The Black Sea Universities Network, together with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, organized the international conference “Social Cohesion in the Black Sea Region”. Held online, in the days of 15th-16th September 2020, the conference brought into discussion the topic of social cohesion in the region, in the context generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic, social and geopolitical tensions existing in some of the Black Sea states.
The conference reunited decision makers and academics from the riparian countries to identify solutions and means to build social cohesion in the region. A proper strategy for the Black Sea Region should attempt to capitalize on the cultural and cross-confessional connections in the area, transport routes and the appealing energetic resources. To achieve this, academics and decision makers need to cooperate in order to identify proper actions depending on local particularities. Efforts to achieve social cohesion in the Black Sea Region are part of the larger framework of actions for sustainable development in the region.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization was represented by Professor Emeritus Emil Constantinescu, President of the Scientific Council, and Dr. Oana Brânda.
September 15 th, 2020
“Economists will tell you that social cohesion is built through strong economic policies. Human rights activists will tell you that one needs democracy and a thorough respect and implementation of human rights to achieve social cohesion. Sociologists will claim that social policies and a focus on the quality of life is essential in reaching social cohesion. I, as an academic, will tell you that social cohesion can also be built through resort to cultural programs”
It is a pleasure to meet you, even thought we still have to do it virtually. When I first saw the title of the conference, I was very glad for the opportunity to be able to speak about such a particular matter, which is of great importance nowadays. I refer to that as the context of our activities has been dramatically changed by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has taken its toll on each field of activity and on each area of expertise. Although the international community has been focusing its attention on the spread of the virus, it has nevertheless remained alert in regard to troubled areas, as is the case of the Black Sea Region. Despite the virus, the region has been fraught with geopolitical, economic, social and military tensions. That is why, focusing on building social cohesion at the Black Sea is highly necessary and I congratulate the Black Sea University Network and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation for the initiative of this conference, and I congratulate the Rector of my University, Marian Preda, for the initiative of launching a Black Sea Studies Centre at the University of Bucharest, with whom we are looking forward to cooperating on many projects of joint interest.
When discussing social cohesion, it is important to remember the immediate example of Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. It is here that social cohesion was built with a direct input from the academic milieu. The first democrat presidents of Eastern Europe were all members of the academic milieu. Thus, they were able to approach state building in the same manner as an exercise: establishing the cause, focusing on the effects and devising the appropriate efforts to create the intended results.
Social cohesion is defined by the Council of Europe as “the capacity of a society to ensure the well-being of all its members”, focusing on minimizing disparities and avoiding marginalization. It deals mainly with respect of human rights and freedoms, the building of democratic stability and the provision for sustainable development in all fields of activity within the very society. Not even the world’s most developed countries have come close yet to achieving this noble purpose, as the recent pandemic has powerfully shown; yet it is nevertheless more critical and more difficult to be done in societies in which there are multiple ethnic groups, as is the case in many of the Black Sea countries.
Economists will tell you that social cohesion is built through strong economic policies. Human rights activists will tell you that one needs democracy and a thorough respect and implementation of human rights to achieve social cohesion. Sociologists will claim that social policies and a focus on the quality of life is essential in reaching social cohesion. I, as an academic, will tell you that social cohesion can also be built through resort to cultural programs.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization is currently running three projects that have the potential to contribute to the creation of social cohesion around the Black Sea. These projects are: Dobrogea: witness of the millennial civilizations of the Levant, The cultural history of the Balkans, The civilization of the Lower Danube, from prehistoric times into modernity. Based on their multidisciplinary approach, these projects aim to investigate the cultural roots that could explain current matters, such as the presence of multiple ethnic groups on a given territory, as is the case of Dobrogea, the sense of community that exists between these groups, the tacit understanding and cooperation manifesting between them, and the cultural impact of this communion of peoples, customs and traditions.
Building social cohesion through culture means embracing one’s social responsibility to promote dialogue and mutual respect. These are the most effective tools in creating connectedness and solidarity among groups in society. Irrespective of their origin, ethnic background and cultural differences, people need to belong. Cultivating the sense of belonging of a community and the relationships between the members of the respective community reduces fractures within that very society, enhances social balance and national identity. In order to achieve social development, people need to have an economic, political, social, cultural and legal environment to work in and prosper. Fragmented societies are an enemy of social cohesion. As a result, one must use the example of tightly knit societies, highlight their cultural development and establish long-term sustainable strategies that can strengthen social cohesion.
As a university professor, I like to talk through examples. In the end of my speech, I would like to present you two examples of building social cohesion through cultural empowerment. The first is a book entitled “Interculturality and social dialogue in Dobrogea” that shall be published this autumn. Edited by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization under the careful supervision of Dr. Florica Mihuț, the volume is a collection of essays and articles presented during the national symposium ”Research on Dobrogean Multiculturalism -Developments and Perspectives”, organized by the Institute in partnership with the ”Ovidius” University of Constanța and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency – TIKA, in 2019 in Constanța.
The second example is a short film made as a result of a virtual exhibition organized by the Institute within the ample framework of the project entitled ”Dobrogea: witness of the millennial civilizations of the Levant”. As you shall see, the exhibition is focused on the intercultural model existing in Dobrogea, highlighting the particularly productive intercultural and inter-faith dialogue that exists within the 18 ethnic groups living there.
I would like to end by thanking you for the opportunity to create a discussion on cultural projects that need to be more and more an integral part of social cohesion and I invite you all to enjoy our film.
September 16 th, 2020
„Social cohesion is essential for the sustainable development, along with social justice and democratic security. Social cohesion fosters social progress, as it engenders well-being through comfortable social conditions. Despite the many ethnic groups living there, Dobrogea is not a fragmented society. It is a place where integration is ongoing for the past century and a half. And this is why it should serve as a model for a world that is already troubled enough”
As can be seen in the short film we prepared at the Institute, Dobrogea is truely a special land. In my view it is the most accurate example of how to build social cohesion, which is the topic of the present conference. My aim is to investigate the path that Dobrogea followed from multiculturality to interculturality, which made it a successful model for cooperation, dialogue and social cohesion.
Multiculturality is achieved by the existence of multiple cultures in one area. Interculturality focuses on the contact between these cultures, the existence of a dialogue between them and the interaction and influence they have on each other. Interculturality in Dobrogea was favoured by the exotic character of these cultures and the appeal it brought to the Romanians. The Dobrogea case is one of a functional interculturality, and not just a theoretical one, or a decorum.
Dobrogea is a model of peaceful coexistence, as ethnic groups managed to thrive here without fear from the authorities. In the case of Dobrogea, cultural and civilizational disparities are eliminated. There is also no marginalization. These are veritable examples of good practices as far as cultural diplomacy is concerned. In the case of Dobrogea, the existing intercultural dialogue is showing that multiculturalism is not a threat to traditional values, but, on the contrary, it is an enhancement of these values, as well as their highlighting of a changing world, in which cultural values, fueled by the existing and still used cultural heritage are one of the few remaining identitary anchors of the individual. One of the Institute’s for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization goals focuses on cultural diplomacy and devising ways to create it. In the context of the pandemic, when all attention was focused on critical fields – healthcare, economy, education, social welfare, cultural institutions remained in the background and tried to create policies that would take care and protect spiritual values. In the aftermath of the pandemic, in the struggles that people will face in recreating the world they knew, they will need to access, maybe more than ever, the values of compassion, empathy, support, solidarity, friendship, and understanding. With conflicts raging in at least a quarter of the world – more or less violent ones, people know few examples of peaceful coexistence.
The effort to organize the virtual exhibition by the Institute is one such effort to remind people that more than ever, they are not numbers in statistics (as the pandemic has brought statistics in our daily lives), but human beings rich in values and cultural background. When working on the exhibition, the idea of social cohesion came out nice and neat from a picture of the minaret of the Great Mosque of Constanta, joined against the blue sky by the spears of the Orthodox Cathedral and the high tower of the Catholic Church.
Dobrogea is a space of interference: between East and West, between Christianity and Islam, between NATO and the former Soviet space. It is a space of ethno-cultural diversity. Despite the manner in which the 18 ethnic groups arrived in Dobrogea – colonization of populations, transfer, voluntary movement, they are now functioning together. The factors that led to this functionality are: population stability (despite the historical swaps of populations, there were no purges against them); access to resources (one explanation for the cultural dialogue existing between the different ethnic groups in Dobrogea is the tolerance which manifests in times of prosperity and political and social positive context. This has been the case in Dobrogea, as the place is rich in resources, and all ethnic groups were free to engage in their exploitation); security of the individual (on account of the respect shown towards the ethnic groups); the reciprocal/mutual knowledge of the groups themselves; the historical experience – Dobrogea’s inhabitants knew the values of tolerance because throughout time, they were ”forced” to embrace it– the many ports and the port daily events familiarised them with people, characters and actions; the exotic character of the area – Romanians were and still are fascinated by these groups’ traditions.
The Intitute’s activities have been very much focused on Dobrogea. By the exhibition and the studies performed in the project ”Dobrogea – witness of the millennial civilizations of the Levant”, we are looking forward to proposing an intercultural model, that would create some form of intercultural education – which is defined as the capacity to identify one’s cultural identity and appreciate the others’ as well. Intercultural education has two dimensions: that of knowledge – comprising information and data, that we receive as such; that of experience – what one feels and lives, the interiorization and experience of the transmitted above-mentioned knowledge. An intercultural model needs to focus on the following aspects: understanding the rationale of each culture, the roots of their existence; no intercultural model is absolute – each is valid and functional in its own way; perceiving cultures in a dialogue one with the other; heterogeneity must be perceived as such, accepted and valued; acknowledging misunderstanding and conflicts –I refer to the functional difference between the ethnic cultures, which should not differentiate, but rather bring the particular touch of each and every culture. It is here that the intercultural dialogue should be brought into discussion as a process that encourages the identification of limits which define the individuals and makes them interact by overcoming these limits and even debating them.
In the Black Sea region, there are many asymmetric risks going on. That is why the orientation of the discussion should be from problems to solutions. As a result, we propose that Dobrogea serve as an example of an intercultural model that could be emulated to other spaces and create social cohesion. Through the application of the cultural model, there are several steps that could be taken in order to achieve social cohesion at the Black Sea: create a regional hub that could be located in Dobrogea, that would connect Black Sea countries in a cultural manner; engage cultural institutions in a network as well as local administrations, and universities; create a common strategy for the promotion of the cultural heritage; develop cross-sector connectedness, involving both public and private sectors.
The responsibility to promote and ensure social cohesion lies with states primarily, which implies a top-down approach ( devising policies from the higher level, by taking into consideration local particularities), but also a bottom-up approach (with communities acting as stakeholders and looking forward to promote their interests ). Also, such a model could help states develop economically, as any cultural model addresses, implicitly, the potential of the cultural footprint for tourism growth, and interregional cooperation.
Social cohesion is essential for the sustainable development, along with social justice and democratic security. Social cohesion fosters social progress, as it engenders well-being through comfortable social conditions. Despite the many ethnic groups living there, Dobrogea is not a fragmented society. It is a place where integration is ongoing for the past century and a half. And this is why it should serve as a model for a world that is already troubled enough.