Strengthening local alliances against racism from Bern to Heidelberg

Bern – Switzerland

Bern’s Department for Migration and Racism Issues visited the City of Heidelberg and the ECCAR Office to exchange strategies to counter racism and discrimination 

In February, the City of Heidelberg and the ECCAR Office welcomed 15 representatives of Bern’s Department for Migration and Racism Issues for a two-day exchange on local strategies to counter racism and discrimination. The aim of the meeting was to exchange good practices between the similarly sized ECCAR member cities Bern and Heidelberg to strengthen local alliances in the light of rising antidemocratic forces in Europe. Racism and antisemitism are on the rise all across Europe. Especially during these times, it is important to strengthen the role of cities as local agents for promoting human rights, democratic spaces and dialogue on the ground. Therefore, the exchange particularly focussed on good practices by the Cities of Heidelberg and Bern that strengthen the role of different local communities affected by racism and discrimination. In addition, it allowed an in-depth understanding of the ECCAR membership and the various opportunities arising from it for the City of Bern with the aim to shape the ECCAR membership in a way that it optimally strengthens the local antiracism work and promotes equal opportunities in close cooperation with local communities.

Stefanie Jansen, Deputy Mayor of Heidelberg for the Department of Social Affairs, Education, Family, and Equal Opportunities, welcomed Franziska Teuscher, Municipal Councillor and Director of the Directorate of Education, Social Welfare and Sport, together with 15 representatives of the department and the expert commission for Migration and Racism Issues at the Heidelberg City Hall. The two-day exchange between the representatives offered insights into good practices and challenges of both cities in the areas challenging racism through education, cooperation with community-organisations and activists, youth participation and overall implementation of the ECCAR 10 Points Action Plan. Danijel Cubelic, Director of the Office for Equal Opportunities, and Dr Antony Pattathu, Head of the department for Antiracism, Integration and Democracy Support, presented the “Heidelberg Way” of implementing the ECCAR 10 Points Action Plan. This included among others the thematic focus of the Heidelberg Equal Opportunities Office and its development, the work of the Jewish-Muslim Cultural Days, the current establishment of a Round Table against Racism, the Heidelberg Political Academy, the training of local "antiracism trainers" for schools. Jaswinder Pal Rath, Chairman of the Council for Migration in Heidelberg provided insights to the work of the Migration Council. 

The city of Bern, which is ECCAR member since 2009, also brought many inspiring examples from their practice, such as the Action Week against Racism in Bern that is taking place for the 14th time this year and always focuses on a specific topic, which in recent years was among others structural racism. In the next three years, the focus topic will be "racism in various areas of life". Furthermore, the city of Bern's Education Department and the Department for Migration and Racism Issues have launched the "racism-critical school network” in collaboration with the University of Education, which advocates for more anti-racist perspectives as part of the training and further education of teachers. In addition, the representatives from Bern presented the Action Plan "Eine Stadt für alle” (A city for all) of the city of Bern which includes many different measures to combat racism and promote equal opportunities locally in the long-term.

Another part of the exchange was the presentation of the work of the ECCAR Office that is based at Heidelberg’s Office for Equal Opportunities. Evein Obulor (ECCAR Director) and Jana Christ (ECCAR Coordinator) outlined the different areas of work and possibilities for implementing the ECCAR 10 Points Action Plan. Here, the various ways in which ECCAR offers cities concrete support in this process were specifically discussed. These include consulting services, as well as practical capacity building and workshops which are conducted on a needs-oriented basis for member cities. In addition, they also introduced ECCAR's new Online City Reporting Tool, which makes it even more accessible for cities to report on their local work against racism and then receive official and scientific feedback for this from ECCAR's Scientific Advisory Council, including UNESCO.

The professional exchange was concluded with a post-colonial city tour by activist Leonie Baumgarten-Egemole and a visit to the Heidelberg Intercultural Centre, where its director Bonka von Bredow welcomed the delegation. Both the City of Heidelberg and ECCAR are looking forward to further cooperation with the City of Bern in the future. ECCAR will also continue to strengthen the development of a Swiss city network within ECCAR, in which the city of Bern will hopefully play a central role.