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19 September, 2011

Human Rights and Multiculturalism in Our Troubled World

Human rights and multiculturalism are no longer values in the world today. They have turned into words opening the door to politics

While Western human rights activists and politicians engaged in defending human rights actively strive to make human rights a core aspect of foreign policies, the founding fathers of the Russian human rights movement, Andrei Sakharov and Sergei Kovalev, denied Realpolitik from the bottom of their hearts, trying to replace it with an alternative value-and-idea-system which they described as a new universal, non-ideological ideology.

A Western European thinker who may be legitimately described as a brother-in-arms to Sakharov and Kovalev in their consistent and powerful denial of Realpolitik as a sort of self-comprehending and convenient lie is the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann. 

Soviet dissidents fought for the innate human right to live and enjoy self-worth and dignity, instead of trying to adjust this right to Realpolitik or applying it selectively as is clearly the case with the Western world. They did their utmost to fight the dehumanizing and depersonalizing totalitarian mega-machine, heroically opposing the conquest of the sphere of privacy and legitimate human secrets by brutal power politics.

Therefore, we would be unpardonably naive and inaccurate by taking present-day European politicians or well-paid, well-established, safe and secure human rights activists in the West who have never experienced the abyss of lawlessness and constant danger of being assassinated at any moment and who have never been through the hell of total danger and insecurity, as brothers- and sisters-in-arms to Soviet and Russian dissidents. In a world of legitimized dissent, a human rights official, civil servant, or functionary cannot assume the guise of a maverick who is on brotherly terms with Natalya Estemirova or Anna Politkovskaya. That would be a travesty.

Another problematic aspect of the normality of seeking for human-rights is that a series of political events over the past two decades has been frequently explained by referring to the necessity of internationalizing and mainstreaming human rights. The internationalization of human rights, however, was not accompanied by any clear definition of the relationship between state sovereignty and uncontrolled international agencies. This process cannot avoid such offshoots and side-effects as double standards applied to big and small states regarding political boycotts or war crimes.

As far as tensions raised by present multiculturalism are concerned, whether we prefer to apply this term to the historically formed polyvocality of traditions and cultures or to the political void created by our political elites with all their complacency and disengagement (which we mockingly refer to as “political correctness”), we find ourselves in a field of immense tension stemming from globalization, where the will (and necessity) to use a foreign and cheap workforce on one hand, clashes with the hope to not take on the culture of this workforce and remain within one’s own culture and identity zone, on the other hand.

How can a good life and use of a foreign workforce be combined with maintaining a familiar culture, language, and historical identity? How can this servitude of foreigners, inherited from ages of a hierarchical society, be legitimized in the face of the modern world’s promise of equality? The answer is: by trying to integrate, to assimilate, or to simply keep the other at a safe distance. Is that not what is meant by the whole ideology and practice of multiculturalism?

Emigration, immigration, and all the apprehensions that go along with them are expressions of the tension between the enthusiasm of a global economy and the dreams of a local culture, that is, the dream to live in one’s own culture and surroundings while enjoying the benefits of global interaction. What else could be meant by Europeans’ skepticism of American mass culture and its worldwide success? Neither denies the advantages of a global economy model, which they gladly use themselves as soon as they find employment in the United States. But no-one wants to lose his own cultural surroundings, as no-one wants to adopt a new culture as part of the single global economy package.

Like multiculturalism, which seems a perfect reference point when dealing with the epoch of disengagement, the concept of human rights tends to become an excuse for disengaged politicians and intellectuals. They find a niche where the correct term uttered at the right time in the right place becomes a password to enter the gates of power at no cost. An unmistakable move, such a password should not deceive us.

For without action and engagement, multiculturalism, in spite of its explicit reference to culture, is not about respect for anyone’s unique culture; instead, it is about our doing nothing to accommodate and manage human diversity in a time of anxiety and fear. We allow them to go free with their uniqueness, as they have nowhere else to go anyway. And we know this perfectly well.

Likewise, human rights calls for participation, instead of critical observation enjoyed at a safe distance. The more we disregard and abuse human rights at home, the more fiercely we tend to fight for them elsewhere. A safe distance and a set of correct words – this is what people of ideas and public affairs need the most in the epoch of disengagement.


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