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Youth in Support of the Idea of Tolerance

The conference Youth in Support of the Idea of Tolerance took place in Petrozavodsk, Karelia from November 29th-December 1st. It was organized by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, the Ministry of National Policy Affairs in liaison with Religious Organizations of the Republic of Karelia and the international non-governmental organization UNITED (http://www.unitedagainstracism.org). The conference took place in the framework of the inter-regional information session On the Way to Perfection: A Culture of Peace and Accord.

Approximately a hundred people from Karelia and regions of Russia took part in the session: representatives of the authorities and leaders of youth public organizations from Astrakhan, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Krasnodar, Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Perm, St. Petersburg, Pyatigorsk, Rostov-on-the-Don, Samara, Smolensk and Yaroslavl. Representatives of Holland, the Czech Republic, Norway and Belgium took part in the work of the conference, as well as volunteers from the Center for Interethnic cooperation from Canada, Ireland and Austria. The majority of people were seeing Karelian birch trees for the first time. Someone who attended the conference set about to look for Petrozavodsk on the map and was shocked by the distance which had to covered

From the town of Petrozavodsk by train you can only get to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and so almost all the young activists traveled together from all corners of Russia, their routes met in the fourth and fifth carriages of the train from Moscow to Petrozavodsk. Upon arrival to the capital of Karelia, from the boat to the ball as it were, everybody was taken to the pedagogical college, which, as a side note, used to house an all-male seminary, and the conference began.

The first day of the conference was made up of the speeches given by representatives of various public and government organizations: Elena Antoshko, the first deputy of the ministry of national policy affairs, Svetlana Plakhotnikova, the head of the Division of Interethnic Relations of the Administration of Irkutsk oblast, Berni Macnelli from the Delegation of the European Union in Russia, as well as Geert Ates and Mirek Prokes from UNITED. Ashot Ayrapetyan, director of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation, talked about the summation of carrying out the project Utilization of the Network of National Organizations for Opposing Xenophobia in Russia, financed by the European Union. We should mention that the majority of conference participants were active participants in trainings carried out in the framework of the project by the Center for Interethnic Cooperation.

On the second day of the conference, participants shared their experience in carrying out various actions in support of the idea of tolerance. A list of the most successful events was summarized.

Russian and International Actions in support of the idea of tolerance and against racism and xenophobia

  1. Network of public organizations for tolerance (against xenophobia) 7
  2. International conferences 4
  3. Address book of public organizations 3
  4. Calendar of actions
  5. Conducting simultaneous actions
  6. Developing and distributing posters
  7. State support of migrants project through NGOs 1
  8. Seminar-trainings 7
  9. Tolerance lessons 7
  10. Youth camps 17
  11. Interethnic dances 9
  12. Radio Tolerance 1
  13. Free showings of films about tolerance 1
  14. Fairy tales from different peoples of the world
  15. Creating internet portals (blogs) 13
  16. Competition Miss- National Beauty 3
  17. National games 1
  18. Literary collection
  19. Festival of national cultures 4
  20. Sport events 10
  21. Flash-mob 8
  22. Association of youth organizations
At the request of Ashot, participants chose, from their point of view, the three most successful actions. The numbers next to the event indicates how many people supported the idea.
  1. Youth camps 17
  2. Creating internet portals (blogs) 13
  3. Sport events 10
  4. Interethnic dances 9
  5. Flash-mob 8
  6. Seminar-trainings 7
  7. Tolerance lessons 7
The most important part of the work then began. The leaders of youth organizations discussed what to adopt from Russian and international experience in order to develop the idea of tolerance in the country. The results were Recommendations for federal and regional authorities, and, of course, for public organizations. They appear as such:

Recommendations for youth and public organizations

  1. Delegating representatives to authorities (lobbying)
  2. Cooperation with mass-media (press-conferences, articles, newspapers, television broadcasts, radio programs)
  3. Organizing joint events with authorities
  4. Vigorous reaction to events in society (posters, demonstrations, concerts, festivals
  5. Union in coalition with diverse public organizations for turning to the authorities as a way to influence (Network of interregional cooperation)
  6. Bringing authoritative personalities to the organization
  7. Writing, defense and realization grant projects
  8. Uniting activity of an organization (special-purpose program)
  9. Apply constant pressure (Kamalya, Novosibirsk)

Recommendations for regional authorities

  1. Collaboration with national associations
  2. Creating special interethnic schools
  3. Strengthening administrative responsibility for insulting national merit
  4. Carrying out yearly national cultural festivals
  5. Creating newspapers and websites which are dedicated to the vital activity of national associations
  6. Bringing representatives of national associations into public life
  7. Sports events of a national character
  8. Visual campaign for promoting tolerance
  9. Regional program Intercultural Family (Club of intercultural families)
  10. Educational course Tolerance/ People of the World

Recommendations for Federal Authorities

  1. Adopting a special-purpose program:
    • State support of NGOs
    • Special educational programs
    • Social advertising
    • Promoting tolerance in mass media
    • Migrant integration program
    • Distinct conception for developing interethnic and interfaith relations
    • Creating consultative organs attached to legislative and executive authorities
  2. Publicity for intercultural actors!
Among the many agreeable sums of the conference was that the administration of the Irkutsk oblast and the Republic of Karelia invited all to a youth camp by Lake Baikal and in Karelia for the summer of 2008. With this, the theoretical part of the conference ended, and the practical work began. We got on the bus and were taken to Kondopoga.

Until the fall of 2006, no one knew about the town of Kondopoga with its population of thirty-eight thousand residents. In one day it became well-known to all of Russia. Directors of national television channels learned to say the name of the small town without faltering after pogroms tragically occurred in the well-known restaurant Chaika, resulting in deaths on national grounds. For two weeks thereafter, the town lived in a sense of harsh antagonism.

The route from Petrozavodsk to Kondopoga takes an hour. The bus carried participants through the towns narrow streets, lit by green lamps, and stopped in the square. Everybody scrambled out of the bus. A melody was playing: the clock on the square plays every half hour, and each time it is different music, explained a representative from the Kondopoga youth center, who met conference participants. Now, at the site of the restaurant Chaika, a three-storied youth cultural center stands. Local youth were already awaiting Youth in Support of the Idea of Tolerance conference participants in the modern conference-hall. There were no less than sixty people there. There were even very young kids, who came with their parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. Youth found a common language really quickly, coming up with a slogan for tolerance and carrying out common tasks of the training. The meeting smoothly moved to the dance floor, where youth from Krasnodar taught everybody an Assyrian dance. When leaving, people invited each other to visit and said until next time!

The third day of the conference, according to participants, turned out to be the most liberal and productive. It was commemorated by the mass action Tolerance Lessons. Leaders and activists of youth organizations carried out tolerance lessons; in essence, mini-trainings- in four Petrozavodsk educational institutions. Dividing into twelve groups, participants led tolerance meetings for future teachers, financiers, programmers and machinists.

Ashot Ayrapetyan, director of the Center for Interethnic cooperation put forth the following tolerance lesson to participants:

  • Greeting/ Acquaintance
  • Nationalities game: 1. On small papers, write four typical nationalities (for example: Chinese, Jewish, Roma, Armenian); 2. Turn the papers over so it is not visible what nationality is written on it; 3. Each participant has to take a piece of paper, and, without talking, find their fellow countrymen
  • Continuation of the game Interview: representatives of the nationalities give interviews to journalists and talk about their nation, people and culture
  • Game monument to tolerance: task- originate a monument to tolerance
  • Group work: discussion what is tolerance? Why is it advantageous to be tolerant?
  • Tolerance motto: come up with a shout for tolerance, and have everybody say it together.
  • Departure.
Lesson length 60 minutes

Of course, everybody did not follow the model exactly, but used it as a base. The experiment showed that students have a significantly poor notion of people living in Russia and in other parts of the world; while playing the interview part of the activity, they had a difficult time telling the journalist about the traditions and cultures of other nations. All the same, to the question Is it advantageous to be tolerant? students answered affirmatively and were able to back up and defend their point of view.

A similar project could become a mass action in any region of Russia. The summation of the conference showed that the trial of carrying out tolerance meetings in Petrozavodsk turned out to be very successful.

The participants, who came from fourteen regions of Russia, were inspired by the idea of carrying out such lessons at home. Such encounters do not require spending large amounts of money or other resources. Only the initiative of young people who consider that tolerance is important is needed, and, of course, schools/colleges that can set aside one (1) hour for the tolerance lesson.

The carrying out of these tolerance lessons in the colleges of Petrozavodsk should be especially noted. Firstly, they provided the opportunity to endorse the idea and program developed over the conference; secondly, they helped to understand the methodology of similar lessons which play an exclusive role in educating youth in tolerance in the youth (school/student) sphere. (Alexander Panchenko, Moscow State University student)

It was interesting to find out how youth live in different towns of Russia, how they work, to get to know different forms of public work directed at raising the level of tolerance. It was nice to learn that there are people for whom this is important, and who do a lot to make the world a more peaceful and safer place to live. Plus the invaluable experience of talking to different people, new acquaintances, a sea of positive emotions and an energy charge. Tatiana Mkrtychyan, Petrozavodsk, service-social center adolescents).

This was the last of the project events from Utilization of the Network of National Organizations for Opposing Xenophobia in Russia. At the end of the conference, Ashot Ayrapetyan asked the room of youth, participants in the project: Do you consider that the project was unsuccessful? The room was silent. Then he asked the contrary Do you consider that the project was successful? The room shouted Yes!

For ten years of the Center for Interethnic Cooperations existence, many flattering evaluations have been heard. None of them, however, according to Ashot, is comparable with this Yes! This is the highest evaluation of our activity.

Ayuna Shoizhitova

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