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Multiculturalism and Citizenship

Multiculturalism is a democratic policy response for coping with cultural and social diversity in society. As a systematic and comprehensive response to cultural and ethnic diversity, with educational, linguistic, economic and social components and specific institutional mechanisms, has been adopted by a few countries notably Australia, Canada and Sweden (UNESCO, 2003)

Citizenship is membership in a political community (usually a country) and carries with it rights to political participation (Carens, 2000). It is viewed as a contract between the individual and the state without the mediation of other entities. It is based on the strict separation of the private from public space (Birnbaum, 1995). Citizenship is an important element in discussions of participation and inclusion.

Citizens have rights and responsibilities. Balancing the two is an ongoing challenge as the core values of citizens evolve over time in response to political, economic and demographic circumstances- with the recognition that certain fundamentals remain constant.

A multi-cultural society exists in a condition of negotiation between the identities

I agree with this statement to a great extend. The different identities need to understand one another and cohabit peacefully.

They should tolerate each other’s varying beliefs, traditions and cultural practices, political and religious affiliations. This comes with utmost respect foe one another. They should not violate the rights of the other identities. Instead, they should give each other space to practice what they believe in. However, this also comes with responsibility not to step onto other people’s rights.

The various identities need to constantly negotiate with one another in order to come up with a compromise that is acceptable to all them. This involves dialogue and socialization amongst all the identities.

Socialization plays a major role in creating a multicultural society. The identities should embrace this and form socialization units amongst themselves. This is achievable through intermarriages, common religion and patriotism.

Sweden and Canada regarding multiculturalism and citizenship

Canada and Sweden are among the very few states in the world which have explicitly adopted a national multicultural model to guide them in managing ethnic diversity. However, Canada is a true multi-cultural society since groups engage in a dialogue as opposed to Sweden. The official adoption by Canada of multiculturalism involved the abandonment of earlier official models of biculturalism.

Nationality in Canada is based primarily on ius solis and there is easy access to naturalization procedures and citizenship for immigrants. Sweden, on the other hand adheres to principles of ius sanguinis. However, it too in practice has procedures that favor relatively easy naturalization. In 1993, 8.5 per cent of the foreign population acquired citizenship. This rate was far higher than in other European countries (OECD 1995, p.158).

Canada was among the first states to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971. This it did after the 1965 Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended the replacement of the bicultural policy, based on the long-established British and French Charter groups that had operated for over a century. The impetus for the change was concern among other immigrant, non-Charter groups about their place in relation to these two dominant ethnic groups. The initial focus in the policy was on the right to preservation of one’s culture and ethnicity as part of Canadian national identity (Dorais, Foster & Stockley, 1994). In Sweden the origins of multiculturalism as a policy differed. In contrast to Canada, its national policy was not based on a view of itself as a nation of immigrants. Nevertheless, after the Second World War, it received numbers of refugees and substantial numbers of Finnish workers. These immigrants later became very vocal in pressing for the adoption of this model.

Despite the extensive inflows, Sweden’s foreign-born population of 869,000 (9.9 per cent) was still substantially below those of Canada of 16.2 per cent (OECD 1995, p.119, 209). The 1975 adoption of the Swedish policy on multiculturalism was based on three key principles: equality, freedom of choice and partnership (Hammar, 1985).

The experience which has accumulated in Canada and Sweden shows that neither special language services nor educational courses may, in themselves, be sufficient to ensure equality in participation and access to a range of social services. There is need to change the way the organization and its staff relate to the citizen.

Access to affordable and suitable housing is a frequent concern among ethnic minorities and to those from other groups who fear the invasion of their neighbors. Canada and Sweden have been largely avoiding the development of dense, substandard and overcrowded urban ghettos found in other parts of Europe and North America. The potential for housing to become a  political issue nevertheless exists as the VanCouver, Canada debate over the monster homes which Asian immigrants were accused of favoring in a middle class suburb clearly shows (Li, 1994).

As the comparison of Canada and Sweden indicates, multiculturalism as a national policy model has so far been developed in only a small number of societies. In all instances though, the initial reason for adoption of the policy was that previous models were not achieving their objectives. Canadian statement on multiculturalism takes a considerable effort to emphasize that it is a policy for managing ethnic diversity.

One striking feature of the implementation of the multicultural model is that the practices associated with the policy have resulted in extremely limited evidence of either inter-ethnic violence or conflict.

Canada has made extensive use of the powers of Federal governments to influence their departments and agencies to adopt multiculturalism as a policy. However, there has been little uniformity in implementation of this policy. Quebec has seen multiculturalism as a policy which may interfere with its special status and the francophone culture. Sweden has not used such powers.

In both Sweden and Canada the multicultural policy was subjected to criticism from the academics and others. Common criticisms concerned perceived threats to existing social traditions and the national culture as well as the costs associated with it.

Indigenous groups in both Canada and Sweden have a unique legal administrative status with associated entitlements. The near success of the 1995 Quebec referendum which would have authorized the provincial government to negotiate secession from Canada is evidence of the strength of separatist feeling that exists in that province. However, the roots of this separation lie more in long held concerns about the relationship between French and British Charter groups than they do with the policy of multiculturalism as such. Indeed, under Canada’s federal system, Quebec has been able to develop its own policy on interculturalism in such a way as not to limit the special position of Quebec Francophone culture (Leman, 1995)

Sweden is reconsidering its commitment to the policy model which developed within the context of that country’s highly developed state welfare system unlike Canada where the policy has had a higher and more independent profile. The financial costs of any interventionist policy are clearly a matter of considerable debate at a time of economic recession and Canada’s current review of the policy must be seen against this background. Even entrenched and strongly institutionalized policies may find it difficult to withstand attack. Despite concerns for the future of multiculturalism as a policy model in Canada a recent assessment suggested that their continuation was likely (Dorais et al, 1994). On the other hand, Canada is currently examining its national identity and its national integrity. The prime question is how Quebec’s ethno-nationalist aspirations may be accommodated.

In Conclusion, the transformation of multi-ethnic, demographically multicultural societies has created a major challenge for policy makers seeking to manage ethnic diversity without exacerbating violence and conflict and in a manner beneficial to all. The focus on social justice counters criticisms that multiculturalism simply serves to continue the exploited, powerlessness of these minority groups. An important feature of the multicultural model is its ability to address issues democratically. In so doing, it counters the often-pessimistic assertion that the democratic majority is inherently opposed to the rights of minority groups.

References

http://www.unesco.org

Carens, J. (2000).Culture, Citizenship, and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness. Oxford University Press

OECD. (1995). SOPEMI: Trends in International Migration. Annual Report 1994, Paris

Dorais, J.L, et al. (1994) Immigration and Refugee Policy: Australia and Canada Compared, Melbourne University Press: Melbourne

Hammar, T. (1985) European Immigration Policy, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Li, P. (1994) “Unneighbourly Houses or Unwelcome Chinese: the Social Construction of Race in the Battle over ‘Monster Homes’ in Vancouver, Canada” International Journal of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies

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