Christian Sørhaug is a norwegian anthropologist, part of the Telemarksforking team in Olso, partner of New minorities in Bucharest. You can read, below, his views about cultural diversity from Romania to Norway and back.
Migration provides challenges and opportunities: As fortress Europa seeks to solidify its borders further as migrants are pressing on, understanding how these new minorities find strategies to exist in relation to a majority population has become even more important. Many nations and capitals of Europe are trying to deal with the refugee crisis, which is the largest migration wave Europe has experienced since the Second World War. In the current discussion, great attention is paid to the costs and negative effects of migration. However, we cannot forget that migration also influences and contributes to cultural creativity, economic innovation and social diversity.
Migration has been a force through human history: Movement of populations, then, is rather a constant aspect of human culture than some abnormal state. The European Union, as a rather unique historical experiment, will need to discover how to deal with the minorities that migration necessarily will form within its borders. This is the reason why a project like the “New Minorities of Bucharest” is so important. The research is oriented towards understanding how a modern nation-state might handle the challenges and opportunities offered by the new minorities of Europe that will inevitably be the end-result of this refugee crisis.
Oslo, the capital of Norway, is the most economic and ethnically divided city in Europe: Currently there is going on a large debate in Norway about the damaging effects of this partitioning of the capital. In the west, you have an affluent population that is ethnically white Norwegian, while the east has the majority of the ethnic minorities – Pakistani, Somali, Indian, Poles etc. In the east the population has a substantial shorter life span and poorer living conditions. The division of the capital between the affluent and the poor has historical roots dating back several hundred years. However, these divisions are reproducing themselves through the new minorities of Oslo. The question we are confronted with today, is, how are we to handle the division politically?
How to combine difference and equality? Any modern nation state needs to be able to balance the challenges and opportunities of equality and similarity on the one hand, with difference and diversity on the other. The new minority question, then, confronts us with how to deal with diversity in a community. How are we to integrate something different into what we perceive to be a relative seamless whole? Culture can be understood as a repeating rhythm. When this repetition is disturbed, we can possibly become disconcerted – it might worries us. However, we must not forget that such disruption also gives inspiration to cultural creativity and innovation. New social phenomenon are afforded through encounters, or encounter value, as the philosopher Donna Haraway talks about. The hybrid identity formation that necessarily is produced through encounters between minority and majority populations can have great value, and does not need to be represented as something dangerous or troublesome.
Diversity materializes in the urban landscape: In the eastern parts of Oslo, there is a vast presence of ethnically diverse “others”. The inhabitants constantly need to relate to this cultural diversity. In such an environment, few people can take their traditions for granted, where neighbors constantly reminds you of alternative cultural traditions. Differences materializes in everyday practices performed through cooking, eating, takling and lifestyle leisure activities. These practices points to a situation where cultural hybridization takes place all the time. An important minority in Norway is the Pakistani who started migrate to Norway in the 1970s. Today the Norwegian-Pakistani community minority makes out an important part of Norwegian public political scene and cultural life. They are national politicians, artist and legislators. Alongside several other minorities, they contribute to what it means to be Norwegian in a global world. Norwegian identity today has a rich cultural diversity due to these minorities.
Identity is the name of a relation: And social categories are ways of identifying minorities. Through identity we classify and categories people. However, social categories are much more than linguistic classifiers. Social categories can provide unequal legal rights and obligation: Being a citizen of a EU state or not greatly affects how migrants are integrated. For example, a study I have done on lifestyle migrants in Norway, consisting for the most part of Dutch migrants moving to Norwegian rural areas to live in remote villages to experience a lifestyle change, are recruited into the municipalities by government official. This stands in stark contrast to Syrians who today travel through Russia, to the Northern border that Norway shares with Russia, and uses bicycles to cross the borders (apparently Russian authorities does not allow people to cross the border on foot…). Nation-states can experience minorities as threatening to its integrity and stability. Migrants crossing nation-state borders are often portrayed as destabilizing and disintegrating a social whole. However, these perspectives tend to forget that the nation state are a contingent historical product forever in the making. Cultural change, as well as cultural complexity, is rather the state of affairs.
Minorities become social categories: Looking into the new minorities of Europe, we can examine how the modern nation states of Europe practice such social categories – to exclude and to include, to segregate and to solidify – its identity and borders. The practice of social categories inform us on some aspect of the current situation. Social categories is a question of access to education, health services, or job markets, as well as social groups- You can be privileged, or not. However, social categories used to denominate a minority – whatever the case might be – need to be examined – to be scrutinized closely.
A minority can be the product of migration: The de-territorializing effects of migration – that is when nation-state borders and their content is threatened – should not automatically be seen as something dangerous. Rather, this is also a question of creativity, of development and of new opportunities. This is especially evident in the rich history of Bucharest. Walking around in the urban landscape, makes me reflect on the rich and changing architect history of the city. Houses inspired by French architecture, English pubs, Lebanese restaurants, testifies to change. The interesting question becomes; how do we deal with change?
Respect – the latin of re-specere – means to mirror yourself in the other: How the modern nation-states of Europe treats and respects minorities also gives us information about the conditions of the majority populations. If identity is the name of a relation, and the minority/majority are relative terms, we are then confronted with ourselves when it comes to how we treat the new minorities of Europe. As such, I find the research into the new minority of Bucharest to be of great importance and not the least, very exciting.