Countering hate: identifying gaps and synergies in prevention in Europe

8 June 2021
Hate speech, discrimination and incitement often precede the commission of mass atrocities. Amplified by technology and the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of hate in Europe is a reminder that despite its history, the region is not immune. Despite European countries facing similar challenges, there are significant gaps in mutual awareness and interconnectedness across these prevention efforts.

Identifying some of these gaps, as well as the needs of state and civil society actors to address hate and incitement in Europe was the aim of the FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum workshop co-organized by the Working Group on Peace and Development (FriEnt) and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs with the support of GAAMAC.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We are already doing many things to prevent but perhaps we don’t see ourselves as actors of prevention”, said panel discussion moderator Mô Bleeker, Special Envoy for Dealing with the Past and Prevention of atrocities at the Swiss Federal Department Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and GAAMAC Special Adviser.

Panellists Dr. Kate Ferguson, Co-Executive Director, Head of Research and Policy at Protection Approaches; Martine Brunschwig-Graf, President of the Swiss Federal Commission against Racism and Velma Šarić Founder, and President of the Post-Conflict Research Center provided an overview on the opportunities and challenges with regards to prevention and countering hate in Europe and beyond.

“How do we prepare for and prevent crises that we cannot yet see?” asked Dr Ferguson. She stressed the importance of understanding the root causes of identity based violence to help devise strategies for prevention. Ms. Brunschwig-Graf emphasized that “to prevent atrocities, we must educate and prepare children and youth about history, about the present and how fragile peace is”. Ms. Šarić highlighted the importance of community building and  education, with a special emphasis on the need for curriculum change to include multi-perspective history teaching and reaching out to the youth through innovative and creative approaches.

What are some of the root causes of hate and identity based violence in your context? What are some effective preventive mechanisms or strategies that have been/can be developed at the national level? What is needed to prioritize long- term prevention at the regional level? These were some of the questions addressed to panellists and participants in the interactive part of the workshop moderated by Christian Schläpfer, Coordinator Taskforce Dealing with the Past and Prevention of Atrocities at the FDFA.

These were the main takeaways of participants and panellists of the workshop:

  • Prevention is a permanent endeavour and no country is immune.
  • Understanding root causes helps us devise strategies for prevention.
  • Seemingly unconnected forms of violence often share similar causes.
  • It is our collective responsibility to prevent atrocities.
  • Education and youth awareness are key to prevent hate and we need multiperspective history teaching.
  • Learning to read the past to understand the present and devise actions for the future is an important task for schools.
  • The power of networking and the use of synergies are central.
  • We need to better equip societies by developing national mechanisms.
  • How do we engage with those who express hate?
  • Main priorities to ensure long-term prevention: civic education, sustainable democratic institutions, defining who to include, support for local organizations, community-building

The conversation on this topic will continue at GAAMAC’s fourth global meeting (GAAMAC IV) which will take place online from the 15th to the 18th of November 2021 and will focus on “Strengthening national efforts to address hate speech, discrimination and prevent incitement”.

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