As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to open this second Annual Conference of the Observatory on History Teaching in Europe.
Twelve months ago, Europe – and the wider world – were still tightly in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It continues to have an impact on people’s short- and long-term health, of course.
And it has ongoing implications for our economies.
But we are relieved that the worst – I hope – appears to be behind us.
I know that your plenary sessions today and tomorrow will help to put this in proper context –
As you consider the Observatory’s first Thematic Report, Pandemic and Natural Disaster as Reflected in History.
Context is of course critical to both the teaching and understanding of history.
And the very context of this Conference is different in ways that most people would not have believed possible twelve months ago, when we hosted the first.
The Russian Federation’s cruel, unjust, and utterly unacceptable invasion of Ukraine has changed Europe, and its repercussions will be with us for a long time.
This attack is also an assault on the broader values that we share throughout democratic Europe.
It is an attack on what we stand for, what we believe in.
As I understand it, popular Russian support for this war is fuelled by a distorted understanding of history, reinforced by lies and nationalist propaganda.
The threat we face today is the rise of aggressive nationalism, democratic backsliding and historical revisionism –
Propaganda, mixed with misinformation, and hate speech –
Russia is the most potent example – and one – that you will examine, rightly, at this Conference.
Dear friends, we must continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine, but also to uphold vibrant, secure and free democratic societies in Europe and beyond.
For us – and in light of the CoE’s mandate – that means doing even more to sustain and strengthen democracy in Europe.
To construct something stronger and more resilient than ever before.
With a focus on free and fair elections, freedom of expression, independent judiciaries, separation of powers, execution of judgments, a strong and vibrant civil society and free media.
All of these are the core building blocks of any democracy.
But so too is education – and a focus on youth.
Education – especially history teaching - gives us the critical faculties to debate and to analyse the nature of democracy –
It helps us understand what is really happening at any given moment, and most importantly— why
Teaching History, Grounding Democracy is the mission of the Observatory.
But that aim has long underpinned the Council of Europe’s approach –
From the European Cultural Convention of 1954 –
To the range of important education and youth activities that have evolved over the years –
And through to the work that we do today on promoting competences for democratic culture.
The question now is what more should we do.
Our commitment to education remains absolute.
I note that also that the recent High-level Reflection Group recommended that we develop a new legal instrument on education and democracy to further strengthen and implement democratic culture.
And our heads of state and governments will have the opportunity to take this forward, if they choose to do so, at the Council of Europe’s 4th Summit next May.
Regardless, the Observatory on History Teaching has the mandate and the talents required to push forward the boundaries of knowledge, reason and understanding –
On specific subjects – and throughout Europe
With the 150-strong audience of experts gathered here today – with your partnership with the European Union through the HISTOLAB project, thanks to the Commission’s generous support, –
And the growing number of countries that have joined the Observatory to participate in its work, I have no doubt we will succeed.
Thank you for your attention.