Capacity for otherness in pluri-identity societies


Walther Lichem


The concept of “civilization” tends to reaffirm the vision of the single-identity society where values, behavioural patterns and the public space are vertically predetermined and where otherness – the enemy - is beyond the geographically defined space. Enhanced societal interaction, mobility and inter-relatednesses have, however, created new patterns of society where otherness becomes increasingly individualized and an intra-societal phenomenon. The multi-dimensional processes of societal de-verticalisation and ever broader self-determinedness of a person’s identity has contributed to the creation of  pluri-identity societies where every human being has a right to otherness. At the same time the internalisation of otherness has led to the emergence of pluri-identity personalities who become a key element for societal cohesion in pluri-identity societies. The relativisation of one’s own identity in relation to the other is achieved through the internalisation of otherness. The “clash” and “dialogue” among civilisations is thus being increasingly replaced by a society of interaction and interrelatedness where otherness either becomes a dividing element towards intra-societal disintegration or a source of enrichment, an element for development towards larger freedom. A key question to be addressed today by the political processes at global, regional, national and local levels is how to enhance a society’s capacity for otherness in pluri-identity societies. This is to be achieved by an invitation of otherness into the public space of a society and by multi-dimensional processes of learning about the other. Every learning process ultimately provides an internalisation of the learned. Otherness becomes part of oneself. Societal development through human rights related learning and socialisation processes provides the necessary dignity-building for pluri-identity societies and their democratic patterns of intra- and inter-societal relations.


Walther Lichem, started his professional career in the United Nations Secretariat in New York in the field of international water resources. UN development cooperation missions led him to Ethiopia, Argentina and to the Senegal River Development Organisation in Dakar. After joining the Austrian Foreign Service in 1974 he served as Consul General in Ljubljana, Slovenia and as Ambassador to Chile and to Canada. He has held various positions in international institutions including Chairman of the European Training Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, and President of Interpress Service. Lichem is co-author of the UN-Habitat/PDHRE report on human rights cities. He has also published on human rights learning and societal development, the evolution of pluri-identity societies, the sustainable use of environmental resources, and Austrian politics and Austrian foreign policy. His contributions to international conferences include serving as coordinator of the first East-West conferences on Human Rights (Ottawa 1985) and on culture (Budapest (1985), as Rapporteur on Human Rights, Democracy and Development at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993) and as co-chair of the preparatory committees for the Europe-Africa (1988) and Europe-Latin America (1989) conferences. He served as host to the first meeting of the International Panel on the Dialogue among Civilisations and to a high-level meeting on this topic with the UN Secretary-General. His teaching assignments included the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna (1989-1993) and the International Peace Academy Seminars on UN peace-keeping. From 2005 – 2006 he taught as a visiting professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta, Canada.

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