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What does it mean to be a citizen of the world?

Fatima Łobocka, City, University of London


Recently, my friend came back from a trip to Sri Lanka. She sat on our balcony and was gazing into the sky. Upon reflection of me telling her about the idea of being a citizen of the world, she responded by showing me a constellation of stars and followed this by saying that she observed the exact same constellation when sitting on a Sri Lankan beach. 


But let me start from the beginning. By the very basic definition, ‘citizen’ can be defined as ‘a person who is a member of a particular country and who has rights because of being born there or because of being given rights, or a person who lives in a particular town or city’. And, in order to be recognised as a citizen of a state or country, one must have met certain requirements. This may be birthright or length of residency. However, to be a citizen, and foremost a citizen of the world, it means something much bigger than just the right of blood. 

Global citizen

It is widely accepted that one who self-identifies as a global citizen believes to be a member of the human race and thus has a deeper awareness and understanding of the wider world. OXFAM has defined such an individual to be ‘someone who believes they can make a change.’ While Australian humanitarian, Hugh Evans has focused much of his work on ‘Global Citizens’ and believes that being a citizen of the world means to ‘act on the belief to tackles the greatest changes.’ These greatest changes relate to global issues such as poverty, gender inequality, climate change, human rights and world conflict. The meaning of being a global citizen is to understand that not only is our country in ‘our backyard’ but so is the rest of the world and thus aiming for the utopian ideology of a country is worthless without looking at the larger scale. Through this drive to make a change and act on his responsibility as a global citizen, Evans co-founded the organisation ‘Global Citizen Festival.’ The organisation holds an annual festival for which to redeem a ticket one must perform anti-poverty actions which will grant you access. However, Evans also argues that the meaning of being a citizen of the world means to understand that we are all very much interconnected and as the world has changed, it is important to understand that the idea of a global citizen is the being on the correct side of history; adapting how we view our place in the world in order to solve global issues and holding world leaders responsible to make the changes.


Moreover, the idea of being a citizen of the world is not always accepted. Some groups believe this term is used by individuals who aim for a borderless world for various gains such as business or political strength. And they also support their view with statements such as ‘if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’, arguing about lack of understanding of the definition of ‘citizenship.’ These ideas focus then on the more political meaning of being a citizen. However, one of the critiques of such perception comes from a self-proclaimed ‘citizen of the world,’ Jem Eskenazi, who argues that climate change, pollution or epidemics do not know of borders and thus know no frontiers. In Eskenazi’s letter showing his dismissal of the statement above from a political leader, he defined ‘citizenship’ as having ‘A balanced view of the interests of your family, your neighbourhood, your town, your country and your world.’

Global community 

Nevertheless, the understanding of citizenship usually comes down to individual experiences. For instance, I hold dual citizenship, which means by law I am ‘concurrently regarded as a citizen of more than one state.’ I hold both a British nationality and a Polish nationality. My Polish (ethnic white) mother gave birth to me in the North of Poland. I spent my infant years there with my Polish family. When moving to England, my mum ensured the rich culture, tradition and language of Poland was still predominant in my home and through this I have grown up feeling and self-identifying as Polish. Moreover, my father is an Iraqi citizen, who spent most of his adolescence in Baghdad before moving to Poland to study at university. My dad, like my mum, felt it was key to ensure the Iraqi culture was present in our home and thus I also grew up self-identifying as Iraqi, even though I am not by law regarded a citizen of that country. 


Through holding such a mixed background, I come across many interesting questions, one of which is whether ‘mixing’ means a loss of culture. From my personal experience, I believe it hasn’t resulted in a loss of cultures but in turn has led me to understand and appreciate different cultures for what they are. And to also embrace them as they are unique in many ways, whilst still having so many similarities. I feel connected to Poland, Iraq and England and care about all the issues that affect these countries in any sort of way. And I’m not the only one as being “between the places” and considering the world as open and somehow endless with such amazing opportunities to travel, work and live wherever we want has been increasingly present with the world being the ‘global village.’ With having such a broad emotional connection to the countries whose cultures are so very different, I have also learnt to understand that perhaps I am a citizen of the world as I understand that we are all very interconnected. We are individuals that live within a global community; the awareness of both the common struggles and the fact we’re part of a reality that influences us to some extent in the same way, influences the said community making us global citizens. 


Therefore, it can be argued that it’s very strange how we divide ourselves into groups and define citizenship based upon a state, eagerly defending such affiliation and being afraid of ‘losing our culture’, instead of embracing it and respecting the richness of otherness that in the end becomes one big whole. Even when looking up into the sky, the world tells us we are all home and citizens to the same place, the World. 

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