From the building of walls against potential asylum seekers to the rise of far-right parties, the restriction of foreign nationals' social rights, the imposition of obstacles to naturalisation and the selective prohibition of minority practices, the institutionalisation of racism is undermining the fundamental principles of conviviality in European societies. In keeping with its mission of legal-political evaluation and criticism, the MULTIHURI team organised its II Seminar series on racism, multi-discrimination and human rights throughout the 2016-2017 academic year. Once a month, various academic and civil society experts met at Valencia University's Faculty of Social Sciences to identify the challenges surrounding racist discriminations and propound ways of tackling them effectively and fairly.
On 23 January, Mario Ruiz Sanz (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) and Encarnación La Spina (University of Deusto) argued that the recognition of difference in multicultural contexts implies overcoming all notions of cultural homogenisation, domination, denial or superiority. Contemporary European democracies face a dual challenge regarding the recognition of diversity and the management of conviviality. On the one hand, they must find ways of supporting and promoting differentiation, understood as cultural diversity, value pluralism and individual autonomy. On the other hand, they are called upon to uphold equality, understood as the inclusion of the excluded and the recognition of the other.
In the case of social rights, the promotion of a multicultural project requires ensuring a better distribution of material resources, more equal access not only for ethnic or religious minorities but also for other groups defined by socio-economic status, cultural identity, age, gender or geographic origin. This is without prejudice to a more equitable presence of multiple actors in public negotiation, as well as an openness to cultural pluralism. The legal and policy implications include active anti-discrimination policies, which should be complemented with targeted social policies toward those groups that are most discriminated against and, therefore, find themselves disadvantaged in the affirmation of their identity, the fulfilment of their basic needs and the exercise of their religious freedom. In short, an adequate response would include the protection of social rights such as education, food, work, social assistance and housing, but also participation in public life, respect for non-dominant cultural practices and participation in public deliberations.
The reaffirmation of cultural diversity implies that states should specifically recognise the social rights of these groups, incorporate them into their laws (while respecting their autonomous systems of justice and property) and provide the necessary means for their actual exercise. In this sense, the presentation analysed a paradigmatic example of the tensions between multiculturalism and social rights: the adaptation of food to the religious or cultural beliefs of certain groups. Unlike the burqa or niqab or the installation of places of worship and cemeteries, food-related issues have not generated much media debate despite their relevance for the recognition of diversity and conviviality. In this context, the seminar examined the legal framework and mechanisms for the cultural adaptation of food in different public establishments, paying special attention to the case of Islam in Spain and Europe. It also explored the cultural conflicts around the right to food as well as the solutions that have been implemented, or improvised, in contemporary European societies.
Mario Ruiz Sanz is professor of Legal and Political Philosophy at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona. He has authored several academic publications on methodology, epistemology and legal argumentation, worked with a number of research teams and led national and regional-level projects on citizenship and the territory. He has taught in graduate programs at various universities and held administrative positions such as vice-dean of academic planning, delegate of the rector for educational policy and head of the Department of Public Law. He is currently secretary general of Rovira i Virgili University.
Encarnación La Spina is post-doctoral researcher at the University of Deusto Human Rights Institute “Pedro Arrupe”. She holds a European PhD in Law, a M.A. in Human rights, democracy and international justice and a diploma in Immigration, integration and rights from the University of Valencia, as well as a specialised diploma in economic, social and cultural rights from Henry Dunant Summer University in Geneva. She has participated as a researcher in the Consolider-Ingenio project "Human Rights Age". Her publications include Familias transnacionales, sociedades multiculturales e integración: España, Italia y Portugal en perspectiva comparada (Dykinson, 2011), Limitando derechos: la reagrupación y el asilo por violencia de género (Cuadernos de la Cátedra de Democracia y Derechos Humanos, co-authored in 2012), as well as a number of articles in journals such as Derechos y Libertades, Diritto immigrazione e cittadinanza and Migraciones internacionales. She has carried out research on comparative immigration law, integration policies and human rights at universities in Paris, Milan, Geneva, Coimbra and Philadelphia.