One of the major events organised under the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe opened on Wednesday in Nicosia.
The Conference entitled “Securing democracy through education” was opened by Costas Kadis, Minister of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus, Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
Ministers of Education from State parties to the European Cultural Convention participate in the Conference along with Ministers of Education from South Mediterranean areas and policy experts representing a total of 39 countries.
Addressing the opening ceremony, Costas Kadis pointed out that the Republic of Cyprus has assumed the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe at a time when Europe and its neighborhood are faced with economic hardship, migratory flows, terrorism, the dangerous rise of populism, xenophobic rhetoric and extremism, and other phenomena which test European democracies and shake public trust in state and international institutions.
“It is, therefore, high time to invest more in stable and democratic institutions, transparent and fair processes, pluralistic and inclusive societies that foster tolerant and democratically active citizens”, he said.
Kadis added that “we also need to embrace the fundamental principles upon which the Council of Europe is founded by safeguarding and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, strengthening democracy and upholding the rule of law.”
He said that the Cyprus Chairmanship is convinced that, in overcoming current challenges, it is imperative to remain committed to the common principles and values. That’s why the Cypriot Chairmanship is focusing on three axes, 1. Rights and freedoms for all people without any discrimination, 2. Democratic citizenship, and 3. Prevalence of the rule of law.
Noting that education plays a fundamental role in fostering inclusive, tolerant and democratic societies, he said that the Ministry of Education has been very honoured to co-organize this Conference.
He said that the values of Council of Europe are important for all of us “but I would like to highlight that they have an even more important significance for Cyprus”.
“These values are for us the cornerstone upon which a solution to the ongoing Cyprus problem should be based. As you know, during the past two years a major effort to reunite Cyprus, aiming to allow to all its legal residents to enjoy human rights and live in peace, prosperity and progress, is in progress”, he said.
Kadis added that to ensure a viable solution to the Cyprus problem, “we consider the full adoption of the Council of Europe’s principles and values in a reunited Cyprus very important. Our commitment of continuing the dialogue to achieve such a solution that will ensure the peaceful coexistence of all Cypriots in their homeland is continuous”.
In her address, Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe said that the Committee of Ministers deserves enormous credit for the growing importance it attaches to education, as a force of democracy, human rights and stability in Europe.
She said that the Andorran Chairmanship gave this agenda a momentum, which was built upon by Belgium and today by Cyprus and will be given continued emphasis by next Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the Czech Republic.
She welcomed the European Commissioner`s presence in the Conference, saying that it demonstrates the commitment of EU in this area.
Referring to nationalism, extremism, terrorism, the refugee crisis, she said that in some states human rights and minority protections are under threat and in many hate speech is on the rise, such as fake news.
In Europe, she said, such tendencies must worry us, saying that they are a threat to our stability and security.
She pointed out that education is fundamental, noting that through education we better manage diversity, adding that modern Europe is built on the coexistence of common values and rich diversity.
`We do not seek to teach young men and women what to think, but rather how to think, critically, and for themselves` she concluded.
In his address, Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, noted that `we are looking with horror how young people born and raised in our countries and taught in our schools turn against their communities and some of them end up committing atrocious terrorist attacks for reasons that we fail to understand`.
Noting that radicalisation is an extremely complex phenomenon, he said that lack of opportunities or discrimination might play a role, but they do not explain it all.
`While we realise that Education is not the only solution, there is no solution without education`, he stressed.
More than ever, the Commissioner said, “we need to create strong channels of intercultural dialogue, adding that this is the key to understanding each other and to value diversity and to empower young people, especially the most vulnerable ones, who feel left behind in a world that does not seem to have a place for them.”
In this context, he referred to the Erasmus program which helps young people to develop a European identity that sits comfortably alongside their other identities.
Topics of discussion will include education provision for refugees, with the participation of Ministers of Education of countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as results of the piloting phase of the Council of Europe Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture.
The Conference will also evaluate the progress made on the implementation of the educational aspects of the Council of Europe Action Plans on The fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism and Building Inclusive Societies (2016-2019).
Cyprus assumed the Chairmanship in November 2016.