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Victoria Preston and Igor Merheim-Eyre: Bridging the Narrative Gap Through Culture and Commerce


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Integration conference "My home, our home: what unites us in a multicultural community" on 15th and 16th November in Tallinn, Estonia. Conference webpage:

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Victoria Preston and Igor Merheim-Eyre: Bridging the Narrative Gap Through Culture and Commerce

  1. 1. Bridging the Narrative Gap Through Culture and Commerce Victoria Preston (King’s College London, United Kingdom) Igor Merheim-Eyre (International Republican Institute, Belgium)
  2. 2. • Conditions of the individual (e.g. social, economic, or personal) • Frustration with the direction of the country or a bigger polis (e.g. the EU) • Existing prejudices inherent in a given society • Lack of knowledge and a fear of the unknown ‘Other’ • Weak democratic institutions • Narratives targeting specific groups (e.g. conservative segments of the society) • Narratives often based on genuine concerns but increasingly tailored to appeal to emotions Societal vulnerabilities
  3. 3. Narratives – Case study of the Czech Republic and Slovakia • Western moral degeneracy • Putin’s Russia as a defender of traditional values • Migration destroying our/European culture • Religion-based values are incompatible with liberal democracy • Western subjugation of Central-Eastern Europe • Loss of national independence and sovereignty • Peace in Europe is threatened • Russia has a legitimate right to a sphere of influence
  4. 4. How do we respond?
  5. 5. Negative Rhetoric Lowers Trust Audiences turn to native language media Exacerbates Divisions The problem
  6. 6. • Paradigm of externalities – history, nationality, language, ethnicity, ‘otherness’ • Emotional rhetoric emphasises differences in values or identity. • Broadly binary narrative of ‘us and them’. • Limited focus on diversity and inclusion. • Absence of narrative on Estonia’s social vision or goal. Communication features
  7. 7. • The debate is framed by narratives about geo-politics, nationality, language and socio-economic issues. • But in strategic communications, before we attempt to address any problem, we go right back to basics to reframe it. • So what does this particular problem look like if we reframe it? Re-framing the problem
  8. 8. Defining the Goal
  9. 9. • It’s not just about media and rhetoric: there are underlying structural considerations. • Ethnic inequality - Bad for social cohesion and prosperity; disrupts trust and loyalty to the state; can generate internal as well as external security issues. • Gender inequality – If you don’t develop and reward all your available talent, you cannot compete with countries that do. What are the obstacles?
  10. 10. • Start with 100% adult population fit and available for work (OECD figure for Estonia is c. 845,000) • Deduct 25% to account for the ethnic Russians who are typically educationally disadvantaged (Lindemann & Saar 2012) • That leaves 75%. Deduct 50% to account for gender inequality (Statistics Estonia estimate gender pay gap in Estonia is the worst in EU at 20.9% ) • That leaves 37.5% of your workforce fully trained and fairly rewarded. (c. 316,000) • What if the football team looked like this? Some rough maths (not statistics!)
  11. 11. • History dictates the present, but it need not compromise the future. • Building a fairer and more equal society will take generations to achieve. • Structural and constitutional change is necessarily cautious and slow. • But social enterprises and the arts can afford to take bigger risks. • Let’s look at some cultural case studies, then generate a few ideas. Change takes time
  12. 12. Said-Barenboim West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Inter-cultural projects
  13. 13. Bethnal Green City Challenge
  14. 14. • Grand Union Youth Orchestra/Shoreditch youth Dance and Malmo Youth Dance Company (GUYO/SYD/MYDC) • El Sistema – Venezuela Socially-Inclusive Projects
  15. 15. Grand Union - SYD - MYDC
  16. 16. El Sistema
  17. 17. Relief & Reconciliation Inter-faith projects
  18. 18. Conclusions 1. EMOTION: Identity, nationality, language, security are highly emotive concepts, here as elsewhere. 2. RHETORIC: There is an opportunity here to reframe the public conversation using a more collective narrative, and a more inclusive vocabulary. 3. ACTION: While resolving structural obstacles to diversity and inclusion is a longer- term challenge (in Estonia and in the UK) there is an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of many individuals in the near term through social enterprise and the arts.
  19. 19. Thank you for your ideas and participation!