Senior Fellow Runs Diversity Workshop Bulgaria

June 13, 2012 | islamophobia, bulgaria, arts

Humanity in Action Senior Fellow Pavlina (“Ina”) Doublekova organized a very successful seven-day workshop entitled “Diversity on the Other Side of the Wall: Muslims in Sofia.” Ina was one of the winners of the Senior Fellow grants competition.

Eight Senior Fellows participated in in the workshop, which took place from May 14-20. This intensive seven-day workshop for Senior Fellows challenged the participants’ notions of coexistence and multiculturalism in Bulgaria, with a focus on the Muslim presence in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Ina had observed that in Bulgaria, the level of knowledge about Islam and the quality of debate about issues surrounding Muslim residents has been disappointingly low, despite the country’s close proximity to Turkey, which has an overwhelmingly Muslim population. She found that the public discourse concerning other minority groups, such as the Roma and the Turks, also lacked understanding and thoughtfulness, as many people were not willing to challenge their own pre-conceived notions and prejudices.

Building on the structure of the HIA Fellowships, Ina designed a workshop that would foster education and debate about these issues while ensuring that a multitude of opinions and viewpoints were acknowledged, contrasted and interpolated. In order to facilitate such an environment, she incorporated various learning tools, including lectures, discussions, interactive exercises, personal meetings and tours. And in order to offer the participants the chance to explore the issues from various and opposing viewpoints within the community, the speakers she invited included academics, NGO experts, government officials, members of minority groups and right-wing party activists.

Furthermore, the workshop was designed to coincide with the Transeuropa Festival, a transnational festival of culture, arts and politics that simultaneously takes place in 14 cities across Europe, encouraging political and cultural exchange all over the continent. Ina incorporated three Transeuropa Festival events into the schedule for the workshop as a way of broadening the Senior Fellows’ exposure to the issues.

Because it was important to Ina that the people of Sofia be included in this event, the workshop concluded with a panel discussion that was open to the public. This discussion was not only an opportunity for the Senior Fellows to share their impressions about Bulgaria and compare the issues of coexistence and multiculturalism to their experiences in their home communities, but to engage with the Bulgarian audience, which posed questions and comments to the panel.

Some of the Bulgarians who attended the panel discussion told the Senior Fellows that it was the first time that a public debate addressed the issue of Muslim minorities in Bulgaria. Both the speakers and the people that the Senior Fellows met in the street were excited about their presence and interest in Bulgaria. Journalists and TV stations attended the panel discussion in order to interview the Senior Fellows.

The Humanity in Action Senior Fellow grant competition sought to empower Senior Fellows to create projects that embody HIA's educational mission and facilitate cooperation among Senior Fellows from different countries. Project proposals had to address issues related to democracy, discrimination, racism, xenophobia, tolerance or the persecution and protection of minorities. HIA plans on holding another Senior Fellow grant competition at the end of 2012. The Senior Fellow grant fund is administered by HIA The Netherlands and supported by a generous grant from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Department of War Victims and Remembrance.

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