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“Assimilation is no longer a viable option so we have to accept the great challenge on the horizon: learning the difficult art of living permanently with our differences.” Zygmunt Bauman

Anders Breivik’s savage rampage has forced the debate over multiculturalism back into the spotlight along with the challenges faced when different ways of life come up against each and try to interact.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Zygmunt Bauman, one of the most influential thinkers of our day, conducted by Nicola Sessa (with photographs by Gianluca Cecere) for the journal “Quartieri d’Europa” and published in the July issue of “E-ilmensile.” “PeaceReporter” and “E-ilmensile” have also produced an interactive web documentary entitled “Multikulti Factory—Europe Under Construction.” This includes articles and a photo gallery, audio and video features that tell the story of the new Europe and its new citizens’ desperate attempts to gain acceptance in a society that calls itself democratic, open, and understanding, but in reality all too often turns out to be just the opposite.

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Professor Bauman, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel claim that multiculturalism has failed. What happened?

“Multiculturalism is a mistaken concept that has been misdefined. What does Mrs. Merkel mean when she says multiculturalism is over? Back when the volume of immigrants coming to Europe wasn’t so massive, Europeans—feeling they were culturally superior and that they represented a more advanced stage of evolution—were convinced that all of humanity would sooner or later rise to their level: when a foreigner came to Italy, the locals expected him to become Italian, to assimilate. All assimilation really means is abandoning the identity you brought with you; it means not being different from anyone else, becoming exactly what the natives want you to be.”

So they’re practicing what Claude Lévi-Strauss called “cannibalistic strategies”?

“Exactly. This is a modern form of the cannibalistic strategy. Today we no longer devour the foreigner materially, the outsider, but we eat his differences. In any case, the model of culture as a pyramid with us at the top and everyone else down below has come apart and we can no longer expect that assimilation will be automatic. Let’s take the German example: a large Turkish community lives in Germany and the Turks love their new country, they want to live in the German system, but they hold back from becoming Germans. A hundred years ago it was normal to think of the Turks as semi-primitive compared to Europeans and to expect them to adapt to European society and assimilate. We are not in that situation any longer. Europe and the world are rapidly changing shape: we’re no longer in that phase where “superior cultures” demanded the assimilation of “inferior cultures.” Now we have a kind of diasporic archipelago. In London, for instance, there are seventy different diasporas living side by side and working in the same places. Their kids attend the same schools, but they all maintain their own identity and see no good reason to abandon it. So when Mrs. Merkel talks about the death of multiculturalism, she probably means to call attention to the fact that many different ways of living co-exist, that assimilation is no longer viable and most importantly that we have to accept the great challenge on the horizon: learning the difficult art of living permanently with our differences.”


Visit our web documentary and in the section “Tell Us Your Story” tell us about your own experiences, hopes, and ideas for a multicultural society.

Nicola Sessa

Translated by Gary Cestaro