During the evaluation and closing conference of the No Hate Speech Movement (held in the European Youth Center in Strasbourg, France from April 10-12 2018) we were visited by the one-and-only Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland. He spoke to the present representatives of the movement about the way the Council of Europe has supported youth initiatives in the past, the need to combat hate speech in the online and offline world, as well as his generosity to be interviewed and network with the activists of the No Hate Speech Movement during a cocktail mixer.
As one of the many online activists who haven’t had much experience with interviewing politicians and heads of bodies as large as the Council of Europe, I decided to give it my all, and see what else Mr. Jagland could share with us.
As a person who built himself up from scratch, it’s worth noting that Mr. Jagland began with his political career on a national level in his home country of Norway since the late 80’s and has been a contributor the development of human dignity and human equity.
You can read more about Mr. Jagland’s fascinating life work, his past involvements and his current ones on the Council of Europe website here.
Back at the cocktail mixer, he was approached by many of the activists and took photos as well as answered the questions the activists were concerned with; I seized the moment (which by chance could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity) and asked the Secretary-General for five minutes of his time to answer some of my questions and be my first interviewee.
What is one experience with young people in the many years that you’ve been working with them that is most memorable to you?
“Well… that I have always had a lot of trust in young people and that they are the most transformative force we have; they understand new things, and therefore I trust them also at this moment.”
Earlier in your statement, while you were talking you said that “things that were once considered science-fiction years ago, are now a reality;” what do you think we consider now as science-fiction that will be a reality, in let’s say 20 years from now?
“That we don’t know. That’s my point, that we cannot understand what will become of the future, and things are running so fast, but the only thing that we can and need to understand is that there will be deep changes in the future.”
What are the Council of Europe’s challenges when it comes to working with young people and combating hate speech?
“The biggest challenge they have is that there are so few meeting places, and young people tend to sit alone too much, in speaking too much on their phones, and to bring people together in real life is the best tool we have.”
Exactly, I really liked your speech, especially when you mentioned real life and how everyone is becoming disconnected through their phones. For me, that’s the future I see now. The science-fiction of right now is that everyone is going to live their lives in virtual reality. I feel as though in 20 years from now, everyone will be living through their phones.
“Well yes, that may happen, but I remember when the television came out, everyone said that from now on the families will only sit in their own homes watching television, but it didn’t happen; it happened in the first phase of its release, but after a while people still liked to go out and meet people – I think this will happen now as well.”
You’ve met with young people for years now. How has youth activism evolved throughout the years?
“I think that young people now are tending to go out more and get away from their chat rooms, you see now in the United States, for example, young people are taking to the street to protest and they aren’t talking to each other through their iPhones, but they are coming together – this is the tendency I see in them.”
How can we as Europe come together and better the position of tolerance and acceptance, and stop hate speech permanently?
“I think there are so many places we have to go to… The schools are one and the education, we have to produce more leaders and more political leaders, and to show more leadership – to speak with their communities about the issues affecting us – that’s very important.”
In a way we are achieving that through the campaign with all the publications we’ve made with ‘Bookmarks’ and ‘WeCan!’ so we should try to incorporate them into the educational systems – do you think that by doing that, we could better the position of hate speech among young people?
“Well yes, of course, that is one possibility.”
I would like to express my utmost gratitude to the Secretary-General for giving us his precious time and for supporting the No Hate Speech Campaign during its entire run. Human rights are and continue to be a challenge in our time. As activists, youth workers, politicians, and persons coming from various other sectors we must continue to stand up for human rights and to give a voice to the people and to the issues of our time.
In addition to that, I invite you to read the other interview I did with Anne Brasseur (President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) here.
Lastly, follow the campaign’s activities post its official evaluation as to how it will continue working on human rights on and offline – to learn more about that, read our official campaign evaluation report here.
Author: Stefan Petrovski