Wednesday 22 February
|Conference “Spreading the Ideas of Tolerance among Youth: What You(th) Can Do?”|
This international conference was a finalizing event of a two-years-long joint project of the Center for Interethnic Cooperation (CIC) and European Network against Racism, Fascism and Xenophobia and in Support of Migrants and Refugees UNITED for Intercultural Action. The project “Utilizing the Network of Ethnic Organizations in Russia to Promote the Ideas of Tolerance among Youth” was financed by the European Commission. The conference took place at “Solnechnaya Polyana” resort near Moscow on November 21-26. The plenary session took place at the Journalism faculty of Moscow State University on November 24th.
The aim of the project was to train leaders of youth and student organizations to spread the ideas of tolerance to decrease xenophobic moods in the society.
UNTED unites more then 560 diverse antidiscriminational organizations from 56 European countries. The activists usually meet two times a year. This conference in Russia is a second in organizations’ history – the first one took place in St.Petersburg nine years ago.
Eighty activists from organizations working for tolerance, youth organizations and student unions were among the participants of this conference. The participants came from 44 cities from 24 countries, spoke different languages and represented different races. All had different opinions but common was a belief for better world without racism and human rights without discrimination. That’s what united us.
Activists from CIC trainings from different Russian cities were among the Russian participants, plus three representatives of regional authorities and one University principal. Most part of them had never before communicated with a foreigner.
The specialty of this conference is that it was bilingual – English and Russian. And the interpreters were not professional. As it was said by one of the speakers, “The Iron Curtain is no longer exist, what we have now are linguistic barriers”. But these barriers did not last long – everybody was able to communicate.
Three Russians, one Ukrainian, one Czech and one Italian were among the organizers (International Preparatory Group, or IPG for short). All the communications were held in English, and it was an amazing experience! During the conference we were also assisted by the UNITED volunteers, also coming from different countries.
During the CIC trainings we always make participants to understand why tolerance is so important, to figure out how to spread it, to communicate with representatives of different ethnicities. Participants of this conference were more skilled and experienced; some of them were trainers themselves. They were people ready to act and aware of how to do it. During the workshops they brainstormed which direction to take and which resources and techniques to apply to make more people tolerant and respective.
During the “Building ridges” workshop we were asked to look at our similarities and differences – we made lines or spread in the room depending on different criteria - who’s more masculine or more feminine (having a gender balance), who’s more right-wing or left-wing, whose self identity is a part of minority (for example, there are less men in Russia then women).
During the “Danger of Words” workshop we discussed definitions of key terms that we were going to use during the conference: human rights, racism, discrimination etc. One of Russian-language groups used all that time to discuss the term tolerance as the most hard to understand. It appeared that even among the participants of such a conference there are different opinions, but it did not affect a fruitful work during other workshops.
The participants had an option to choose what workshops to take. One of the workshops for Russian-speakers was “Spreading the Ideas of Tolerance among Youth”, conducted by the CIC director, Ashot Ayrapetyan. During this workshop we created and prepared a flash-mob, that later was successfully implemented during the plenary. The other CIC workshop was held in English for European experts on antidiscrimination work. During this workshop it appeared that the financial support from the state to NGOs is firmly related to the number of hate crimes in a given country – the more support, the less hate crimes. It’s impossible to change the situation only by means of poor NGOs. Recommendations for European NGOs, European authorities and international organizations such as UN, OSCE, COE were worked out during this workshop.
At the last day of the conference Daniel Milo from OSCE ODIHR carried out a workshop called “Role of Civil Society in Prevention and Reaction on Hate Crimes”. Together with Alexander Verkhovski, director of “SOVA” informational and analytical center, he helped us to define hate crimes and to work out the strategy of NGO response to a particular case.
Workshops «Debates about Human Rights», «Situation Testing: a Tool to Unmask Discrimination», «Alternative Media» were also very useful.
The team of friends and единомышленников was built also at the evenings with the opportunity to talk to people in person. A special self-organized bar was there to try traditional drinks and to dance traditional and modern dances. Our participants from Chechen Republic taught everybody to dance Lezginka. It’s really impossible to think bad about this ethnicity after that!
Second evenings’ “Infomarket” revealed an opportunity to get acquainted with organizations that participants represented. Specially for that evening they brought posters, brochures and other production with symbolic of their organizations.
During the farewell party anybody could present whatever he or she cared – song, dance, presentation, video etc. A traditional Auction also took place with two euro tickets and souvenirs brought by participants. The raised money will be used for the next issue of The European Address Book Against Racism and all the participants took home gifts from different countries.
It’s impossible to disagree that the civil society is much poorly developed in Russia compared to European countries, where NGOs have influence on authorities. That’s why the fact that our plenary at Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University was attended by representatives of such authorities as Ministry of Regional Development, General prosecutors’ office, Moscow City Council, Federal Agency on Youth Affairs is a big step forward. The plenary was also attended by 60 students of leading Moscow Universities, representatives of public organizations and journalists.
“Lack of conflicts during the plenary is a good result by itself”, - said Ashot Ayrapetyan during the closing of the conference.
At the beginning of the plenary we managed to make a flash-mob, where a “leader” name a city and participants from different parts of the auditorium give this city a characteristic. For example: “St.Petersburg. We have different faces” or “Yaroslavl. Our tolerance is 100 years old”, and finally: “Moscow. What youth can do?”.
What Moscow youth really can do we saw on December 11th just across the street from the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University, at Manezhnaya square, and also in Moscow underground. And it still continues.
Our flash-mob ended with a chant:
- Who are we?
- Where are we?
- In the world!
- We all – United!
As it appeared, some people are united to spread the ideas of tolerance, others – to spread hatered and to lead a country towards a civil war.Only few students stayed after a short break, and it showed the attitude of our youth to tolerance issues. Of course it was not easy to listen to all these authorities that reported about the work they done in this field and confessed that this work is not enough to solve all existing problems and the most crucial think here is cooperation with public organizations.
The foreigners felt indignant that the representatives of authorities talked about extremists never define left or right. “They still see both fascists and antifascists a menace to the stability of existing regime”, - said one of the participants.Among the plenary speakers were: Ethienne Claye, Head of Operation, European Commission Delegation to Russia; Daniel Milo, Adviser on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination - Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE; Dirk Hebecker, Senior human rights advisor - UN Country Team; Timm Köhler, Program manager - Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future; Rafal Pankowski, Coordinator, East Europe Monitoring Centre - Football Against Racism Europe.
After the experts’ speeches it was turn of UNTED director, Geert Ates, to say some words about his organization. And after that it was a presentation by CC representative Maria Makusheva, to present our project.
At the end of the conference the traditional evaluation took place, where everybody could share his or her opinion or other thoughts about the conference.
One of the participants suggested to carry out a minute of silence in the memory of murdered human rights defenders and journalists: Natalia Estemirova, Anna Politkovskaja, Anastasiya Baburova…
It is impossible to measure racism. You can carry out actions, trainings, conferences, but you will always see new racism manifestations. That’s why the aim of all these organizations – to continue to work and to unite efforts to make our world a better place.
There are not many antidiscriminational organizations in our country. But maybe their number will grow after this conference. When you see all these non-indifferent people that do the same work as you do you start to understand that you work not in vain. And you start to realize that there are lot of experienced people and organizations in network that could help you with your work for tolerance.