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Multiculturalism is dead? Not quite yet

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] M [/yt_dropcap]ulticultural approaches and policies vary widely all over the world, ranging from the advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to a policy of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group to which they belong.

Two different strategies, as recently pointed out by Ms. Camilla Habsburg-Lothringen, have been developed through different government policies and strategies: The first, often labelled as interculturalism, focuses on interaction and communication between different cultures. The second one, cohabitative multi-culti does center itself on diversity and cultural uniqueness; it sees cultural isolation as a protection of uniqueness of the local culture of a nation or area and also a contribution to global cultural diversity.

A sort of “third way” between the two above-mentioned strategies has been traditioned and further enhanced by core Asian counties, e.g. Azerbaijan, where state policy has been accompanied, in a complementary way, to a certain activism of intermediate bodies (civil society, universities, think tanks).

Multiculturalism is a state policy of Azerbaijan and it has become a way of life of the republic ensuring mutual understanding and respect for all identities. The year 2016 has been declared the Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan, as stated by President Ilham Aliyev on January 10. This decision was made taking into account the fact that Azerbaijan brings an important contribution to the traditions of tolerance and intercivilization dialogue.

Its peculiar location between Eastern Europe and Western Asia and its sociopolitical context – where people of various religions and ethnicities have lived together in mutual respect – have allowed Azerbaijan to adopt a multicultural-led agenda as a strategic tool of foreign policy.

Despite challenges due to the instability of the area and unresolved armed conflict with neighboring Armenia for the control of Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku has made an effort to create and foster the necessary political and social conditions for developing and strengthening the country’s traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance.

From a historical perspective, representatives of many ethnic and religious groups have lived together with Azerbaijanis since the era of the Safavids’ empire and during the XIX-XX centuries, including the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Today Azerbaijan, a country which established the first secular democracy in the Muslim world in 1918 and offered women the right to vote in 1919, acts as a model for peaceful coexistence of members of different cultures.

It hosts one of the oldest mosques in the world, in the city of Shamakhi, dating from 743, and also one of the oldest Christian churches, an Armenian church from the 12-13 century. Not to mention one of the oldest churches in the Caucasus near the city of Sheki – the Church of Caucasian Albania, and a Zoroastrian temple, a temple of fire worshipers, not far from Baku. Azerbaijan has been inhabited by representatives of different religions and cultures throughout history, demonstrating a deep heritage of coexistence among different religions.

Indeed, currently there are more than 649 registered religious communities in the Republic of Azerbaijan, among which 37 are non-Islamic. It has 13 functioning churches. The building of the Jen Mironosets Church (built by Hadji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev in 1907) was granted to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. Aleksi II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’, who was on a visit in Azerbaijan in May 2001, granted the status of church to this temple. Currently there are three Russian Orthodox Churches in Baku, one in Gandja and one in Khachmaz. The Catholic community was registered in Azerbaijan in 1999. A special building for the conduction of religious ceremonies was purchased for the community and it became a church in 2000. According to the agreement between the Azerbaijani Government and Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church has been constructed in 2007 in Baku. It is more than 2500 years that the Jews have settled in Azerbaijan, never suffering religious intolerance or discrimination; currently six Jewish religious communities are registered and seven synagogues are functioning. Azerbaijan contributes also to the world heritage. Restoration of Roman catacombs, Strasbourg Cathedral Church, ancient masterpieces in Versailles (Paris), Capitolini Museum (Roma), Louvre Museum (Paris), Trapezitsa Museum (Bulgaria) etc. by Heydar Aliyev Foundation are typical example of these contribution.

Development of multiculturalism and tolerance at the level of State policy in Azerbaijan is based on ancient history of statehood of the country and on development of these traditions. Nowadays, thanks to efforts of the government, this political behavior has acquired a form of ideology of statehood and political practice (state policy), whereas the political bases of these concepts have found their reflection in relevant clauses of articles of the Constitution, legal acts, decrees and orders. Regarding one of the facets of this conception – religious freedom – it is also worth noting that article 48 of Azerbaijani Constitution ensures the liberty of worship, to choose any faith, or to not practice any religion, and to express one’s view on the religion. Moreover, the law of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1992) “On freedom of faith” ensures the right of any human being to determine and express his view on religion and to execute this right. According to paragraphs 1-3 of Article 18 of the Constitution the religion acts separately from the government, each religion is equal before the law and the propaganda of religions, abating human personality and contradicting to the principles of humanism is prohibited. The above-mentioned laws make Azerbaijan a modern de jure secular state, as well as de facto.

As a consequence of this public support, expressed through material and financial assistance from the budget of Country and Presidential foundation, there are dozens of national-cultural centers functioning at present. They include “Commonwealth” society, Russian community, Slavic cultural center, Azerbaijani-Israeli community, Ukrainian community, Kurdish cultural center “Ronai”, Lezgin national center “Samur”, Azerbaijani-Slavic culture center, Tat cultural center, Azerbaijani-Tatar community, Tatar culture society “Tugan-tel”, Tatar cultural center “Yashlyg”, Crimean Tatars society “Crimea”, Georgian community, humanitarian society of Azerbaijani Georgians, Ingiloyan community, Chechen cultural center, “Vatan” society of Akhyska-Turks, “Sona” society of the women of Akhyska-Turks, Talysh cultural center, Avar society, mountain Jews community, European Jews (Ashkenazi) community, Georgian Jews community, Jewish women humanitarian association, German cultural society “Kapelhaus”, Udin cultural center, Polish cultural center “Polonia”, “Mada” International Talysh Association, “Avesta” Talysh Association, Udin “Orain” Cultural Center, “Budug” Cultural Center, Tsakhur Cultural Center. Not to mention the club-based amateur societies, national and state theatres, amateur associations and interest-focused clubs in areas with compact minority populations. The State also supports dozens of magazines, newspapers, radio and television programs which are expression of language minorities.

Declaration of the Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan took place against the backdrop of religiously motivated ethnic conflicts in the Middle East. This kind of State-led multiculturalism, which could be considered as a form of soft power, is intended to be introduced as a model of multiculturalism elsewhere, especially to states and societies of the Middle East, where radicalism has spread rapidly over the last 20 years.

In recent years Baku has hosted numerous international events, starting from the Baku International Humanitarian Forum. The capital of Azerbaijan has hosted this Forum since 2011, which aims to build an authoritative international platform for world scientists and culture figures as well as acclaimed experts to discuss pressing global humanitarian challenges. The Baku International Humanitarian Forum is attended by well-known statesmen, public figures and prominent scientists, including 13 Nobel Prize winners, as well as journalists, representatives of non-governmental organizations and other distinguished guests.

Since 2011 Baku has hosted the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, in partnership with UNAOC, UNESCO, UN World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe and ISESCO. Through this initiative known as “Baku process”, Azerbaijan acknowledges the power of intercultural dialogue and the possibility to create the conditions for positive intercultural and inclusive relations. At the same time, hosting the first ever European Games in 2015, Azerbaijan will conduct the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.

This year Baku has hosted the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (April 25-27), which aims to reach a more peaceful and socially inclusive world, by building mutual respect among people of different cultural and religious identities, and highlighting the will of the world’s majority to reject extremism and embrace diversity.

With the same purpose, in 2014 was established the Baku International Multiculturalism Center, aimed to preserve ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the country. It has also been created to introduce Azerbaijan as a centre of multiculturalism to the world, and carried out research into and promoted existing multicultural models of the world. One of the mainstream projects of the Centre is promoting a special University course entitled “Azerbaijani multiculturalism” at local and foreign universities. The promoters already managed to incorporate this course into the teaching programs of some top ranked universities (Sapienza University in Rome, Charles University in Prague, Fribourg University in Switzerland) across Europe, as well as in Russia, Georgia and in Indonesia. The Center has also initiated the publication of a series of books under the title “Sources of Azerbaijani Multiculturalism”.

Within the framework of the Year of Multiculturalism, Baku International Multiculturalism Centre launched the Summer School and Winter School programs every year for students and researches interested in enhancing and deepening their knowledge in this issue (theoretical and practical knowledge), and explore new topics regarding Azerbaijani multiculturalism.

In a recent visit to Baku (October 2016), Pope Francis praised Azerbaijan as a place of religious tolerance after meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and after a private meeting with Sheikh ul-Islam, the region’s grand mufti, before the two men held an interreligious meeting at the country’s largest mosque with Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders.

A significant activism of civil society in this issue is also demonstrated by many initiatives and projects created by Azerbaijani think tanks and academic groups. One of the most interesting and relevant is the International Multicultural Network (IMN) founded and headed by Dr. Khayala Mammadova, which is “an online presence to connect researchers and practitioners with an interest in multiculturalism, aimed at promoting and disseminating research on the multifaceted multicultural agenda and for comprised of scholars, state and community actors specialising in the fields of multiculturalism, intercultural and interreligious relations across diverse disciplines and geographical regions”.

It connects researchers from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Likewise, it appoints Country Representatives, and promotes publications (books, journal articles, research reports), discussions and events in order to advise, educate and inform on subjects related to multiculturalism and cultural diversity. We can mention, among the most significant international partners of the International Multicultural Network, “The Prisma – The Multicultural Newspaper”, a London-based newspaper which “works for the elimination of racial and cultural prejudices, and is committed to social justice and equality of opportunity”, and is aimed at promoting and defending these values of the multicultural society of the UK, especially in the case of Latin Americans.

Using its peculiar way to multiculturalism as a strategic tool of foreign policy and defending itself from religious and political extremism, Azerbaijan represents a country’s success story that could give Europe a contribution in its difficult approach to this issue.

Multiculturalism is a divisive subject of debate in almost all European nations that are associated with a single, national cultural ethos. As the latest datas confirm, European Union is facing unprecedented demographic changes (ageing population, low birth rates, changing family structures and migration) which are likely to change the internal structure of its member states over the next 50 years.

Despite Europe has always been a mixture of different cultures, unified by the super-position of Imperial Roman Christianity, the ideology of nationalism (XIX-XX century) transformed the way Europeans thought about theirselves and the state. The new nation-states sprang up on the principle that each nation is entitled to its own sovereignty and to engender, protect, and preserve its own unique culture and history. Social unity, according to this ideology, is seen as an essential feature of the nation, understood as unity of descent, unity of culture, unity of language, and often unity of religion. The European nation-state, at least until the mid-twentieth century, constitutes a culturally homogeneous society, although some national movements recognizes regional differences.

Bearing in mind this context, during the latest decades some of the European countries – especially France – have tried to culturally assimilate the regional minorities, or any other ethnic/linguistic/religious group different from the national majority, while ensuring them every individual and group right. Nevertheless, after the economic crisis of 2007-2008 and the increasing of migration resulting from riots and civil wars within the Arab-Islamic world, criticism of multiculturalism has become stronger and stronger in the Old Continent. This position questions the ideal of the maintenance of distinct ethnic cultures within a state and sometimes argues against cultural integration of different ethnic and cultural groups to the existing laws and values of the country. Alternatively critics may argue for assimilation of different ethnic and cultural groups to a single national identity.

Thirty years ago, many Europeans saw multiculturalism as an answer to Europe’s social problems. Today, according to multiculturalism’s critics, it allowed excessive immigration without demanding enough integration, a mismatch that has eroded social cohesion, undermined national identities, and degraded public trust. However, as argued by Kenan Malik on Foreign Affairs, multiculturalism in Europe has become a proxy for other social and political issues: immigration, identity, political disenchantment, working-class decline. “As a political tool, multiculturalism has functioned as not merely a response to diversity but also a means of constraining it”, writes Malik. “And that insight reveals a paradox. Multicultural policies accept as a given that societies are diverse, yet they implicitly assume that such diversity ends at the edges of minority communities”.

In his luminary book ‘Europe of Sarajevo 100 years later’, prof. Anis Bajrektarevic diagnosed that ‘multiculturalism in not dead but dread in Europe’. “There is a claim constantly circulating the EU: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’. Dead or maybe d(r)ead?… That much comes from a cluster of European nation-states that love to romanticize – in a grand metanarrative of dogmatic universalism – their appearance as of the coherent Union, as if they themselves lived a long, cordial and credible history of multiculturalism. Hence, this claim and its resonating debate is of course false. It is also cynical because it is purposely deceiving. No wonder, as the conglomerate of nation-states/EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European anti-fascistic identity, or otherness – to the wing-parties. This was repeatedly followed by the selective and contra-productive foreign policy actions of the Union over the last two decades.” – writes prof. Bajrektarevic on the most pressing issue of today’s Europe.

Thus, as it seems to look for the multiculturalism one has to search beyond Europe.Starting from this theoretical point, the traditional and modern reinvigorated Azerbaijan experience about multiculturalism could teach Europe an important lesson: addressing issues and policies on multiculturalism requires an approach that combines state policies with resourcefulness of civil society and intermediate bodies. An approach which would avoid, on the one hand, the distortion of local peoples and migrants, and on the other hand would waste assimilationism. In other words, a new “foedus” (pact, alliance) which would preserve rights and culture of minorities, while ensuring the values of the majority of the population.

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Eastern Europe

Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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Eastern Europe

How the Caspian Sea joins the Black Sea

Asim Suleymanov

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In the development of international cooperation and the deepening of industrial cooperation, the leading role belongs to the formation of a network of international transport corridors. It has a special place in solving transport problems associated with the expansion of interstate transportation, economic, cultural and other ties, with the creation of an international transport infrastructure that has common technical parameters and ensures the use of a single transportation technology as the basis for the integration of national transport systems into the global transport system.

Developing corridors are to play a system-forming role in the economic and social development of the territories along which they pass. Their creation is directly related to projects for the development of sectors of the economy and social sphere.

If a modern transport corridor connects the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, it will lead to uninterrupted cargo transportation between Asia and Europe. New opportunities for the regional states will be opened up. This was confirmed by the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Romania, Georgia and Turkmenistan, held in mid-March 2019 in Bucharest.

According to its results, a political declaration was signed. The document reflects the determination of the four states to implement the project of an international freight route between two seas by joint forces.

As expected, the corridor between the two seas will have a real impact on the standard of living in the participating countries and cause a sharp surge in business activity in neighboring regions.

The idea of the project is to make full use of the geographical proximity of Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as the capabilities of the ports of Constanta in Romania, Poti in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.

New transport route will allow establishing a direct connection between the port of Constanta and the Danube River, and then the rivers and canals on the European continent, that will open access to Central and Northern Europe.

In general, the Caspian-Black Sea region is becoming links of a single Eurasian transport network.

The main question is how to direct the necessary volumes of cargo along this route, which would make its work profitable and profitable. To meet these challenges, in the near future four countries have planned to create an expert working group, optimize working procedures, harmonize tariffs, identify remaining infrastructure and legal constraints, and jointly promote the project at the international level, including in the course of interaction with the European Union. But it will not be easy for them to achieve all these ambitious goals.

The closest allies of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, support all the projects aimed at strengthening economic cooperation between Baku and other countries of the Caspian-Black Sea region. Moscow and Ankara are lobbying for the creation of a transport corridor between the two seas.

Azerbaijan once again demonstrates that it is becoming one of the most important transport hubs of Eurasia – a transit hub in which the East and the West are tightly tied.

This country is interested in East and West, not conflicting with each other, but driven forward by the single energy of partnership.

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Eastern Europe

China’s changing interests in South Caucasus

Orkhan Baghirov

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President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Photo: Azertac

On April25-28,“Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” took place in the capital city of China. From South Caucasus region only Azerbaijan leader Aliyev was in the list of 36 top-Level attendees (Diplomat, April 27).As the Azerbaijan was participating first forum in 2017 on ministerial level, visit of President in second forum demonstrates intention of both sides for close cooperation within the framework BRI.

Despite fact that China’s strong ambition to enter European market through BRI makes Georgia one of the most important players in the region (it has FTA both with China and EU) its high-level officials did not attend the forum (Emerging-Europe, January 3, 2018).

Generally, South Caucasus region was not in the Chinese focus when the BRI project was unveiled in 2013.Its attitude to the region has changed afterwards. Being part of the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, South Caucasus has strategic importance for China. At the same time, transportation projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and Anaklia Deep-Sea Port has increased significance of the region.

From geopolitical point of view stability in Azerbaijan and Georgia’s political problems with Russia creates ground for Chinese presence in Caucasus. It is clear that having political problems with West Russia is not willing to confront China. Therefore, using these opportunities and establishing good relations both with Georgia and Azerbaijan China is able to avoid its biggest rival in Eurasia and use shortest way to European markets (Trend.az, April 10).

Importance of South Caucasus countries within the BRI framework is not same. Armenia has less potential for BRI. It does not have enough transportation infrastructure and its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed. Armenia has a potential to become a corridor to markets of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran. However, it does not have borders with the members of EEU and  railway project between Armenia and Iran is not viable due its high costs ($3.2 billion) and less importance in commercial means (Vestnikkavkaza, August 25, 2018).Also, China has borders with two biggest members of EEU and could easily reach EEU markets through them. 

In the case of Georgia, China is the biggest foreign investor. China’s Hualing Group controls Kutaisi free industrial zone (FIZ), owns Basis Bank, hotels, wine export enterprise. It also constructs “Tbilisi Sea New City” near Tbilisi Sea in which company has already invested around 150 million dollars (hualing.ge).Another Chinese company CEFC Energy owns 75% of Poti FIZ (Cbw.ge, March 20).

Unlike the Georgia, mostly state-owned Chinese companies have invested in Azerbaijan. One of these companies CTIEC Group constructed biggest cement factory in Azerbaijan in 2014.China also has a great interest on Baku International Sea Trade Port as it is one of the main ports within BRI. Based on intergovernmental grant agreement China transferred $2 million worth equipment to the port (Azernews, April 4, 2018).

Despite fact that Azerbaijan is China’s key trade partner in the South Caucasus (it accounts 43 percent of China’s trade turnover in the region) it has massive investments in Georgia (Azernews, April 25). It mostly related to political orientation of these countries. Georgia follows more western orientation that made it more attractive for China while Azerbaijan implements balanced strategy and it does not want to feel China’s pressure. Besides, Azerbaijan is not in need of financial assistance like Armenia and Georgia as it has enough financial reserves.

However, recent developments of Sino-Azeri economic relations within the framework of the Second Belt and Road Forum creates new perspectives for China’s presence in South Caucasus. During the forum 10 agreements worth of 821 million USD has been signed  (Azvision.az, April 24). These contracts cover different economic spheres of non-oil sector including the construction of a tire factory in the Sumgayit chemical-industrial park, the creation of a 300-hectare greenhouse complex in the Kurdamir region of Azerbaijan, and the construction of agrological industrial parks in the Guba, Goychay and Khachmaz regions (Turan.az April 24).If we take in account that Chinese investors have invested800 million USD in the economy of Azerbaijan since independence, obtained agreements in the forum worth of same amount shows China’s growing interest in Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that China’s preference of Georgia has changed. Within the BRI project both Azerbaijan and Georgia are of geopolitical importance for China. It is in China’s interest to boost bilateral relations with both of countries. It is apparent that China already has considerable investments in Georgia and now it is time to deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan. At the same time Azerbaijan is not going to cross limits of its balanced policy. Chinese companies that signed agreements in second forum are government affiliated companies as well. It again shows that Azerbaijan is willing to deepen cooperation without creating room for pressure in its domestic economy.

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