experimental, cutting-edge and documentary styles to a minority of die-hard artists.

Theatre life, on the contrary, is more vibrant now than ever before, and despite some cutbacks (indeed some theatres were closed and companies disbanded), it will continue to flourish in the first decade of the new millennium. One sure proof of the interconnectedness of the arts and politics is the debate over the completion of the National Theatre (Nemzeti Színház) in Budapest. A monumental undertaking scheduled for completion in the middle of the next decade, it received, after initial controversies, the wholehearted backing of the Orbán government at the end of 1999. Similarly, new artistic centres (such as the 'Art Valley' near Lake Balaton, and the various open-air theatres) and regional performing companies, ranging from modern dance, ballet, folk dance, and experimental theatre, have sprung up despite the severe competition for funding and sponsorship. The same may be also said about the fine arts: they, too, are experiencing both a sense of rejuvenation with a post-communist identity and the creation of a new arts-management-sponsorship mentality.

The music industry is another area of artistic endeavor that has managed, with a great deal of difficulty, to lift itself up after the initial shock of the early 1990s. As has so often been emphasized by the country's intellectuals, a small country like Hungary cannot afford to let its artistic achievements go unnoticed and so suffer marginalization by powerful global forces or submersion in Western pop culture. Although many alternative musical groups of the 1980s - so fundamental to the creation of a healthy climate critical of the communist state - disappeared, artists have managed successfully to translate their experiences into the professional world of music and stage productions. Many are themselves the prime movers and shapers of the commercialization of popular art as managers, promoters and agency executives. As a result of freedom, there are no rock groups of anti-state messages today; but there are many performers of international stature in the fields of jazz, world music, and especially classical music. Rock music, now largely produced by independent concert and record labels, is more or less a mediocre copy of the international pop music scene, with small but noisy groups adhering to specific genres and operating within the confines of their subculture (folk, death/satanic rock, country, etc.). The Hungarian music industry, with its top position in the world in selling classical music world-wide, will definitely continue in its upward direction for several years to come. But small firms and local artists can only hope for a breakthrough, either by signing with a Western record label or with one of the major multinational producers operating in Hungary.

Transitional Media, Cultural Diversity and Global Multiculturalism
by Dona Kolar Panov

...Since our particular concern today is the media and cultural identity, we must ask ourselves the question: are Emanuel Castell's (quoted in Morley and Robins, 1995: 31-32) fears that 'the coexistence of both the monopoly of messages by the big networks and the increasingly narrow codes of local microculture around their parochial cable TVs' the reality that we live in, and is it true that we are living in an era 'of increasing privatism, localism and cultural tribalism within the electronic global village?' (Morley, D. and Robins, K. (1995) Spaces of Identity: Global media, electronic landscapes and cultural boundaries. Routledge: London)

Recently there has been an emphasis on diversity over unity, an emphasis on the need for the recognition of cultural difference and, within the European Union, an emphasis on the preservation of European identities.

In addition, the re-assertion of cultural belonging inside multiculturalist policies of some countries is taking on a new form as the questions of multiculturalism and multicultural provisions are removed from their national framework and repositioned in the new global context.

Furthermore, as it becomes possible for minority audiences to receive broadcasting directly from the 'home' country, new transnational communities and transnational diasporic audiences have been constructed.

For example, in Macedonia - despite the policy of providing the minority audiences with 'broadcasting in the languages of the nationalities' on the second channel of public television - preliminary research shows that the minority audiences favour programmes by Albanian, Turkish or Serbian satellite television; second to this are programmes which broadcast in the language of the minority and rely heavily on programming re-broadcast from the 'home' country.

This is similar all over Europe. For instance, the Turkish minority in Germany relies heavily on the programmes from Turkish satellite television, while in Britain the Indian community has created a very strong Indian television industry. The Indian programmes produced in Britain circulate in the Indian communities world-wide, together with programmes originating in India itself.

The consequences of such new transnational patterns of media consumption are extremely significant insofar as they are working towards a dramatic transformation of the very meaning of a multicultural agenda, and as Kevin Robins, James Cornford and Asu Aksoy argue in their 'Overview: From Cultural Rights to Cultural Responsibilities' (1997: 23): 'The multicultural Agenda has now become the mainstream agenda, and on a global scale. Multicultural now means world-wide, beyond the confines of a nation state.' (Robins, K. Cornford, J. and Aksoy, A. (1997) 'Overview: From Cultural Rights to Cultural Responsibilities', Report to UN World Television Forum, RAI, CURDS&EBU: New York)

However, there is always a danger of cultural ghettoisation. To give you an example from the country I live in, Macedonia. The study I am in progress of conducting shows that the Albanian population are closed in on themselves and are consuming mainly their own media.

This possibility of cultural ghettoisation in the light of the globalisation of culture should be a good point to start our discussion of the role of the mass media and media policies in the formation of cultural identities.

Globalization, Postcolonialism and Identity:
The Role of Education in the Mediterranean Region
by Peter Mayo

The various situations of conflict and tension which characterise this region (i.e., the Mediterranean) and which can cause tension in multi-ethnic societies, render comparative studies in different areas, including comparative religions, very pertinent. Studies such as these, which can take different forms, depending on the level, can help foster greater understanding. Many of the Southern European regions of the Mediterranean have traditionally been steeped in the Christian religion, mainly Catholic and also Greek Orthodox. It is imperative, in a truly multi-ethnic environment, that knowledge of the different religions is provided in schools and in other educational settings. One ought to mention here projects such as the one promoted by IRRSAE (Istituto Regionale di Ricerca Sperimentazione e Aggiornamento Educativi) in Puglia, Southern Italy, which focuses on the curriculum with special reference to the three great monotheistic religions of the Mediterranean. Learning about other religions is also advocated in the New National Curriculum in Malta. There is always the danger, however, of providing a caricature. The complexity of the situations can easily be ignored with the religions being represented in simplistic terms.

The study of different religions should therefore be approached with the utmost seriousness and best preparation possible, with special emphasis being placed on the teacher doing justice to the different religions involved. This applies primarily to programmes in schools, in adult education centres, universities and pre-service and inservice courses for teachers and those involved in the mass media. In the case of the last mentioned, this would be in keeping with the recommendations of the 1997 Civil Forum EuroMed: 'Mass media are invited to present a correct image of religions or cultures resorting, where suitable, to experts on the matter.' Misconceptions regarding Islam abound in the Western world and countries of the North Mediterranean, which are recipients of immigrants from Arab countries, are no exception. One of the greatest misconceptions regarding Islam is its strong identification, in the minds of many, with the Arab world. In effect, the Arab world is characterised by differences also in terms of religious denomination, while Islam is a truly international religion. As Shaykh'Abd Wahid Pallavicini, the President of the Italian Islamic Community (CO.RE.IS), underlines, it is present not only among Arab, Persian, Turkish and Indian people but in all nations of the West, Africa and the Far East. Islam knows no geographical, racial and ethnic boundaries.

It is common to find distortions of religions in many school texts, as Mahmoud Elsheikh so clearly points out with regard to the way Islam is presented in Italian manuals. Some of the distortions are as serious as that of attributing the words of the Koran to Mohammed rather than to God (the Koran as the object of revelation) and of producing representations, in miniature, of the Prophet when it is common knowledge that representations of Mohammed and God are not allowed by the Koran. The author goes on to state, when pointing out the many distortions in these texts, that one comes across representations which are in bad taste and portray Islam in a very bad light (representing it as uncouth and backward).

With regard to societies in the Northern part of the Mediterranean, a postcolonial education would entail a critical engagement with a cultural heritage that reflects a colonial past, as in centres of colonial power such as Spain and Portugal, and a past marked by crusades against the Ottoman Empire. The focus here would be on the politics of representation that underlies this heritage. Exotic and often demonic representations of 'Alterity' abound throughout this cultural heritage, be it the colonised indigenous populations of the Americas or the 'Saracen', the latter constituting the traditional 'Other' in relation to whom 'Christian Europe' was constructed. The 'other' becomes the subject of a particular kind of construction, a form of Orientalism in Edward Said's sense of the term. It is a demonisation reminiscent of the French colonial construction, based on so called 'scientific proof' and 'taught in the universities for over twenty years', of the colonised in Algeria, and North Africa in general, so forcefully exposed by Frantz Fanon in his classic anti-colonial volume...