Being diaspora in Europe

Diasporas in Europe and their problems were discussed in a detailed way at a meeting held in Brussels last week. Attending the discussions, Alin Ozinian wrote about the important developments.

On Monday May 2, European Parliament hosted a conference called “A Europe of Diasporas” which Jewish, Armenian, Roma and Assyrian organizations and NGO representatives attended. Politicians, academics, analysts and artists also attended the meeting and the questions about the notion of diaspora and Diasporas in Europe were discussed. 

In the meeting, it is discussed that Diasporas in Europe should partake in the ongoing “renewal process” within the discourse of “Europeanness”, enrich Europe with their own cultures and form a network of Diaspora groups. 

It is pointed out that there are more than 90 diaspora communities in Europe and such a network might be also beneficial for new immigrants who can learn from the experiences of older diaspora communities. It is also expected that, with the help of the network, different diaspora communities can bring their particular problems to European Parliament.

The works on this platform are carried out within the framework of 2005 Barcelona Declaration. In the conference, some answers were tried to be given to the questions like, “How can culture, identity and religion be preserved? Is it late for that? Are they a handicap for Europe, a threat, an anachronism, a hindrance? What are the common problems of diasporas?” All participants agreed that the discrimination problem in Europe remains unsolved and hard-work is needed for solving this problem. 

The participants of the conference, which was organized by EGAM, AGBU, Phiren Amenca and EU, also discussed how “diaspora” and “immigration” can be distinguished and which criteria can be used for such a distinction. Speaking on behalf of UNESCO Institute of Philosophy, Ismael Cortez emphasized the diversity of Europe: “Many believe that there is an original European ethnic group. That is nationalist thinking. The perspective of the project “A Europe of Diasporas” is that Europe has always been a mosaic of peoples. My people, the Roma, are truly European as much as the rest."

AGBU representative Nicolas Tatvian talked about the role of Armenians in shaping of the Europe: “General perceptions of Europe are not always accurate. For instance, how many people know that Armenians had came to Europe long before Hungarians came?” Tatvian also noted how ethnic identities are politically instrumentalized  or even problematized sometimes. 

In Brussels session of the conference, which is planned to be continued in the next months, mainly the issues about education and the importance of “inclusive narratives” were discussed. Representative of the European Commission Kristina Cunningham said, “We are arguing that schools today need to take the mother tongue of every child into account to support the development of children’s individual multilingualism.”

Concerning the “inclusive narratives”, many participants addressed the effects of the near absence of diasporas in the narratives that shape people's understanding in the media, history teaching, the entertainment industry and public discourse. This theme also addressed the importance of remembrance of genocides and the toxic effects of their denial.

Another issue was how diasporas can preserve their culture while adopting the basic European values. MEP and co-chair of the Parliament’s intergroup on National Minorities, Traditional Communities and Languages Jordi Sebastia said that he believes it can and should be done: “It is possible to preserve the identity of [diasporas] and also to share common values about human rights and democracy in Europe, but we need to make the effort. ”

The conference also featured the award ceremony of the photo competition “A Europe of Diasporas”. Andreea Tanase was announced as the winner of the competition for her photo “Holy Thursday” taken in Romania. 

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Aline Ozinian