In modern, multinational Europe two key factors for peaceful and successful development are mutual respect and tolerance. Unfortunately, specific groups or entire nations often lack these important building blocks for prosperity. Europe needs a pan-European project to strengthen tolerance.
In Brussels this week, a delegation from the European Jewish Congress, led by its President, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, met with European Union leaders.
During the meetings, President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering, Deputy Chairman of the European Commission Jacques Barot and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner discussed the pan-European social and cultural issues that are presently a source of concern for European civil society. Among the issues under discussion were security, education of young people and preservation of historical memory.
The vital issues of security and education are interrelated in today’s Europe. Today’s young Europeans are growing up surrounded by a frightening combination of unfavourable factors. We know what the main ingredients are: the increasing flow of migrants from a different social and cultural environment, rising unemployment, difficulty attaining a high-quality education, lack of historical memory and the loss and dilution of Europe’s unique identity. Taken together, these factors cause violent manifestations of intolerance towards all people, not only those from a different culture, since the destructive potential is rarely unidirectional. Europe was once unique for its diversity, but today there is something growing in the hearts of young people that may blow Europe apart from the inside.
Europeans realize that isolated police measures aimed at fighting the consequences of these processes are not enough. We need a large-scale legislative effort with the final goal of renovating the existing laws and adopting a European Convention on Tolerance and a universal system of laws that will effectively counteract all types of intolerance throughout the European Union. One idea is to propose a universal model of typical legislation that can be adapted and integrated by each nation on the continent by taking into account their established interethnic and interfaith relations.
In parallel, European educational institutions need to bring in original, stimulating programmes on strengthening tolerance that will interest young people. The basis of such programmes is the need to teach young people how to understand those from different cultures and think rationally about cultural differences. These programmes will lay the foundation for tolerance awareness among young Europeans.
European civil society has realized the scale and potential of the hidden threat. In order to discuss these issues in public, we need to bring together authoritative and publicly recognized figures. A new public association made up of outstanding European political leaders, scientists, artists and public figures who have fought discrimination and intolerance for decades will serve this purpose. Poland’s former president Aleksander Kwasniewski will head the new organization.
Tolerance can also be promoted in Europe by means of large-scale events with extensive media coverage and attendance by prominent politicians, public figures, artists and average citizens.
The European Day of Tolerance, a series of events aimed at fighting all forms of discrimination, intolerance and racism in the contemporary world, will be the central event this year. This year’s Tolerance Day will mark the transition to a new level of legislative and educational work on strengthening tolerance as the basis of stability for our unique European society.
All these initiatives, which are being co-organized by Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor and the leaders of the European Jewish Congress, are interesting in their own right. First of all, they are an example of effective cooperation between civil society and authorities. This is a complicated process with no clear limits or established rules, and in the end, the initiatives will be judged solely on their effectiveness. The EJC initiatives are also part of an interesting trend in which Russian authorities and representatives of public organizations have begun developing a number of programmes working with youth people and developing tolerance in Russia’s multi-ethnic society. We will probably see many more new projects in the near future.
Civil society in Russia and Europe has great potential, but civil society and government authorities have much to learn from one another. Society needs to be more active in solving its problems, and the government needs to trust its citizens more.