19 / 2004
Janja Žitnik Serafin

Multiculturalism and Globalization: A Comment

The global reach of capital, science, technology, information, ideas, political and social activism and other spheres of activity has brought about several global processes in the domain of culture as well: a globalization of dominant cultures and languages, an international break-through of various hitherto secluded minor cultures, and a globalization of concepts relating to cultural equality. The papers composing this section certainly show that when questions of multiculturalism are involved, we can learn from the past and we can learn from each other. The advanced communication technology has been removing the barriers of the time, the distance and the language, and it has been spreading the principles of cultural equality around the world. The effects of the resulting global intercultural permeability can be observed practically on all levels of private and public life, to a lesser extent – as we have learnt here – even on the level of the changing family patterns. The need of language transparency which is necessary to curb interethnic conflicts, and the need to protect language diversity have been discussed in considerable detail; and finally, the most practical ways of advancing a global multicultural peace culture have been suggested.
As valuable and useful as these proposals doubtlessly are, I cannot help realizing that an essential part may be missing. When human equality is the subject of discussion, be it in terms of social conditions, race and ethnicity, religion or culture, it seems that the harder we try to resolve the respective problems separately from investigating the manifold impact of the global concentration of capital – a concentration to the benefit of the few, the more complex and remote the solutions will appear. It is self-evident though that a culture with a weak economic basis does not have the same prospects as a culture with a firm economic basis. Furthermore, a multicultural coexistence and world peace are not in the interest of those 6 % of the world population who – under the protection of their own legislation – have taken possession of 59 % of the world’s property. Three richest individuals possess a wealth which is greater than the sum of the gross domestic product of 48 poorest countries together. The number of the most discriminated people, those who can spend less than a dollar a day, jumped in East Europe and Middle Asia from 1 million in 1987 to 24 million in 1998 (a result of the “democratization” of the former socialist countries). Their share in Central and South Africa and in South Asia has been slightly below half of these countries’ entire population; in some countries their share is more than 60 %. The ‘new economy’ which, in terms of the standard of living, has divided the countries of the world to a higher degree than any previous economic processes, needs economic inequality as well as international economic migrations because it needs inexpensive labor (i.e. both, immigrant workers and those who have stayed in their underdeveloped homelands) to sustain itself. If the countries of the world were more equal in economic respect, they would be more equal in social and cultural respects, there would be far less international economic migration, migrants would not constitute extreme social strata, and their national affiliation would not be such a controversial issue as it is now.
More and more young people realize that the doctrine which preaches competition, winning and success before everything else, and divides people, nations and countries into the successful and the unsuccessful, the advanced and the underdeveloped, the powerful and the powerless, the winners and the losers, is not the only option. With the genesis of global identity, factors such as nationality, culture or religion are becoming ever more inclusive, and ever less exclusive attributes of one’s identity. This means, in short, that I CAN identify with you because I AM conscious of my nationality, culture, religion or any other link of my manifold group identity, just as you ARE conscious of yours. Furthermore, one’s attitude towards the family, towards the distorted criteria of social equality, towards the environment and health, are already becoming more essential factors of one’s identity than those which have so far been used to disguise the actual background of the militarist ideology. The color of one’s skin can then soon turn out to be no more controversial than the color of one’s hair, and one’s mother tongue or religion no more irritant than the color of one’s voice.
With all the unprecedented socio-economic divide and intercultural conflicts which have been accelerated by the process we tend to call globalization, this very same process is simultaneously also bringing solutions, including potentially an essential reform of the self-image of mankind as well as perhaps a thorough redefinition of human rights and equality. With a redemptive help of our human nature which leads us, in critical moments, to give priority to our common survival and to get more actively involved in questions crucial for us to outlast the self-destructive turbulence of our prolonged social infancy, I believe the option indicated throughout the papers of this thematic section is bound to prevail.

Janja Žitnik, PhD (in literature), is a research advisor at the Institute for Slovenian Emigration Studies, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana. Her recent research efforts have been mainly focused on preparatory work for placing the literary creativity of Slovenian emigrants as well as that of immigrants in Slovenia, into a broader context of intercultural relations within the receiving country.