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W. van Eekelen: Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies

Address to Eurasia - Europe Conference on 
Peace and Security in Multicultural Societies at a Time of Global Crisis

Moscow, Russia - April 6-7, 2012

Three preliminary comments:

  1. Peculiarly enough, at a time of globalization and interdependence, people are thrown back to their families and clans and accentuate their own ethnicity, language, and culture. And in times of economic difficulties people tend to become more protective and protectionist, fearing that strangers will take their jobs.
  2. Since the end of the Cold War, conflicts within states have taken ascendancy over the previous conflicts between states. Now, our main preoccupation is with ‘war among the people’ and how to deal with insurgencies.
  3. We have seen attempts at democratization all over the world which are enhanced by higher levels of education and involvement of the people in governance.

In general we could say: “The future is not what it used to be.” In some respects our future could be more promising, but it also has become more uncertain than ever. Military means become less and less important for finding lasting solutions, and we all recognize the link between security and development: without a minimum of security the development effort is wasted, but ultimately, without development there cannot be lasting security.

The essence of democracy is transparency and accountability. Three key words are "reveal, explain, and justify." Governments should reveal their policies, explain them to parliament and to the public at large, and justify them in debate with parliament and with the public. If I look at the growing process of democratization I see general agreement that parliaments should deal with budgets and with laws, but there is far less agreement on the role of parliaments in overseeing policies and implementation. Many countries have beautiful laws but fall short in implementing them. Yet, a functioning democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of the European Union's partnership with its neighbors. There is, however, no set model or ready-made recipe for political reform.

It all boils down to the system governance, but what is good governance?

The United Nations has listed eight basic characteristics: governance should be equitable and inclusive, follow the rule of law, be participatory, consensus oriented, responsive, effective and efficient, accountable and, finally, transparent. So you can give your own government a score by following these criteria.

Things usually happen more slowly than we would wish, but sometimes much faster. The European Union is a striking success, despite the current financial crisis, because it has brought an unprecedented degree of stability to our continent. And to refer to our topic of multinational societies, in many cases the problems of living together have lost some of their stringency. Look for example at the Hungarians living in Romania or the situations in Northern Ireland or the Basque region of Spain.

The Council of Europe stated on October 31, 2008: “Diversity should not be perceived as a threat but as a source of enrichment, but can only succeed if based on social cohesion and human rights.”

Looking at multicultural societies I am struck by their variety: Belgium and Canada are multilingual; India is a Hindu country with a vast Muslim minority; Egypt has a large Christian Coptic minority; Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia comprise both Orthodox Christians and Muslims; the United States is a vast melting pot in which groups maintain a certain identity but nevertheless everybody considers themselves to be American citizens. In the European Union that sense of a being a European citizen is still lacking. In Russia, it seems to me, there is not a European – Asian divide: Cities like Tobolsk or Irkutsk are not much different from the cities west of the Urals, and the biggest problems lie in the Caucasus.

Are there some common elements which we have to keep in mind when dealing with minorities? In the first place, it is important to avoid any impression of discrimination. All groups should have the same opportunities to organize themselves, to participate in local and regional government, and to show themselves as responsible citizens.

In cases where a minority group lives in a recognizable geographical area, regional autonomy will be the answer.

In any case, there should be equal opportunities for all, in education and training, but also in the police and armed forces. In the US the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute was created to advise the government and carry out training. In the UK the Equal Opportunities Directive for the Army was issued by the Chief of the General Staff.

There should be transparency and accountability in recruitment and promotion processes, and the armed forces should be used as a vehicle for encouraging interethnic tolerance. But there should be zero tolerance for discrimination. That will not always be easy, especially not in places where ethnic communities live closely together. A general rule should be that a community is best policed by their own kind. The times of divide and rule are over. Whether the army should have homogeneous or mixed units depends on the state of integration of the country. There are arguments on both sides.

Parliaments have a role in drafting rules and guidelines and in mandating the creation of oversight structures such as a Military Ombudsman or Inspector General.

The judiciary should enforce the law and hold individuals and institutions accountable.

Much of our current debate dates back to 9/11, when the US suddenly became vulnerable to terrorist attack. Subsequently, people argued that our approach to multicultural societies had encouraged different cultures to live separate lives. In February 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron said: ”We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong, We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

At the same, time the tone of the debate has hardened. Frequent use of “hate speech” has raised questions about the limits of freedom of expression. Similarly, restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols clashed with the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. On that point the European Convention on Human Rights (Art. 9, para. 2) stated that the right to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject to certain limitations if those are prescribed by law, follow a legitimate aim, and are proportionate to that aim.

A climate of tension and fear is certainly not conducive to the development of harmonious community relations. In this connection, in 2007 the Council of Europe’s steering committee on human rights has welcomed the European Youth Campaign for Diversity, Human Rights and Participation.

Finally a word of optimism. I don’t believe we are in a global crisis. If I compare our relations today there are problems, yes. But the days of the Cold War were much more dangerous. We have made progress. I am all in favor of Kofi Annan’s Responsibility to Protect that outlines the responsibility of a government towards its own people. In the end, “naming and shaming” might be more effective in promoting mutual understanding and common values. And I encourage UPF to lead us in that direction.