issue 2 - Diversity in Europe & abroad

Bénédicte Halba, George Zarifis (eds)

  • Publication : 2019
  • iriv

The 2rd issue of our Newsletter is dedicated to religious and cultural diversity, with a focus on a religious minority. The European flag with its 12 stars symbolically refers to the twelve stars of Virgin Mary (her Assumption) but also to the twelve tribes of Israel. If the Judaeo-Christian roots of the European Union are quite obvious, the European Union is a secular project – its genuine cultural identity has always been open to all religions- “United in diversity”. Thessaloniki has been an example in the field until the beginning of the 20th Century, where diverse but at the same time distinctive populations and cultures co-existed in peace for many years. Ottoman-Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, but also French, Italians, Bavarians and Russians created a multicultural mosaic of languages, traditions, religions and ways of life. One of the fundamental features of Thessaloniki – Greece’s second city, sometimes known as Salonica – since its very foundation in 315 Before Christ (BC) was its multicultural character. The Jewish heritage of Thessaloniki in particular, at least what survived the great fire of 1917, is around and above us- you just have to raise your head and have a look at the city’s many beautiful public buildings from the 19th and early 20th century. Their façades stand witness to the European influences that were amalgamated by the architects (many of them Jewish, as well as foreigners from various European cultures) with a strong taste of eclecticism, adopting various and diverse features and styles (Neo-classical, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Ottoman and Art Nouveau) into a harmonious urban complex.The main characteristic of France is to be a secular country in which “the state becomes modern, in this view, by suppressing or privatizing religion because it is taken to represent their rationality of tradition, an obstacle to open debate and discussion” and whose “effect can be intolerance and discrimination”(Weil, 2009). Nonetheless former French Minister for Culture André Malraux underlined that the 21st Century would be religious (or mystic) or wouldn’t be”. This quotation was attested by the journalist André Frossard, during an interview given in 1955. At the beginning of the 20th Century metropolitan France was a predominantly Catholic territory with very small Protestant (1%) and Jewish (0.2%) minority populations. A century later, “France has become the European country with the largest Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Atheist or Agnostic communities. We may speak of a ‘developed diversity’, with some tensions raised in the past 30 years between the free exercise of religion and local or French national institutions (mainly due to the presence of Islam as the second most practiced faith”. (Weil, 2009). In Paris, an heritage of the Jewish community has been expressed by the French writer Patrick Modiano or with the Memorial to the Shoah, both referring to troubled times in France and Europe.

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