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“Living Together: Possible Together”, 2 December 2019

The Head M. KABECHE welcomed the participants and introduced the workshop by recalling the project topic, objectives and steps. All of the following associations participated to the workshop and briefly presented themselves.

Elodie SOJIC in charge of Strasbourg Hospitable City Mission presented her work as regard to welcoming refugees with dignity in the city. She also shared her views on intercultural promotion by the city. Strasbourg Hospitable City Mission was created two years ago to improve the conditions of people migrating to the city : asylum seekers, refugees granted status but also rejected ones as well as other migrants. It departed from the fact that the city faced issues which associations could not cope with alone,while the State was not of much immediate help. It had to actively get involved in matters where it had no previous experience, let alone no power as tw as outside its jurisdiction. The question was : how could the city be complementary to the State while responding to immediate needs in the city ? As a result of those reflections, while the number of incoming refugees was rising (from 2000 in 2014 to 4000 in 2018 in Bas-Rhin), a Manifesto for a dignified reception of vulnerable migrants was drafted, published and signed by 37 associations. Other cities alongside Strasbourg engaged in a similar approach. Together they have formed an association of cities to help each other by sharing practices as well as engaging a dialogue with the State to improve the existing, notably by giving room for action to territories and civil society facing issues directly and taking responsibility for matters in its jurisdiction. 

Marie-Agnès PIERROT, International Correspondent, Regional & Departmental Directorate of Youth, Sports & Social Cohesion was our second guest speaker. She works for the promotion of intercultural relations. She opened her speech by underlining the fact that she is the only employee on that mission for the whole Grand Est Region, which is quite a challenge. Her job is to create conditions enabling the Region in the field of interculturality. It reflects a European desire for intercultural openness. She first defined the “intercultural society as one where the population is composed of various cultures showing mutual respect towards one another and a will to live-together with their differences.” She grants that the way to make it happen is the most difficult part.  She then reminded us of the assimilation policy in France versus that of multiculturalism as seen in Great-Britain for instance. “These are complex philosophical and political conceptions. Despite refusing the multiculturalist model, France has adopted positive discrimination practices implementing specific policies and quotas favoring disadvantaged people, which is seen in multiculturalist models. This is the case with priority neighbourhoods city policies, as well as with Handicap and Gender Equality policies in the workplace. At the same time that positive discrimination aims at correcting inequalities, it introduces yet another. The lack of awareness-raising actions around those matters causes the very same population to suffer bad publicity and being despised by the rest of the population. Advantages are won but stigmatization is somehow reinforced and continues to be harmful.”

During the afternoon we simulated a City Council inspired by the activity “A Mosque in Sleepyville”. The objective of this activity is to consider and vote on the building of a mosque in a city where both the inhabitants in favour and against meet for a debate. Among the roles to be played are those of traditionalist, populist and diversity parties as well as associations preserving the traditions of the city on the one hand and a Muslim religious association on the other. The mayor chaired the meeting and, together with his deputies, ensured that the discussions were framed and that each of the participating groups was asked about possible compromises. At the end of this simulation, the results of the vote were favourable for the construction of the mosque thanks to compromises. Participants to the activity appreciated it since it allowed them to consider a different perspective from theirs as individuals. Some had to play a role completely opposite to their views and even to their beliefs. The group had an opportunity to work on a discussed issue in an imaginary land, which could have well been a metaphor for Strasbourg or any other city. Not only were they to discuss but also to vote, which is a democratic practice. The debates as well as the presiding and guiding performance of the Mayor and her deputies lead to agreeing on compromises, resulting in a positive outcome : the construction of a new place of worship for a community deprived of it so far compared to the other communities present as well. Through a debate and dialogue within a democratic framework and with mediating actors that injustice and inequality as well as obstacle to the freedom of worship and beliefs has been successfully lifted.

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