Allow me to begin by thanking the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska for the kind invitation to address you at the occasion of the presentation of results of the project: "Education for Peace". Council of Europe is not directly involved in this project, however, as the project’s objectives coincide largely with the objectives of the Council of Europe in the field of education, we are interested to support and encourage your very useful work and contribution towards the building of peace, tolerance and inter-ethnic understanding in BiH.
Let me say a few words about our and your organisation in which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a member since 2002.
The main mission of the Council of Europe is the promotion and preservation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. At the heart of our organisation is the European Convention on Human Rights which protects 820 million people and has facilitated a single, common, legal space, in which 47 governments seek to abide by the same standards. In the European Court of Human Rights, we have a court to which any individual can bring a complaint. It is a right to individual petition which does not exist anywhere else in the world. And, in our Committee of Ministers, we have a place where representatives from all of our nations meet each other to talk and find solutions, whatever the difficulties of the day.
And difficulties are not in short supply.
The economic crisis, the refugee crisis, the growth of home-grown terror, the persistence of human rights abuses on our continent, all have brought into question Europe’s democratic ideals. We witness the rise of populism, nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia. If we want to preserve our democratic ideals, to safeguard the openness and tolerance on which modern Europe is built, we need to be just as unapologetic in promoting our values too.
The first place where we defend our values is in our schools. In Europe today most states have some form of civic education.
But we still do not, as standard practice, teach our children what it means – explicitly – to be a democratic citizen.
How to live with others, as equals, in mixed societies. We need to create “safe spaces” in classrooms where controversial issues can be calmly and responsibly discussed.
We need to create conditions to reconcile freedom of expression with countering hate speech. Students around Europe learn about democratic processes, such as voting but need also to learn about democratic culture, the mind-sets and attitudes.
To this end, 50 European Ministers of Education, including of Bosnia and Herzegovina, met last spring to set the priorities to empower our educators to meet these challenges; to ensure that all members of our societies grow up with the skills needed to sustain democracy. These goals are confirmed by the Conference of Ministers of Education of the European Cultural Convention, which was held yesterday and the day before yesterday in Nicosia, in the framework of the Cyprus chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
At the heart of this agenda, is our flagship Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture.
What are the Competences? Sometimes we arrive at better definition by telling what they are not about.
Competences for Democratic Culture are not developed for Bosnia and Herzegovina or for any specific country. They can be adapted and used in any given country.
This is not some kind of new political curriculum.
It isn’t ideological.
It is not an attempt to rewrite history, or define religion.
This is about setting out, for the first time ever, the specific competences needed by young citizens across all of our democracies.
How to live in society where not everyone thinks like you but where we all have a responsibility to uphold the democratic principles by which our different belief systems co-exist.
The Competences promote values such as the value of justice, for example, fairness and the rule of law; value of human dignity and human rights.
Attitudes: such as respecting the right of others to hold their own opinions;
Skills: empathy, listening, resolving conflicts; skills for cooperation and analytical and critical thinking.
And, perhaps of widest benefit, the ability to approach the issues such as history, or politics from the critical point of view: the ability to separate facts from opinion, and then debate those views.
They are designed precisely so that they can be adapted to suit differing national and local realities.
They are now tested Europe wide, in France, Romania and elsewhere.
As we look across our societies today, it should be obvious that, in the long-term, education policies and practices will be more decisive for tolerance and stability than any counter-terror measure, any asylum reform, any law.
Stability rests on democracy; Democracy relies on education.
And education depends on all of us.
We need to have confidence in teaching our shared values to the next generation.
We need to use education and training to promote the inclusion of all the members of our societies. This is a long term work to which we at the Council of Europe are fully committed and ready to assist Bosnia Herzegovina authorities and to work with all stakeholders.
Thank you for your attention.