Today, more than ever success in communication requires intercultural awareness and effective cross cultural communication skills. Working, meeting, dealing, entertaining, negotiating and corresponding with the opposite party from a different culture can be a minefield. Understanding and appreciating intercultural differences ultimately promotes clearer communication, breaks down barriers, builds trust, strengthens relationships, opens horizons and yields tangible results in terms of diplomatic relations.

Students of the Faculty of World Politics of Moscow State University suggest their own solutions to the cross-cultural controversies:

Intercultural controversies caused by political and diplomatic mistakes, their roots, manifestations, ways of dealing with them.

"If you look through all the different cultures. Right from the earliest, earliest days with the animistic religions, we have sought to have some kind of explanation for our life, for our being, that is outside of our humanity."
Jane Goodall )

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Mahatma Gandhi, 1869 - 1948)

Where do we, the humans, live today? What is our world and where is it going? These questions still remain without a single correct answer. All the global solutions offered by political experts and politicians are not so simple to be explained in one word, they also can’t be worked out with the help of one scientific attitude …

The reality is often much tougher than theoretical research. Our world can’t be represented by a model of one unique society, based on one religion, one system of traditions and one psychological type of individuals. We are surrounded by numerous genuine cultures, we speak different languages and we pray different gods and goddesses. Why should we become absolutely identical? Why should we all lose the preciousness of being different? What is the purpose?

The answer seems to be quite evident to me. Over the last decades the USA has accumulated huge amounts of financial and strategic resources, pretending to become the only superpower, the only authority within the whole world and especially in Europe. The strategies offered by American politicians in the majority of intergovernmental organizations and institutions, commissions for international peace and security and forums are aimed at transforming European national states into implicit political satellites with one universal economic system dependent on American political decisions.

Step by step, subtly erasing cultural borders which divide one nationality from another, American policy is achieving its goals.  The obvious signs are: putting into practice laws aimed at preventing religious and ethnic minorities from articulating their political interests, forbidding wearing religious symbols and national clothes. Ignorance of the religious prescriptions’ necessity and intolerance in Europe towards Arabs and Muslims leads to social instability and bloody conflicts.  Trying to undermine the basics of Islamic faith by forcing women to stop wearing veils and crackdowns of peaceful demonstrations causes the outbreaks of anger and outrageous behavior of Muslim population.

One of the possible solutions is to find general consensus in society. All minorities should have governmental institutions’ credibility and their rights should be respected. Otherwise, where is that honorable democracy?

Culture has to become an instrument of peace-keeping process within the whole world, because its positive influence on people minds is absolute.

Elena Zaikina, Faculty of World Politics

The more world leaders champion the need to respect cultural diversity, the less they seem able to fulfill this goal. Numerous clashes on the grounds of religious, ethnic, linguistic differences tear the world apart. How can we account for such a surge of unrest considering just one fraction of the problem – the relations between Islam and the secular community?

An awful lot of people accuse Islam of lacking the spirit of tolerance. This fact can not be denied however examining the situation from another point of view can be quite instructive. During the Cold War the West was so obsessed with intimidating the USSR that it was even favouring Afghan Jihad represented by the people whose life consisted of nothing but violence. In the 1990-s these bloody thugs participated in the most atrocious crimes against the humanity. Osama bin Laden wanted around the world as terrorist number 1  today was not so feared of in 1996. That year the Sudanese government refused to grant him asylum any further. However, instead of starting legal proceedings against this terrorist, the United States sent him into exile in Afghanistan. Indeed, before being subjected to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the USA was not so concerned about fighting terrorism. The same policy of double standards is peculiar to Britain which was known to be a paradise for all sorts of Muslim terrorists before the bombings of 2005 backfired on Londoners. So why should Jack Straw launch the debate about Muslim women wearing veils therefore undermining the peaceful manifestation of other peoples’ identity, amd at the same time promoting violent currents of Islam?

One more thing often neglected by the people of the Western culture is our West-dominated consciousness. We tend to believe that our values of democracy and freedom of speech are universal which is not true. Unlike Voltaire’s approach to fervently defend the right of his opponents to express themselves, the Muslim world values Islam which is not just a religion but the way of life and self-identification. Therefore publishing cartoons about Prophet Mohammed for Muslims is an offence similar to any threat to democracy for the US.

Without relieving Muslims of all the responsibility for intercultural controversies, I would nevertheless like to emphasize the need for the West to tolerate someone else’s views in practices.

Talking about multiculturalism seeing the world from the Western angle is one thing but actually understanding that the world is multi-faceted is another though much more sophisticated thing.

 Maria Golovacheva, Faculty of World Politics

Intercultural controversies and different political and diplomatic mistakes have existed since the beginnings of diplomacy and politics. There have always been bloopers and slips of tongue leading to a lot of political conflicts. Politicians are only humans and if we have the right to talk everything over in the comfort of our kitchen, public speakers do not have such a right. Everything they say is double checked and corrected by their speechwriters and event-managers. They are not to make any kind of mistakes, still they do. That happens probably because of their desire to say something extraordinary or to show their very special opinion to the public (even if it is absolutely inappropriate) no matter where ‘the performance’ takes place.

In spite of all the attempts of censors to improve the image of a politician or diplomat, we can still hear and observe some great controversies and widespread discussions of the people and the whole communities affected by diplomatic mistakes. Despite the English saying «sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me», many people feel that words can hurt sometimes even worse than weapons and they need to be controlled just as actions do. This is especially true with the Muslim world where every step taken against the Koran or any single element of Muslim religion is perceived as the religious war with ideological contest. The Muslim world is completely different from the Western traditional society and we are not to judge it. I suppose it's time to stop talking about every Muslim as a potential terrorist. The less we talk about these matters the less attention people will pay to them, and a Brit will not turn around as soon as he sees a Muslim girl whose face is covered with the black veil.

Speaking about the outrageous public response to cross-cultural issues and how to deal with them we've got to mention that the stronger political censorship is, the fewer problems of that kind we have. Maybe it will sound a bit silly but let's stop all those speeches that just enhance the now bitter intercultural controversies. People just try not to mention the unpleasant issues unless politicians or journalists emphasize them a lot!

 Olga Ignatyeva, Faculty of World Politics

Nowadays globalization is becoming more and more of an issue. Relations between states are getting closer and, consequently, there are a lot of common deals between them in economic, political, social and others spheres of life.

But in spite of all current trends, each nation has always had (and, to my opinion, will have) certain cultural traits, specific to its roots, its people and their behaviour. All these aspects differ with each separate nation; these differences are difficult to change, and any attempts to do it are destined to fail.

Today we have to face the fact that many of the intercultural controversies are caused by political and diplomatic mistakes. Especially those connected with national peculiarities.

If we look back in history we can see many examples showing diplomats and politicians paying no attention to cross-cultural issues. After wars victors instilled their own rule on the territory of the defeated party, and in many cases the interests and cultural features of smaller peoples were neglected.

I would like to draw your attention to intercultural problems in Africa. It’s known that most African countries were colonies and there was constant rivalry between European countries for ownership of lands in Africa. After World War II African peoples were given freedom; new independent nation-states were created, but their borders were not determined according to the cultural factors: the language, religion or ethnicity (if we look at the political map we can see a ‘chess field’ in Africa).  And so people of different nations were mixed, one nation had to live in several countries, people of absolutely different languages and customs had to live in one country, and later it became the cause of internal and external conflicts between African states.

For example, after such divisions on the territory of Nigeria people of different cultural backgrounds live together, they have different religions, and so clashes between them took place. The authorities tried to mediate between those peoples. One of the solutions was the division the government of the states. At first in 1967 there were 12 states and now there are 36 states in Nigeria. Thus, it was an attempt to fragment people into ethnic factions. Besides, in all Constitutions of Nigeria the dominant religion was not defined. Thus the authorities tried to avoid contradictions between people.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had conflicts with Zaire and Angola because people with different cultural peculiarities wouldn’t like to live with the people of other ethnic belongings and they wanted to unite and create their own state.

Many of analysts think that economic help to the developing countries could stop the tension, and if the African states reach economic prosperity intercultural controversies will abate. Besides, UN peacekeeping forces have always tried to maintain order in Africa. But these measures are only temporary. And not all native people are happy with the presence of military forces from other countries; they want legal solutions to be adopted.

So the issues of intercultural controversies are still on the agenda, and the goal of international community to resolve conflicts, to regulate disputes between nations is still to be fulfilled!

Yana Pinchuk, Faculty of World Politics

“We don’t like coloured people, but we never commit atrocities against non-whites. Who are we? We are racists. We don’t buy clothes in the shops with salespersons from African countries, but we accuse extremists of prompting hostility. Who are we? We are racists. We don’t speak with the Asians and turn away from women in veils, but we condemn journalists and politicians for inciting international conflicts. Who are we? We are racists.” 

In our childhood we brought up by our grandmothers and grandfathers – the citizens of the Soviet Union. They unwittingly took part in the political program of ethnic cleansing, which was put into practice by the leaders of their country. As a result, my granny still uses unPC phrases to speak about ‘coloured people’, so by some standards she can be classed as a racist. In my primary school there was only one foreign pupil – a boy from Croatia. Later the number of ‘aliens’ in Moscow increased, and I started to feel nervous, because I was sure that ethnic minorities wanted to evict me from My City. I realized that I hate my Government, that couldn’t manage expelling illegal aliens and declared the policy of “international friendship”. I heard how ‘non-whites’ talked to each other in their native language in My Country, although they were sure to know Russian too. I took it that in this way they showed me their contempt towards My Culture. I saw harassment in their eyes and I answered them in the same way. Unfortunately journalists did everything to make my “relations” with ethnic minorities even worse: they were so convincing in their reports about frightful murders which were all committed (in their opinion of course) by ‘the people from Caucuses’, that I believed them. I was such a big fan of Russian sportsmen during the Olympic Games, that I was ready to organize violence eruption against dark-skinned men, who were more enduring from birth.  I watched different movies and made a conclusion that even in industrially developed countries there were two zones: “the white zone” and “the black zone”. As a result I divided the whole world into two groups: whites and non-whites. I went to the football stadium and all the time I was a witness of how coloured sportsmen hurt our, Russian sportsmen. Later I realized that it was just their style of playing football, but it was too late – the stereotype had already been formed and sometimes we have no power over our emotions, do we?

 One day I realized that I need to overcome my negative perception of ethnic minorities. I got interested in the manifestation of their culture and their history. I met non-whites in Moscow and I tried to help them if they spoke Russian badly. But how can I react to the idea of some Muslim people that their veil is a symbol of difference between two East and West?! If I want to overcome this barrier of misunderstanding, why don’t they want to do the same?! Why do they forbid our wearing Muslim clothes in Dubai?! I am not prepared to understand oriental culture only with the help of Turkish carpets! I need to become aware of who a Muslim woman is, but they prevent me from doing it! And maybe, if they gave me this chance, I would become the staunchest defender of Muslim women’s rights in the face of extremists!  

Ksenia Andreeva, a would-be-university student




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