Intercultural trends and social change in the Euro-Mediterranean region
By Ahmad Aminian (Omar Khayam Cultural Center) and Marjon Goetinck (MEDEA Institute)
The Anna Lindh Foundation conducted a survey (carried out by Gallup) in 13 countries, including Belgium, on intercultural trends in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The report « Euromed Intercultural Trends 2013 », is based on opinion polls, conducted by 13 500 people living on both sides of the Mediterranean, and analysis of experts on current topics such as « Islam, the West and modernity », « the media and interculturalism « , » the similarities and differences in value systems « and » regional prospects for peace. »
Ahmad Aminian, of the Cultural Center Omar Khayam (member of the Belgian network of the Anna Lindh Foundation) and Marjon Goetinck, of the MEDEA Institute (head of the Belgian network of the ALF), analyzed the Belgian survey results. The following analysis of these results will incorporate the actual situation in the Belgian civil society linked to the current changes in the Euro-Med region.
Analysis of the Belgian survey results:
How the Belgians see the Mediterranean
The images of revolts in Tunis and Cairo, which have been spread around the world for the past two years, were at first a source of hope. However, the persistence of those riots on the south of the Mediterranean, are raising concerns by the European public opinion. This apprehension is not only due to the political consequences but also, and more importantly, due to the migratory problems that these events cause.
When analyzing the survey results of the Anna Lindh Foundation on Intercultural trends and societal changes in Belgium, we find that there is some consistency between the answers and what we previously stated. As a result of the « Arab Spring », the expectations of the Belgians concerning democracy and their relations with the arab countries in the Mediterranean are rather negative. 39% of the Belgians are convinced that the current change in the Arab world will have a negative impact on the Euro-Arab relations whereas 34% think the impact will be positive. 12% of the respondents did not have an opinion which shows a growing lack of knowledge of change happening in the region.
The Belgian respondents link the Mediterranean mainly to Spain, Italy and France followed by the southern and eastern countries of the Mediterranean which are lagging behind in the polls. Less than half of the actual Mediterranean countries have been mentioned (10 out of 23) by the Belgians. This unveils, once again, the lack of basic knowledge.
Moreover, the survey shows that Belgian’s interactions with the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are first and foremost due to tourism and business trips. Therefore, these interactions do not lead to a profound knowledge of these countries which stays limited to the culinary and lifestyle aspect. On the other hand, 24% of the respondents answer that they have had at least one or more conversations with people originating from the Mediterranean. We should keep in mind that 4,5% of the Belgian population are from those regions, due to immigration-flows over the last decade.
When talking about the characteristics of the Mediterranean, respondents tend to cite positive elements first such as the lifestyle, food, hospitality, history and the common cultural heritage before talking about the more negative aspects involving resistance to change, restlessness in the region and being a source of conflicts. However, Belgians do appreciate the importance of family solidarity, spirituality and the ethics in these countries. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that most Belgians chose the European or Western countries rather that the Mediterranean ones to start their life over.
Migration and social cohesion
After World War II, Belgian has known an important Turkish and Moroccan migration flow, which now form the main non-European communities in the country. Belgium concluded, on 17 February 1964, a bilateral agreement with Morocco on recruitment of manpower to meet the needs of the Belgian economy. The 50th celebration of migration and the living together will be held in 2014 in reference to this date.
Migration and integration are at the center of many public debates both in Belgium as in Europe. Issues of the rise of religious radicalism, discrimination, unemployment and rejections are at the core of a society which is deeply marked by diversity.
In the framework of respect for other cultures, a large majority of Belgians (86%) think that people from different cultural, political or religious backgrounds should receive the same rights and opportunities to participate in public life. A diversity on cultural and religious level are, in their opinion, important for the prosperity of their society. However 46% see this diversity as a threat for the stability of the society.
Intercultural actions and dialogue in Belgium
Dispite of the many difficulties for social integration, the promotion of cultural diversity, development of information networks and collaboration within the belgian civil society, should be emphasized. In a country where so many different cultural background live together, the valorization of the identities of migrants and youngsters with immigrant origins is essential. Many cooperation projects exist to clash mutual stereotypes between young « belgo-belges » and youngsters with immigrant origins. For such projects, it is a challenge to reach a broad audience and not only the public already aware of the issues. Therefore it is important to collaborate with mass media.
Due to a persistent unawareness and an obvious lack of information, the image of the Mediterranean countries and their history is still limited to an exotic vision mixed with prejudices. This highlights the need for a critical and dynamic work on diversity and equality on educational and media level to raise awareness,stimulate reflection and action in order to strengthen the deep mutual knowledge of euro-Mediterranean countries.