About extremism and local democracy during the 8th Human Forum conference

At the end of November, on the 24th-25th November 2021, the next, the 8th year of the international discussion forum on democracy and human rights – Human Forum 2021 – took place in Banská Bystrica, under the auspices of the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová and the Public defender of rights Mária Patakyová.

While last year the organizers focused primarily on gender equality, this year the event dealt with extremism and democracy at the local level. Seemingly distant concepts are surprisingly strongly connected and mutually influencing. Csilla Droppová, organizer of the Human Forum and project coordinator of the Ekopolis Foundation, says more:

“The most common way of manifesting extremism is to single out one of the minority groups of society and achieve their discredit through targeted attacks and thus gain support from an indifferent part of society…. This political struggle mostly takes place on a societal level and reaches local communities through the media. A civil society that builds on the principles of creating tolerant local communities can mitigate the effects of this political struggle, which is evident not only in Slovakia, but also in many countries of the European Union…”

After the opening speeches of the organizers and partners of the event, Ján Lunter, chairman of Banská Bystrica Autunomous Region , Ján Nosko, mayor of Banská Bystrica, Vladimír Hiadlovský, rector of the Matej Bel University, Branislav Kováčik, dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations, Maroš Chmelík, executive director of CKO and Petr Medveď, director of the Ekopolis Foundation, followed by panel discussions discussions with representatives of the academic community, state administration and non-governmental civil sector. In them, the discussants dealt with the state of extremism in Slovakia, but also in the world, tools to fight this negative social phenomenon, or the level of democracy at the local level.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, a round table for civil society representatives was organized for the upcoming Summit for Democracy. At it, the representatives of the Ministry, headed by the Ambassador with a special mission for human rights, Peter Burian, presented the prepared steps and commitments with which the Slovak Republic wants to contribute to the implementation of the priorities of the summit. At the same time, space was created for a discussion on strengthening cooperation between civil society and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. At the same time, the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations held a scientific workshop called “Opening the Ivory Towers” focused on methods of inclusive research in the regions. The outputs of the workshop will serve as the basis for the preparation of UMB’s project intentions in the near future.

The first day of the event concluded with a presentation of positive examples of cultural and community centers. This block of the Human Forum program was also the public part of the Reclaim! @ Human Forum, as part of the project Reclaim Our Civil Space! -from Local to European. The project, supported by the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation, aims to support the development of civil society. In Slovakia, the Ekopolis Foundation focused precisely on the support of local cultural and community centers, which are perceived as a key tool for increasing the level of civic engagement and general awareness of civil society.

The second day began with a discussion on extracurricular education, where specific recommendations for the Ministry of Education and the State Pedagogical Institute were presented. Parallel to the public program, workshops were held within the project Reclaim Our Civil Space! aimed at building capacities and selling experience in organizing public debates on societal topics.

The afternoon program of the Human Forum took place in a festive atmosphere, when representatives of the academic and non-governmental spheres symbolically opened the Institute for Democracy at UMB by tapping the “foundation brick”. The opening itself was preceded by introductory speeches by UMB Vice-Rector Peter Terem and CKO Executive Director Maroš Chmelík. In their speeches, they emphasized the need to actively fulfill the university’s third mission, but also to deepen cooperation with the civil non-governmental sector. In the next part, Jozef Michal Mintal and Róbert Vancel from the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations presented the purpose with which this institute was founded and the topics that the institute, formed by 21 researchers from UMB, will address. The institute, which is being established on the basis of long-term cooperation between Matej Bel University and the Banská Bystrica civil sector, will focus on researching the challenges of democracy in the 21st century in four areas: technology, culture, inequalities and governance. The actual opening with the ceremonial tapping of the foundation brick took place in the presence of UMB representatives – prof. Peter Terem, prof. Alexandra Bitušíková and representatives of the non-governmental sector – Csilla Droppová and Maroš Chmelík.

Subsequently, the Human Forum continued with the presentation of the Human Forum award. This year, it was taken over by Ján Benčík, a member of the National Council of Slovak Republic, civil activist, blogger. Through his blog, he has been monitoring and exposing extremists, neo-Nazis, conspirators, and mercenaries fighting alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2012.

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