A small but growing conversation about human nature and capacity is taking root in Slovakia, challenging common notions about migration and minorities, as well as fostering greater participation and mutual support.
Over the last several years, the Baha’i community of Slovakia has been contributing to discussions on these issues and creating spaces in which thinking about migration can advance.
“A common assumption in many societies is that migrants are a burden for a country to bear”, says Venus Jahanpour of Slovakia’s Baha’i Office of External Affairs.
“It’s understandable that people who arrive in a new land may require support with settling and tending to various needs, especially if they are fleeing conflict and oppression,” says Mrs. Jahanpour. “But there is more to their lives.
“With a different view of human nature – that human beings can show great capacity for selfless service and generosity – people are able to transcend notions of identity that create divisions between them and see each other as a fellow being.”
The Office has found that conversations with this as a starting point have illuminated various aspects of the issue and strengthened cooperation and collaboration among social actors such as government, human-rights organizations, and religious communities.
At a recent conference on civic engagement organized by the Human Rights League of Slovakia, Mrs. Jahanpour described the implications of these ideas for good governance. “When people arrive in a country, they are full of hope and come in anticipation of a better life. They have fresh perspectives and a strong desire to contribute to the advancement of their new home, but they need to be engaged as equals as early as possible. There is an important window early on where spaces need to be created for discussion and mutual learning among those newly arrived and their fellow compatriots.”
In her comments shared with the Baha’i World News Service about the empowerment of individuals and communities, Alena Holka Chudzik – the moderator of the conference and representative of the Center for Research on Ethnicity and Culture – points to the experience of the Baha’i community, stating: “Through their strong involvement in local communities, Baha’is play a crucial role in engaging very diverse people in local activities, interactions, and relationships … The sense of social responsibility we have noticed in the Baha’is can be a great driver of the inclusion of migrants.
“I feel that their focus on what unites us as human beings is what creates a unique space for inclusion of migrants … The idea that each individual matters and has a great potential to make a difference is something that should be more present in the debate on migration and inclusion of migrants.”
Monika Kuchtova, member of Slovakia’s Baha’i community adds, “There is a tendency to divide people into categories such as ‘native’ and ‘foreigner,’ ‘majority’ and ‘minority.’ But when people come together to examine the root cause of prejudice and explore ways to serve their society, these divisions fall away and we become one people. Like a garden, we come to see the beauty in our diversity.”