Multiculturalism '
Bożena Gierat-Bieroń
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Multiculturalism

Kraków has always stood at the forefront of Poland’s transformations, and it is still keeping a step ahead: it regards respect for multiculturalism as a fundamental value, especially given that one in ten Cracovians come from outside of Poland.

Multiculturalism is in Kraków’s DNA. No-one in Kraków even wonders whether openness and acceptance of others is right; they are the axiom of Cracovian attitudes rooted in history and tradition. There can be no Kraków other than multicultural, open to Jewish, Tatar, Armenian, Ukrainian and Roma communities.

 

Since its earliest days Kraków developed in the context of cultural influences from all over Europe, through international relations, intellectual networks and legal, political and economic connections. It was granted city rights under German law in the Middle Ages, while the 16th century it was marked by the rule of Queen Bona (of the powerful House of Sforza of Milan), wife of King Sigismund I the Old. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Kraków was visited by Veit Stoss from Nuremburg, Justus Ludwik Decjusz (friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam), the Italian humanist Filippo Buonaccorsi (Callimachus) and the sculptor Bartolomeo Berrecci. Kraków of those days with its Kraków Academy (revitalised in 1400) was a cultural melting pot and haven for people from myriad cultures and religions. The legacy of the openness for multiculturalism can be traced in some of the buildings including the Turkish House and Muslim Centre at Długa Street, the Orthodox Church at Szpitalna Street, several protestant churches and numerous beautifully restored synagogues in the Kazimierz district.

Continuing multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is an intrinsic part of the modern world. It is a progressive mechanism of building diverse societies, a foundation of successful cities, metropolises and regions and, most importantly, a guarantee of peaceful dialogue. Multiculturalism is an unstoppable force. Some world leaders like to claim that it “doesn’t work”, but regardless of their scepticism it happens every day, here and now, unnoticed and woven from neighbourly relations, exchanges of experience, mutual support, smiling at strangers and kindness to others. Kraków wants to continue its finest traditions of multiculturalism by supporting cultural pluralism and diversity as being at the core of modern civilisation. For Kraków, “difference” and “diversity” which shape the new collective of “ourselves” pose a fascinating challenge and pave the way for creating societies based on the coexistence of nations, languages and customs. It is also the fulfilment of the multidimensional integration processes occurring throughout Europe.

As one of the cities of united Europe, Kraków is building its prestige as the European Capital of Culture 2000, UNESCO City of Literature and member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), and it is not afraid of challenges. We want to build a modern city, shaped by the coexistence of different values and norms while remaining loyal to local historical processes and rules which have been developed here, by the Vistula, based on regional and national heritage. A city which is complex and diverse in the cultural sense.

Contemporary cities in the paradigm of assimilation

Multiculturalism is inherent in the very nature of the creative process. Culture and art are created through fusion and influence.

Artists and authors borrow from and inspire one another and search for external ideas, beauties of other worlds and other people.

Since its beginnings, European culture has known no political boundaries, and artists have always desired freedom and independence. They have often spoken out against the authorities, become dissidents, joined rebellions and broke taboos. They are open to otherness. The Gothic, humanism and Romanticism trends spread across the continent because they each bore a universal message. Today, multiculturalism (still immanent in art and literature) blossoms as a peaceful social project. It could be said that it is at the very core of the cycle of building modern societies in the 21st century.

 

In the world of global multicultural communication, international business, migration and transition, most European cities are home to representatives of different nationalities, Erasmus students, economic migrants and refugees.

Since freedom of movement is one of the fundamental rights of individuals, the world is likely to be stuck with it. Anyone who tries to deny this has no understanding of globalisation processes and human rights. Huge European metropolises have increasingly international, diverse and open municipal management systems able to accommodate huge numbers of people. It is obvious that if they don’t implement assimilation projects and peaceful coexistence, they put newcomers and their families at risk of marginalisation, unemployment, poverty and exclusion, and run the risk of escalating conflicts resulting from cultural, ethnic, religious and ethical differences. They can lead to growing xenophobia, racism and hatred of others. Surely this is not the right way?

Kraków: a community of communities

In Kraków, we assume that cultural diversity is the ontological foundation of past and current European societies. We accept the national diversity of the European Union and each member state’s dedication to their particular traditions, languages and Europe’s multiple voices. We respect different aspects of cultural heritage, including those which had been forcibly imposed. In Kraków, multiculturalism is seen as a form of social integration and the idea of a “community of communities”. We see it as a project of new, democratic egalitarianism, rooted in liberal values. We respect each and every individual, and encourage everyone to participate in Kraków’s culture. Multiculturalism is a fact rather than an ideology. It is not a utilitarian concept; we do not enter into dispute over whether multiculturalism is a left- or right-wing issue, or into questions of ethnic or national loyalties.

 

We invite everyone to participate in an open cultural dialogue; we foster peaceful coexistence and the creation of culture as part of a community. We are inspired by Jean Monnet, a founder of unified Europe, who said, “The best we can do for peace is to convince people to talk to one another. Experience has taught me that our good will is not enough, and that we also need a certain moral force.” Because peace is difficult to maintain – something Poland has painful experience of – we promote the culture of dialogue, cooperation, exchange and sharing artistic experiences among all national and ethnic groups who have made our city their home. We have long been learning from one another by taking up joint initiatives and cultural projects. We create exhibitions and international festivals.

Kraków hosts a wide range of cyclical events promoting local visions of multiculturalism. One of the oldest and most important is the Jewish Culture Festival. The highly inclusive EthnoKrakow/Crossroads festival brings together folk, ethno-jazz and dance music from all corners of Europe and myriad artists working in world music. Kraków’s literary festivals, the Conrad Festival and the Miłosz Festival, promote Polish literature around the globe and bring thousands of readers and acclaimed authors to the city. They are a grand intellectual feast and the only “literary café” of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Tourists see Kraków as an open, welcoming city. We teach multiculturalism in schools and promote education on acquiring multicultural skills. We stress the presence of “others” among us and break down barriers in access to creativity and perception of culture. We are constantly working on our multicultural identity.

Kraków for foreigners

Kraków is a unique city, and it deserves wise cultural plans for the future. Diverse creative processes, combined with self-creation of the city, provide added value which stimulates innovation, intertwines the past with the future and anticipates new trends. Cultural differences also lie at the foundation of successful businesses and rapid growth. They have a positive impact on the economy, urban planning and local and national GDP; they are a rational and stabilising factor.

 

We are destroying the myth of heterogenous societies which apparently cannot compete with homogenous ones. Kraków with its huge numbers of European students, tourists, expats and business travellers, immigrants from Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Vietnam, the Middle East and North Africa, is already a cultural melting pot. This is a trend we should be encouraging to make sure that any new arrivals don’t feel marginalised. We want to make sure individuals arriving here from abroad don’t feel pressured to abandon the culture, customs or beliefs of their countries of origin, and to encourage them to join local creative processes, volunteering organisations, social initiatives and any and all other common activities. The 2016 World Youth Day undoubtedly brought an “explosion of multiculturalism” to Kraków.

We work hard against social exclusion, bring down barriers and promote empathy for all, including the LGBT community. The City of Kraków has developed and is implementing the Open Kraków Programme, aiming to integrate all members of society, including individuals from abroad who have made Kraków their home. The overall goal is bolstering solidarity and building a sense of community. Officials are trained in serving foreigners through an assimilative approach and by encouraging immigrants to become involved with public life.

 

We don’t talk about accepting “otherness” because of political correctness or because it’s “polite” – the concept is one of the fundamental standards of behaviour in Europe. Kraków has always been a major centre of intellectual thought. We want to maintain the tradition of rational thinking set down by our ancestors – scholars and other eminent Cracovians – by engaging mental structures in maintaining spiritual and creative development in all circles participating in the processes of social and cultural modernisation of Kraków. Above all that, multiculturalism counteracts conflict, and Europe has seen more than its fair share of those.

Bożena Gierat-Bieroń

Associate professor in political science and administration at the Institute for European Studies at the Jagiellonian University and director of the postgraduate studies in cultural diplomacy. Author of several books, reports on European studies and dozens of academic articles. She coordinated the international Euroculture masters’ programme between 2002 and 2009. Active member of the European Association of Cultural Researchers ECURES.

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