Multiculturalism Around the World

Courtesy of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum:

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Etibar Najafov – Professor at Baky Slavic University: Multiculturalism is a policy which recognizes cultural pluralism and promotes to it. It is connected with respect of rights of all population of a country not depending on their ethnic, racial, and religious differences. In a multicultural society all the citizens of the country have equal rights in developing their culture, language, traditions, ethnic and religious values, in opening national schools, in issuing newspapers, journals, and so on. The policy of multiculturalism leads to integration without assimilation. Therefore, it is widely supported not only by political elite but also by representatives of non-titular nations.

Theoretical basis of multiculturalism is liberalism, particularly such values of liberalism as freedom, equality, and brotherhood. Therefore, a multicultural society is a liberal society able to overcome not only social injustice, but also injustice based on racism. However, there is one essential difference between multiculturalism and liberalism. Unlike liberalism multiculturalism deals with rights of group of people, i.e. rights of ethnic and cultural groups, rather than rights of individuals.

Multiculturalism as a policy is also very close to tolerance by its essence. Particularly it is one of the most important features of a tolerant society, which proposes parallel existence of different cultures. As a feature of tolerant society multiculturalism promotes mutual enrichment of cultures, it leads to penetration of one culture into another, to further formation of culture uniting people.

Multiculturalism is one of the varieties of reaction to cultural diversity, existing in a society. Besides it, we can note other varieties of reaction to cultural diversity such as isolationism, assimilation, and apartheid.

  1. Isolationism is aimed to prevent formation of cultural diversity by not allowing alien people (especially culturally alien ones) to enter a country and reside there. As a case we can refer to “Law on Immigration” adopted in Australia in 1901.
  2. Assimilation is an alternative policy to isolationism. This policy proposes absorption of cultures of minorities and newly arrived by dominant cultures;
  3. Apartheid is a policy directed to segregate definite groups of peoples with the aim to impede their assimilation.    All these varieties of reaction to cultural diversity are being conducted by repressive methods. Therefore, peoples mostly resist to these methods.

Unlike the above-mentioned methods, multiculturalism is such a variety of reaction to cultural diversity that is supported not only by a dominant ethnic group of people but also by newly-arrived ones and even minorities. The given specific feature of multiculturalism makes it a positive phenomenon which ultimately promotes development of society.

The process of formation and development of multicultural society was determined by peculiarities of historical development, concrete societal factors. It should be noted that democracy played a crucial role in the process of formation and development of multicultural society. Particularly, democracy had been necessary for the given process as well as sufficient conditions. It is not occasional that multicultural society came into existence first of all in the democratic states of Western Europe and North America. High level of tolerance, pluralism, and democracy in these states created favorable conditions for spreading ideas of multiculturalism there.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned fact that formation and development of multicultural society was determined by peculiarities of historical development of a concrete society we should note that due to differences of the historical development of states there were different models of multiculturalism. Among its most specific models I’d like to note American, Swedish, Australian, and Canadian models.

a.  American model of multiculturalism.

Up to the middle of the 1960-s the USA was imagined as a “melting pot”, which combined Anglo Saxons (ethno cultural base of the American nation) with immigrants.  In the given “pot” the Anglo Saxons were in the dominant position. After that the situation substantially changed. The “melting pot” program was substituted by the ideology of multiculturalism. As the main reason of the change, I can note, was the adoption of 2 important laws- “Law on Civil Rights” in 1964 and “Immigration Law” in 1965. The first law weakened the Anglo Saxons factor and provided equality of nations. The second law accelerated immigration in the country.

Today in multicultural policy of the USA we clearly see the acceptance of the values of the American society by immigrants on the one side, and the lack of ethno cultural homogeneity of the American society as well as formation of supplementary mechanisms preventing ethnic and racial extremism, on the other side.

b.  Swedish model of multiculturalism

The Swedish model is based on the active role of the state in conducting the policy directed to preserve cultural diversity. Such an active position of the state in Sweden has been related to the ruling of the Social- Democratic Party, which has a strong social policy. In 1976 the Swedish government allowed foreigners to vote. “Law on Immigration” (1997) identified Sweden as a multicultural society.

The policies are directed to urge immigrants to study the Swedish and native language. Thus, the Swedish government considers cultural diversity in the country as a reality which should be preserved.

c.   Australian model of multiculturalism

The formation of multicultural society in Australia was preceded by the policy of isolationism pursued by the government. “Law on Immigration”, adopted in Australia in 1901, and served as a legislative basis for conducting the policy of isolationism by the ruling elite. The situation began to change with the adoption of the following legislative documents: “Law on Citizenship” (1948) with amendments, “Law on Migration” (1958) with amendments, “Law on Foreigners” (1984) with amendments and “Law on Visa regulation” (1997) with amendments.

It should be noted that the introduction of the term “multiculturalism” into political lexicon is connected with the name of Al Grasby, minister of Immigration of Australia (1970). He did very much to overcome the hostility between the Anglo Saxon population and new Australians. In 1979 the government founded Australian Institute on Problems of Cultural Diversity, in 1987 – the government established the Committee on Problems of Multiculturalism. These measures of the Australian government played a very important role in successful evolving of the immigration policy of Australia from pro-racist to multicultural policy.

d.  Canadian model of multiculturalism

The formation of multicultural society in Canada has begun since the 1960-s. The Canadian government believes racial, ethnic, confessional diversities of the population to be the basic national feature of the Canadian society. It means that multiculturalism is one of the most significant national peculiarities of Canadians. Multiculturalism is protected by the 27-th clause of the Canadian Charter of Freedom and Rights.

Unlike the USA and Australia, in Canada there was never a crude assimilation by an ethnic group having a dominant position. Canada is indisputably to be a multilingual country. All members of ethnic communities have rights to use their native languages including the right to teach it. As a result of this situation ethnic minorities of Canada preserve also their cultural and mental peculiarities.

Thus, as a result of a comparative analysis of different models of multiculturalism I’d like to make some generalizations:

  1. Multiculturalism is a positive societal phenomenon. It creates favorable conditions for the development of society. Particularly, it prevents the development  of ethnic collisions, strengthens the trust between peoples;
  2. Multiculturalism came into existence as alternative policy to repressive varieties of reactions of society toward cultural diversity;
  3. Democracy has been one of the most important prerequisites for the formation of multicultural society;
  4. Peculiarities of historical development of state caused formation of various models of multiculturalism;
  5. Despite some differences between various models of multiculturalism in all of these analyzed models the state has been playing a crucial role in creating and supporting multicultural environment.”

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