On the occasion of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, the “Foundation for the Child and the Family” organised an International Conference on “Contemporary Societies – Multicultural Co-existence: The position of the child” under the auspices of UNESCO. The Conference took place at the Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki.
> The Conference aimed to shed light on the various aspects of the co-existence in communities with different culture, religion and language in modern societies, consider the prospects for all children growing up in the context of this cultural diversity, and raise awareness among citizens and mobilise them towards the vision of building a peaceful society.
Professors from the Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki, the Pantion University of Athens and the University of Thessaly, as well as professors from foreign universities, delegates of governmental and non-governmental organisations from Greece and other countries and experts from all over the world were invited to this Conference. The President of the International Peace Bureau, Mrs. Cora Weiss, the President of the University of Europe, Rector Helen Ahrweiler, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Marin Constantin, participated in this conference as well.
Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, the Nobel Prize winners Wole Soyinka and Christian De Duve, and the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, constituted, among others, the Honorary Committee of the Conference.
The participants in the conference exchanged viewpoints on the deeper influences currently exerted over children, since the latter grow up in societies where groups with linguistic, cultural and religious differences co-exist. They elaborated on topics such as the following: “Education and culture in contemporary societies”, “Education, culture and the role of mass Media”, “The lesson of history at school as a means of change”, “Intercultural dialogue, tolerance and social exclusion”, “Multiculturalism, tolerance and European identity”, “The contribution of young people to combating and overcoming cultural contrasts and differences”, “Children and family in multicultural societies”, “Family planning policies in a multicultural Europe”, “Street children and their social integration in a multicultural Europe”, “The role of international organisations and civil society”, “Multiculturalism and cultural identity. Reflections, problems, prospects: in search of a model of world multicultural development”, “Mothers of poor children and civil society”, etc.
Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, in her opening speech, referred to the key topics of the conference and to the importance of its organisation in Thessaloniki.
“Thessaloniki, said Mrs. Vardinoyannis, has always been a venue of major cultural activity, a city with a particularity, since it had been the crossroads and meeting point of North with South, and East with West. Taking into account this very particularity, our Conference will examine the crucial questions of accepting otherness, all those questions that are the focal point of modern societies’ multifarious transformation. Our conference will focus on the principal views and the deeper influences exerted over children through four key topics: Education, Intercultural Dialogue, Family and the role of International Organisations as well as Civil Society. All these are factors of primordial importance in the international struggle for building the world we envision for children
Of course, it is difficult to attain the ultimate point of perfect equilibrium and harmony among different cultures, among the cultural identity of a family or a group of the same nationality and the culture of the place where such family or group lives and evolves. Understanding, solidarity and tolerance, however, can break down barriers among people. Once we realise that we are all part of the same chain, we have the same importance and common destination, we have done the first step towards change…”
Mrs. Vardinoyannis also referred to the Special Session for Children that took place last May in the United Nations headquarters, where shocking figures on the state of children were announced:
10 million children under 18 are half the total number of refugees all over the world
10 million children die each year, although most of these deaths could have been prevented
100 million children do not attend school, of which 60% are girls
150 million children suffer from malnutrition
Poverty, exclusion, discriminations, trade, violence, abuse and the exploitation of children remain unsolved problems
The Greek Minister of National Education and Religions, Mr. Petros Efthimiou, the Cypriot Minister of Education and Culture, Mr. Uranios Ioannidis, the Greek Minister of Culture, Mr. Evaggelos Venizelos, the Greek deputy Minister of National Education and Religion, Mrs. Helen Kourkoula, and the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Mr. Vassilis Papageorgopoulos addressed the conference.
Rector Helen Glykatzis-Ahrweiler, President of the University of Europe, gave the main speech – report of the conference and analysed the important role of education and culture to the shaping of modern societies.
The member of the European Parliament, Mrs. Rodi Kratsas, moderated the Conference.
The President of the International Peace Bureau, Mrs. Cora Weiss, professor Thodoros Ikonomou and the Secretary-General of the International Peace Bureau, Mr. Colin Archer, summed up the conclusions of the Conference.
The respect and acceptance of otherness do not suffice for the harmonious co-existence of communities of different origins and for building societies relying on democratic ideals, equality, justice and social solidarity. The mutual exchange of cultural elements and beliefs is necessary doubled by the quest of points in common being inherent in all people, no matter where they come from. All these lead to understanding and, as a result, reconciliation.
The prosperity of the child in modern societies fully depends on the prosperity of the mother. If a mother prospers, then her child will prosper. If she survives, her child will survive.
The integration of peace education in primary and secondary education curricula will considerably contribute to the eradication of discriminations, crisis, oppositions and prejudices generated by multiculturalism and otherness.
Incentives must be provided to various bodies and individuals so as to promote Peace Education in their respective country and their community.
The need for creating a new form of education has become imperative. School education must be expanded and employ extensively all modern media, such as radio, television and Internet.
Equal learning opportunities must be provided to all children regardless of their sex.
Children themselves should necessarily participate in the decisions related to the building of a society where they live and they will live as adults.
The significant points raised and the viewpoints presented by speakers in conjunction with the effect they had on many members of the audience -laymen, students but also experts, teachers, professors, jurists and social workers-justified the initiative of organising this conference and also showed that the issue of multiculturalism and otherness preoccupies citizens in their everyday life.