Comprehending Czechs' new multi-cultural society: anthropology may be the key

Well, if Europe's dwindling population is to be topped up by opening the doors to people from other parts of the world, then countries would do well to ensure their citizens are ready to accept them. The academic discipline devoted to the study of how different cultures interact is social and cultural anthropology, and it was given some promotion recently at a seminar in Prague. Rob Cameron has the story.

Called "How to Cope with Other Cultures", the seminar focused on the importance of cultural anthropology in contemporary Czech society. Rob Cameron asked Doctor Ivo Budil, dean of the Faculty of Humanities in the University of West Bohemia, whether anthropology - often seen as a rather old-fashioned subject in Western universities - was more popular in Central Europe. Ivo Budil: I don't know if I can compare the situation to the United States or the United Kingdom, because the tradition was quite different here. But I think that starting in the 19th century, the interests in humanities, generally in anthropology, in Central Europe [increased]. For instance the founder of modern American cultural anthropology, Franz Boaz, was from Central Europe, and the founder of American physical anthropology, Ales Hrdlicka, was Czech. So there is some common tradition and background in Central Europe for this science.Radio Prague: It's been a fascinating discussion, but the fact is that it was a handful of academics, and maybe half a dozen journalists. Surely it would be difficult to take social anthropology to schoolchildren? IB: It depends. Because paradoxically, social and cultural anthropology as an independent study and an independent masters study is something new in the Czech Republic. For about one century, ethnography was the main discipline on human differences, tradition and so on. But judging by the interest among students and generally young people in social and cultural anthropology in Plzen, I think it's quite a good idea to introduce anthropology as a special teaching in grammar or even primary schools in the Czech Republic. I asked Professor Budil whether the title of the seminar - 'How to Cope With Other Cultures' - didn't contain some implied criticism of Czech society, often been described as rather xenophobic. "I don't think that Czechs are generally speaking different from other nations in Central Europe. It's an outcome of history: we didn't have access to the sea, we didn't have any colonies and so on. But also this is the outcome of the tradition of totalitarianism in Central Europe as a completely closed society. But I think the transition to a multicultural society is a big challenge for contemporary Czech society. This is the reason why I chose the title," said Professor Budil.