11 Most Ethnically Diverse Cities in Europe

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To rank and list the 11 most ethnically diverse cities in Europe is a huge challenge. When you rank cities within a country, you usually have the same methods of census across those cities. International rankings are never so simple. In the EU, Eurostat gathers statistics but does not require a census or any other specific information. For example, it’s against French law to gather information about race or religion even for the census.

What defines an ethnicity? This question is hard, too — conversations about ethnicity can quickly lead to fighting and, in the worst cases, violent conflict. The issues facing Europe are often different than those facing those of the 14 most ethnically diverse cities in the world that are outside of Europe. Researching the ethnic groups of cities in Poland often leads to one conclusion: Some number of ethnic minorities were killed or forced out of Poland during one of each of the major wars that battled on Polish soil. Religion and ethnicity are often conflated but aren’t the same. Language doesn’t define ethnicity either. It’s an unstable foundation on which to try to stack really tough, personal questions. And the more tense a region becomes in its questions of ethnicity, the more likely its citizens are to lie to protect themselves and their families.

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In 2015, Europe has made the news countless times for its position as a refugee highway out of war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, and more. But these news stories happen in a time when borders in Europe are more concrete than maybe ever before — we talk about refugees passing through nations and bringing demographic changes with them, but we assume the borders themselves won’t move or change. That hasn’t always been the case, and some European cities reflect the ethnic diversity of groups that once had nations and ethnic majorities in the same place. Land changed hands under empires and regimes and during massive wars. Lifelong intelligence officer and political scientist Dr. George Friedman puts it this way: “Between 1914 and 1945, Europeans waged a series of wars about national boundaries and about who has the right to live where. This led to one of the greatest slaughters of human history.”

Modern European borders don’t often include the kind of border security that marks many other parts of the world, but European nations have strong senses of identity and self that form an important part of public life. The world is watching as Germany, having admitted a million refugees in 2015, grapples with how best to welcome and assimilate those refugees. Being German is not a race or religion. Chancellor Angela Merkel “wants to ensure that people do not only coexist, but also that they feel they belong to one community despite their different backgrounds,” said Christine Langenfeld, an expert on migration and assimilation.

Nowhere is this spirit more evident than in France following the horrific coordinated attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015. President Francois Hollande said to a group of French mayors, “We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values,” again conjuring the idea that borders represent France’s identity but also the gateway that France uses to welcome new citizens with “liberty, equality, fraternity.”

With these complex factors at play, how do we measure ethnic diversity, especially of individual cities? I’ve developed a metric that I think is fair and balanced based on three sources. First, cities receive points based on their statistical ethnic makeup, receiving 1 point for every 10 percent of the population that is from another country or from a notable ethnic minority. Second, I added the Pew Religious Diversity Index value for the country where the city is located, which ranges from 0 to 10. Third, I added Dr. Erkan Gören’s study (PDF) of indices of cultural diversity, which uses a number of factors like language and differences between groups in a country and again ranges from 0 to 10. Finally, I gave a tiny boost to cities that volunteered for the Council of Europe’s study of Intercultural Cities, assigning .5 extra points for an average Intercultural Cities Index and 1 extra point for above-average.

Dry methodology-talk over! Let’s look at some great and diverse cities of Europe.

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