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World Religions in Assisi with Pope Francis


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October 1 2013 09:30 | Hall of Dante’s House

The necessity of dialogue of religions and cultures

Ivo Komšić

Mayor of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Global society is today at the crossroads as the ancient society,organized by principle of logos instead of mithos, used to be. This ancient milestone has enabled comprehensive development of the old society and civilization break-through of philosophy, natural science, art, culture in general.
Are we, today, capable of such steps forward which would harmonize and stabilize the global society and bring people closer to one another no matter of the differences between them?
Are we capable of the global unity of values which Hans Küng calles the „world's ethos“? 
The answer to this question leads us to the thoughtfull and thorough analysis of the social conditions to which we belong. Thereby, it is not just about the cognitive effort but also about the ability to comprehend.  
Nowadays, it is widely accepted thesis in social sciences that society is a communication community.  Such a community is based on a higher form of action in which social reality, but also social acters are constructed. This means that the identities of social actors and societies are constructed only through interaction, through the other. Not only linguistic understanding is neccesary for this interaction. If you enter the social communication with presumed identities, i.e. fixed and closed cultural and religious values, communication is at least difficult , often impossible.
In philosophy a concept of identity is related to self-reflection:  „I“ is identhical to self in the self-cognition experience. It is the experience in which the subject abstracts the world of objects and relates to himself as the only object. This unity of subject with himself is self-counciousness. In Kants' writings this is  defined as the „original synthetic unity of aperception“, that is „I think“ must be able to accompany all of my representations. 
However, this  experience of self-counciousness by which „I“ is recognized as a subject, in Hegels' views doesn't have original or founding character, but is derived from interaction experience within the intersubjectivity of spirit.  In such a way  the counciousness of self becomes a result of the intersected perspectives and is shaped through mutual recognition. Therefore the question on what is the identity foundation of „I“ founds an answer in the theory of spirit – the spirit should be understood as a medium of communciation out of which the subject is formed, i.e. identities are acquired. 
Identity is not presumed, but is constructed in intersubjectivity. This process of identity' construction is given in the ethical relation of struggle for recognition. In the dialectical movement and relation of the oppressed and the master consciousness, a new higher state of counciousness and new relation is reached – a citizenship conscience and citizenship relation by which violence and distorted communication is overcome. Civil society is a community of free people who recognize oneself in the other through unforced communication. Citizenship is a historical accomplishment that has undergone repression and has established the unforced intersubjectivity. Communication based on  the  ethno-religious or any other ideological postulate always leads to the oppression of one over the other. 
This conclusion is one of the most important results of the modern philosophy and social theory and we are still under its' influence. It allows us to have a different approach to the identity concept which is no longer understood as a result of interaction of desolated and self-sufficient subjects (monads), but as a result of shaping, forming as cultivating through communicative understanding. In this new perspective, it is not the reflection which is perceived as crucial, but the „medium“, the „milleu“ by which identities are established. It is the „medium“  through which the conscience is brought into existence. In other words, it is a primary community where people live – family,kin,tribe – integrated by language and work. It is through the symbolic communication,work (including cultural creation) and original living community that the spirit is brought into existence.  Thus understood, the identity of „I“ is constructed by creative work, language (symbols) and social interaction or put simply – by culture.
It can be said that culture is shaped spirit in language, work and interaction, i.e. society. Moreover, the culture is not only their form but they are also the patterns of formation and action. In other words, cultural goods are shaped by principles of language, work and interaction, for that reason they are symbolic, material and valuable. 
Today, the global society or the global societies are in the stage of searching for a model of social cohabitation. The problem lies in the fact that these societies have constructed their identities through culture and religion, and therefore the process of cohabitation with others appears only as a process of assimilation. Solution of this difficulty is usually found in a compromise that is plausible only if we leave essentialist standpoints. However, leaving this point of view means the loss of identity. To overcome this problem, the first step is coming to know and understand other cultures and religions, and recognize their distinctions, rather than avoiding, ignoring or suppressing.
The example of Bosnia and Herzegovina is instructive in this respect. A unique social form of communication and values arising out of it had the crucial influence in forming of symbolic and cultural-religious goods and values there. We can claim that Bosnian society has been molded through a kind of original social interaction.  Meaning that this society has represented one of the original types of communicative community. Cultural identities in BiH, as a base for ethnical -national identities,have been formed in models of communicative action, i.e. through understanding and acknowledgement. Communicative action or the process of intersubjectivity is actually based on understanding (which implies common language) and on the fulfilled demands for validity, presuming mutual recognition of social actors and their mutual acknowledgement. Communicative action ie. social process was taking place within these language structures and recognition . Identities of social actors have been validated and maintained in this kind of communication.
For Bosnian society this means that it has been formed in an original interethnic communication, with a special identity form. The uniqueness lies in the fact that the identity of each ethnic community formed in the medium of the common language that has allowed understanding, and in the medium of the common milleu (topos) which has enabled recognition, i.e. coexistence. Each ethnic group had their identity composed of the other ethnic community. Simply put, the people of BiH have not lived next to each other in mechanical relations, but together, with each other. The other was part of their identity, the other for whom it is known that he is different and distinct. But it is precisely this otherness and difference that has enabled them to affirm and preserve their own identity - the cultivation of identity included preserving the identity of the other. That was not the case of any other ethnic group in Europe. European societies were founded on one ethnic community and the others have been accepted only by the mechanical bonds of interest. This is the reason why these relationships were never solid, nor  vital and their history is largely the history of the mutual struggles for prestige and power , where the worst means have been used – such as persecutions and genocide. 
Identity, therefore, is not an abstract self-relation of a subject which is to be cognized,  individual or collective, but the result of the recognition of the other and response to the expectations of the other. We become who we are as individuals and as nations gradually, by living with others, in an interaction with a form of pulsation. Only when the expected behaviour of the other comes back to us, we can create ourselves as rational individuals or collectives. Hence, identity structures don't belong  to us only, we can't preserve it on our own, they have a pulsating form and an intersubjective nucleus.Individuals or nations that are realized through self –relation, remain secluded, isolated and mostly atrophy and deteriorate. Identity processes lead through the networks of social pulsations which are mediated by language, work and shared living environment.      
Multi-ethnical character of BIH society has even acquired an ideological character in the conscience of individuals and ethnical communities.   
Actually, the point is that the mediating elements of collectiveness  - language, shared living environment and customs, cultural creativity and social values derived from it, have covered ethnic and religious differences and formed a single cultural entity. Awareness of the differences was not destructive to society, but it was integrated into the ideology of the common cultural circle as a unique  Bosnian' civilizational accomplishment.
Identity which has been created through self-understanding and recognition of the other, had unfortunately, lost its foundation in the past war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Diverse ethnic-religious communities that have built their identities on differences they were aware of, now define it by the list of attributes that belong to them as singularities.  Self-understanding is transformed into knowledge that can be broken down into a finite number of propositions. These identities have become abstract self-relations of cognizing subjects without acknowledgment of the other. The recognition is lacking on all sides, communities still understand each other, but do not satisfy demands to one another.
Moreover, the war and the new rethorics that has lost a communication structure, ruined the foundation of the cultural-national identity of all communities, that is, a common living environment. Apparently, architects of war knew that topos was giving the most significant attribute to living together in diversity, so they  made every attempt to rip communities out of their environments. In doing so, they used the most brutal means -  persecutions, burning and destruction of property, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.  By destroying common living environment, the identity of all communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their collectiveness  was equally destroyed (communities that have been living in new environments in exile are still searching for their identity).
Unfortunately, this situation continues to this day and has become a social fact. At the heart of Europe, with Europe that bears much blame,  a special and unique living world with a particular form of identity is lost ( for which Europe is now seeking). Today, efforts to build this world through solidarity, protection of human rights and freedoms, tolerance, and "new world's ethos" are made. It relies on the so-called comparative experiences although they exist only in the pragmatism sphere and purposeful-rational strategies. In this way, it is trying to preserve a "scenario of multiculturalism".  
By liberalization of space, transnational identities arising from such scenarios are attempting to imitate topos of the life-world that existed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in its original form. This space, articifically constructed is nothing more, but an attempt to compress the environment in order to achieve mobile and profitable relations and partnerships. This is not the Bosnian topos as the environment in which diverse communities maintain their differences by living. Within this artificially produced transnational identity there are insurmountable boundaries in language, culture,religion and tradition that still remain. These  boundaries, although attenuated by new types of European democracy, or the tourist agencies' strategies, often come up to the surface taking the form of assaults, small riots or open crimes against members of other ethnic and religious groups. In Bosnia and Herzegovina Europe has lost itself. 

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