Lazo Matovski / Multiculturalism in the times of pandemic

Lazo Matovski  was born in Struga in 1985.  He has a multidisciplinary formation: law, journalism, project management, public procurement, European integration, and economics. He is author of many professional publications in these fields. Currently Lazo Matovski s employed at the Language Implementation Agency of the Republic of North Macedonia as a Head of Department. We are publishing a part of the paper on which his intervention in the conference was based. The full version will be included in a book that will be published soon by LOJA Centre with the contributions for this conference.

  1. Introduction

Today’s reality has been rapidly changing. The time has confronted the world with an unprecedented health crisis that has taken so many lives, inflicted so much pain and changed people’s normality. SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the global interconnection level, but at the same time forced us to become more alienated, thus limiting the social interactions between people from different backgrounds.

Adverse reactions to the recent developments across the world have become daily music to our ears. This situation has brought many unknowns, raised many questions and generated a lot of uncertainty. The overall insecurity about people’s health and well-being raises the question about our ability, as a global community, to efficiently tackle the negative social outcomes of this crisis, including the effects on the concept of multiculturalism as a “moral movement” that is not only concerned with decreasing oppression but seeks to “enhance the dignity, rights, and recognized worth of marginalized groups”[1]. Multiculturalism not only deals with the inclusion of citizens with different cultural backgrounds in the society, eliminating the power of domination of one group over the other, but also aims at termination or at least enervation of the exclusion mechanism.

[1] Fowers, B. J., & Richardson, F. C. (1996). Why is multiculturalism good? American Psychologist, 51(6), 609–621. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.51.6.609

  1. Impact of the pandemic crisis on the concept of multiculturalism

Pandemic diseases are part of the human history. The newly discovered COVID-19 coronavirus occupied the world’s attention since late 2019. From the earliest reported cases in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the battle with the vicious enemy is still ongoing and seems it will not end near soon. Many people have already lost their lives to COVID-19; many people have lost their loved ones, relatives, friends, colleagues.

Scientific community is in race with the time to understand better the real source of the outbreak and to find an effective remedy for solution of this global health crisis, which has generated negative effects in all segments of the society. What was considered as a routine daily life yesterday has become abnormal today. Different segments of the society have been faced with negative implications since the beginning of the crisis, including the health sector, economy, culture, education, among some of them. Recent developments have caused adverse multiplicative effects to the concept of multiculturalism as well. All of a sudden, the question of how to respond to the challenges associated with diversity based on ethnic, cultural and religious differences in times of crisis has appeared in the spotlight. With the rise of the pandemic, many countries have faced rise of equally infectious nationalism and xenophobia as well.

Some political leaders could not restrain themselves in such time to sparkle the flame of isolationism, distorting the rules of good, responsible governance by respecting the multiculturalism as a societal trait, representing not only cultural, but also ethnic and religious pluralism within the society as well.

  1. Research

This research is a combination of methods such as historical analysis, content and data analysis. The empirical part is based on a survey consisting of 20 questions, conducted in December 2020 with 122 respondents included, divided by different indicators such as age, gender, level of education, ethnic, cultural, religious background etc. The objective of the survey was to investigate and measure the impact of the crisis on the concept of multiculturalism in the local community and countrywide.

Identical responses were given on separated, but practically related questions regarding the respondent’s assessment of the communication between people from different cultures in the municipality/area where the respondent lives in and general assessment of the intercultural interaction on a national level. 14.75% of the respondents’ assessment was very good; 38.52% good; 25.41% unsatisfactory; 13.93% bad and 7.39% very bad. Respondents’ assessment led to a conclusion that majority of them or 53.57% have good or very good assessment of the intercultural communication in the local community and on a national level, whilst 46.43%, which is a significant percentage, have different perception categorized from “unsatisfactory” to “very bad”.

Majority of the respondents (87.7%) thought that learning the language/culture of other ethnic community is an advantage in many segments of life: in verbal communication, language/cultural interaction, labor market competitiveness…. Respondents with higher educational level have developed greater awareness about the importance of learning other languages and cultures, multilingualism, intercultural understanding etc. (see Chart 4).

82.78% of the respondents’ preference is a multicultural environment, as opposed to 17.22% of the respondents who prefer monocultural environment instead.

Based on the indicator regarding the meaning of the term multiculturalism”, 22.13% of the respondents chose “Cultural pluralism” as an option; 31.97% – A mixture of people from diverse ethnic and cultural background; 18.03% – Different cultures in one place; 11.48% – Coexistence of different cultures in harmony; 10.66% – Respect and acceptance of other cultures. 5.73% were not familiar with the term.

Significant data closely related to the paper’s main research focus can be extracted out of the respondents’ answers to the closely related questions on whether they think that the ongoing pandemic has, in some way, affected the relations between the people from different cultures in the local community and on a national level. 93.45% of the respondents agree that the pandemic, in some way, affected the relations between the people from different cultural background, substantially or to some extent, both in the local community and countrywide (see Chart 5).

 

Nearly 2/3 of the respondents or 64.75% stated that the pandemic negatively affected the multiculturalism countrywide by imposing various limitations on the freedom of movement, preventing or limiting cross-cultural interactions; 18.85% thought that the pandemic has created cultural ghettos within society; 14.75% that the pandemic has led to increase of nationalism and xenophobia; and the remaining 1.65% belong in the category – Don’t know/I’m not sure (see Chart 6).

It is very indicating that respondents tend to maintain frequent communication with people from other ethnicity and/or cultural background in their local communities in non-crisis. On the question whether they communicate, in normal circumstances, with people from different ethnicity/cultural background in their local communities, 76.23% of the respondents’ answers support this claim. 22.13% have occasional, but are still open and practice cross-cultural communication, and only less than 2% of the respondents do not practice it at all (see Table 1).

Table 1.

In normal circumstances, do you communicate with people from other

ethnicity/cultural background in your local community?

Yes I do, frequently 76.23%
Sometimes 22.13%
No, I only communicate with people

from my ethnicity/cultural background

1.64%

 

14.75% of the respondents thought that the multicultural relations have been improved since the beginning of the pandemic; 59% stated that they have not been changed and nearly 20% saw tendency of worsening (see Table 2).

Table 2.

How do you evaluate the development of the multicultural relations in the

Republic of North Macedonia since the beginning of the pandemic?

Improved 14.75%
Unchanged 59.02%
Worsened 19.67%
I don’t know/I’m not sure 6.56%

 

During serious health crisis with a global impact, the care for multiculturalism is overshadowed by the primary care for public health and protection of human lives. This thesis is supported by nearly 83% of the respondents who stated that nobody cares about multiculturalism during pandemic and nothing has been done by policy makers toward protection and promotion of the multiculturalism in the country in the time of pandemic (see Table 3).

Table 3.

Despite the multiethnic and multicultural character of the Republic of North Macedonia,

do you think that, even in a time of pandemic, policy makers have undertaken measures

toward real protection and promotion of the multiculturalism in the country?

Yes, they have done a lot despite pandemic 2.46%
Something has been done, but insufficiently 9.02%
Nothing has been done 27.87%
Nobody cares about multiculturalism during pandemic 54.92%
I don’t know/I’m not sure 5.73%

 

Respondents were divided on who is the most influential subject in promotion of the multiculturalism. Educational system and family values together combined nearly reach 1/2 or 47.54% out of the listed options as the most influential subjects. Less than 1/2 or 45.07% is a combination of other three factors combined together: religious communities, policy makers and media (see Chart 7).

Chart 7

In your opinion, which of the subject listed below is the most influential

regarding the promotion of multiculturalism in the society?

For the purpose of development of the multiculturalism in the society, other factors such as family, media, educational system, policy makers and religious communities are of great importance. The most negative influencers on multiculturalism are politicians (58.2%) and the media (54.1%). On the other hand, the most constructive factor shaping the course and the development of the multiculturalism in the society is the family (64.75%), which shows that respondents believe that family members’ authority and their personal traits can positively impact and facilitate shaping one’s character by teaching the importance of creating a culture and spirit of tolerance towards others, cross-cultural understanding, respect and coexistence. Educational system (58.2%) and religious communities (28.69%) also positively affect multiculturalism as well (see Table 4).

Table 4.

In your opinion, how much do the subjects listed below influence the

development of the multiculturalism in the society?

 

Positively Negatively Doesn’t influence
Family 64.75% 27.87% 7.38%
Media 26.23% 54.10% 19.67%
Educational system 58.20% 36.07% 5.73%
Policy makers

(on a national/municipal level)

18.85% 58.20% 22.95%
Religious communities 40.16% 28.69% 31.15%

 

  1. Conclusions

The concept of multiculturalism associated with cultural diversity, derived from national, ethnic and religious differences, in times of crisis certainly deserves a closer scientific observation from a standpoint of analyzing the trends and challenges in the midst of today’s health crisis. Diverse ethnic, cultural and religious composition is what makes Republic of North Macedonia a true multicultural society.  Will society continue to nurture the multiculturalism as an integration concept where all ethnic groups freely exercise their distinctive identity or are we heading to disintegration by becoming more insular? What lessons can we learn from this crisis?

Based on this research, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  • There is still space for improvement of cross-cultural relations and increased inter-ethnic interaction.
  • Nearly 88% of the respondents feel no repulsion when it comes to learning the language or the culture of their fellow citizens from other ethnic community, thus displaying respondents’ built-in sense on the advantage of learning something new.
  • There is almost unanimity in the perception that the pandemic has affected the cross-cultural relations, to a greater or lesser extent.
  • Nearly 2/3 of the respondents believe in the negative impact of the pandemic on the multiculturalism countrywide due to the limitations on the freedom of movement, preventing or limiting cross-cultural interactions.
  • Respondents’ preference is predominantly a multicultural environment, instead of monocultural.
  • Majority of the respondents think that there is neither positive nor a negative change in the country’s multicultural relations since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • The care for multiculturalism in pandemic is predominantly overshadowed by the primary care for public health and protection of human lives.
  • The family and the educational system are perceived as the most positive factors in the development and improvement of the multiculturalism, as opposed to the policy makers and the media.

The ability to recognize and celebrate our differences is something that makes our country and local communities more cohesive even in crisis. This pandemic is an opportunity for ourselves to brainstorm, make certain adjustments and to continue nurturing and promoting the values of diversity, equity and multicultural understanding in a much-changed reality as the only way towards coexistence and prosperous future.