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05 February 2021

Peace education in Romania versus the European Union


Introduction

The 21st century has seen the rise of conflicts, whether armed, psychological or of other nature, which inevitably led to a human rights crisis like never before. Sustainable, lasting peace and security can only be attained when all human rights are fulfilled and building and maintaining a culture of peace is a shared challenge for humankind. Therefore, the subject of peace education has become more and more important in the wider field of education, because it promotes the development of people and society in a peaceful way, based on the principles of harm, tolerance, equality, respect for social justice and social justice.

The Santiago Declaration on the Human Right to Peace (1), adopted in 2010 by The International Congress on the Human Right to Peace recognizes individuals, groups, peoples and all humankind as holders of the "inalienable right to a just, sustainable and lasting peace" (Art. 1). Right in the beginning of the UNESCO Constitution (1945) it is stated that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed (2); therefore, education is the key to rehabilitating a post-conflict society and young people are the most receptive to understanding the importance of it.

In the light of current critical situations putting peace at risk worldwide it is important to address the need for peace education as a tool in the fight against the radicalization of young people and provide youth workers with skills and knowledge on peacebuilding, prevention of conflicts and resolving the occurrence of conflicts in a peaceful way, which they can transfer upon young people in a non-formal and sustainable manner. Peace education has a profound effect on forming attitudes about the meaning of peace, on preventing the emergence of conflicts and creating conditions for lasting peace.

Peace Education in Romania



These are the words in the speech Progresul ideii de pace (3) (Progress of the idea of peace) of Nicolae Titulescu, Romanian diplomat, ex-foreign minister, and for two terms President of the General Assembly of the League of Nations. Romania has a great academic tradition in proposing new ways of developing peace education among the younger generations.

In 1960 for the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, Romania suggested the topic: “Measures for the promotion among young people of the ideals of peace, mutual respect and understanding among peoples”. It was underlined that the education of the younger generation could be influenced in a positive way by the condemnation of war, war propaganda, violence, extremism and by developing their understanding of the ideals of peace. The proposal led to the 1965 Declaration of the United Nations General Assembly regarding the promotion amongst young people of the ideals of peace, mutual respect and understanding among peoples, which stated that “young people should be educated in the spirit of peace, justice, freedom, mutual respect and understanding, in order to promote equal rights for all peoples and nations, as well as economic and social progress, disarmament and the maintenance of peace and international security” (4). In the Cold War period, the major contribution to the development of the peace education framework was related to the advocacy of the détente and disarmament. The idea was that a process of peace education could help in the short-term in the promotion of a conception based on the peaceful resolution of conflicts already present or still to appear, and in the long-term, it should aim to prevent any serious international conflicts arising.

In order to have a proper peace education, it’s necessary to have strong links with the principles and values of a democratic, transparent and accountable governance. Since the end of the communist regime in 1989 and the entry in 1994 in the European Convention on Human Rights (5) Romania has made major progress in developing its own democratic culture. The European membership has pushed academic and legislative research and the Romanian political and popular will to adapt to the new democratic context without losing its roots.

Several governmental programs have been formulated and implemented to promote Human Rights culture and peace education, to train teachers, educators and managers through workshops and courses, to build a safe environment based on human rights, rule of law and political pluralism. Meanwhile Romania has encouraged a new role for the school environment. School should be a place not only for the fostering of technical knowledge and notions, but should help in building the individuals that are going to represent the society of tomorrow. Therefore schools need to look outside and understand the single classroom cannot be the only educational training system to raise a Peace consciousness.

Despite a great effort in promoting peace education, major structural problems remain. The democratic process in Romania is still incomplete (6). Cultural changes and shifts in the democratic perspective have very different speeds across different actors. It’s not easy to build a Peace framework in the civic society, especially in countries characterized by fragile public institutions. Furthermore the 2008 economic crisis has stressed the already high level of perceived corruption in the political system. Romania struggles in increasing the levels of civic and political participation, political and social trust, essential elements to build a Peace Education plan and a Peace Culture.

In the face of these problems, the unceasing work of non-governmental organizations must be emphasized. GEYC promotes and encourages projects with youth organizations in order to increase youth civic participation. For example, on 27 January 2021 it announced a partnership with UNICEF to strengthen meaningful adolescent participation and engagement (online and offline) in programs and events in the European and Central Asian regions. In the framework of the Erasmus+ program, GEYC is going to organize several training courses on peace education aimed at youth workers who are motivated to explore and develop their competences to design, run and evaluate non-formal education activities in the field of peace education.

GEYC believes in the importance of collaborating with educational institutions with the aim of mixing formal and informal education not only for young students but also for teachers, to ensure the learning of social information and new teaching techniques. With this goal in mind, the edu.geyc.ro platform was created to offer teachers from high schools, colleges, post-high schools and universities in Romania a space for networking, collaboration with the NGO environment and learning through non-formal education.

GEYC is careful to develop programs that can be implemented taking into account local specificities. As in the case of the participation in the RAN YOUNG Empowerment Academy, a programme for young Europeans to increase their capacity-building knowledge, skills and competences in order to start their own local initiatives to prevent radicalization. Participation in the program in the 2019 session enabled three young GEYC members to set up a local initiative in their city, Cluj-Napoca to raise awareness and prevent manifestations of radicalization among the Romanian and Hungarian communities in their city.

Peace Education at EU level: the specificity of Belgium and Netherlands 


The European Union is one of the key actors that believes and invests in peace education through several programs and networks. One of the most significant is the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) funded by the EU Commission’s Internal Security Fund - Police. The RAN is a network of frontline practitioners who work daily with those vulnerable to radicalization and those who have already been radicalized. Since 2011, RAN has attracted over 6,000 practitioners engaged in both preventing and countering violent extremism in all its forms and rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists. RAN works through thematic Working Groups and produces various publications to share knowledge and experiences.

The Youth and Education (Y&E) Working Group is particularly valuable and plays a great role in peace education. It underlines the role of schools and teachers to provide a safe and respectful environment for their students and allow schools to function as a lab for democracy. A safe place where emotions and opinions can be freely expressed with respect and tolerance. For practitioners, schools are central to develop direct contact with struggling youngsters and deepen their understanding of the phenomena of extremism and radicalization.

The policy paper of October 2018 Transforming schools into labs for democracy: a companion to preventing violent radicalisation through education reiterates the principles and values underlying RAN and specifically Y&E Working Group, following the 2015 Paris Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education (7)which stressed:




The policy paper highlights that educators across Europe are facing constraints in implementing projects and tools in their classes. Many schools have developed procedures to tackle cases of abuse, crime and violence but they lack similar rules and regulations, making it harder to provide clear answers and solutions. Difficulties regarded also the limited time allocated to citizenship education in curricula, and to an emphasis on the transmission of knowledge, technical skills and competencies in national education. This also relates to the field of media education that often remains confined to technical learning. Experiences from teachers across Europe highlight the importance of online media for the promotion of communicative skills and critical thinking. Citizenship education and media education should be placed at the center of educational policies targeting polarization and prevention of violent radicalization.(8)

A specific case is Belgium, a country that in the last years has suffered the risks of violence, radicalization and the complex management of the ghettoization of minorities and younger people. According to the 2019 ex-post paper Education and radicalisation prevention: different ways governments can support schools and teachers in preventing/countering violent extremism, the Belgian government has implemented some preventive measures within the field of education at the regional and local level. Each region has formulated their own action plans based on specific policy lines. The general idea is to avoid the creation of new structures in order to:

  • Consolidate the abilities of educational first-line workers by increasing their knowledge of radicalization, handing them tools and reinforcing their competences.
  • Supporting schools in developing a warm school climate where students feel safe and valued, diversity is addressed in a positive and respectful way, and students and parents are involved in decision-making processes.
  • Investment in media literacy and citizenship and the support of projects that focus on the inclusion of vulnerable student groups.

Surveys conducted by RAN underline that there are concerns about the lack of specificity in the strategy developed by the governments. The Belgian perception of polarization is increasing in all levels of society and in school, and it makes the students more vulnerable to extremist influences. Professional competences among the school staff need to be enhanced within the awareness of their role. It’s necessary to improve peer exchange and learning, schools should be stimulated to connect with professionals and create strong links with local institutions and communities.

Regarding the importance of specific strategies, the Netherlands approach is quite interesting. To tackle the issue of radicalization, the Ministry of Education set up six concrete actions:
  1. Experts from the School & Safety Foundation provide customized, direct support for schools, depending on the request for help from the schools.
  2. The ministry provides free, accessible training for teachers in recognizing and dealing with young people who are at risk of radicalization.
  3. The ministry is investing in the portals available for all educational institutions
  4. The “confidential counsellors” at the Dutch Inspectorate of Education follow special training on radicalization
  5. To enhance cooperation within the local authorities, municipalities can ask the School & Safety Foundation to directly help the educational institutions that need assistance most
  6. Teacher training course materials have been developed with cooperation from the Ministry of Social Affairs and higher educational institutions.

To tackle the issue of prevention, the Ministries of Education, of Health, Welfare and Sport, and of Justice and Security also set up the program Preventing radicalization (9) for the years 2018-2019. The goals are to increase school awareness of their responsibility towards their students and their local areas with regard to radicalization, to strengthen cooperation between schools and local stakeholders, and provide training on these issues and how to deal with difficult situations in the classroom.

Despite more specific approaches and procedures, challenges remain even in the Netherlands. Indeed, institutions are not always well-equipped to deal with radicalization and extremism and it can compromise the positive effect of the effort. There are cases of teachers who feel unfit or unable to interpret the signs of radicalization, as this requires high sensitivity and skills that cannot be taught in courses of a few months. For this reason, sharing information among schools, local authorities, stakeholders, NGOs, and agencies are fundamental to report risks and signals and lower the environmental vulnerability.


Conclusions 



Peace education necessitates a vigorous work of learning, cooperation, exchange of best practices and common policies that take into consideration the different cultural and social characteristics of local communities. Effective education is possible only if there is full and transparent collaboration between European institutions, national and local governments, schools, stakeholders, NGOs and private actors.

War and violent propaganda, extremism and radicalization are phenomena that constantly change, therefore attention is required towards new threats and the ability to modernize approaches, practices through the continuous exchange of information and knowledge.

Democratic and accountable institutions and the quality of education can have a terrific impact in preventing radicalization and violent behaviors. If teachers and educators are well-prepared in explaining how to handle conflict in a peaceful way, in supporting and guiding the development of the younger generations identity and in listening to their voices, young people will be less tempted by extremist messages and by socially harmful propaganda.

The quality of education is strictly connected with culture. The Russian poet Evegenji Evtuchenko wrote(10)  that:




Creating a tolerant and open educational environment means working towards the direction of international solidarity for the future generations.


References 


International Congress on the Human Right to Peace, Santiago Declaration on the Human Right to Peace - International Journal on World Peace Vol. 28, No. 4 (DECEMBER 2011), pp. 94-114.


Adrian Nastase, The culture of Peace and Peace Education - International Review of Education volume 29, pages 391–401(1983).


Raducu Razvan Dobre, Evolution of human rights development in Romania - Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 ( 2012 ) 4967 – 4972.

Gabriel Badescu, Corruption, Education and Political Culture in Romania - ResearchGate (2011).




Adrian Nastase, Op.cit.