Online seminar “Active European Citizens Against Hate Speech” took place on 5 October 2020.

The seminar gathered experts and other stakeholders from Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Croatia with the aim to discuss the current situation and challenges in regards to hate speech, outline best practices on how to tackle online and offline hate speech, how to empower young people and promote civic participation of migrants and minorities in addressing  hate speech and promoting tolerance.

56 participants took part in the online event run by the Latvian Centre for Human Rights from Riga, including 20 participants from Latvia, 9 from Lithuania, 9 from Romania, 7 from Croatia, 5 from Bulgaria, 5 from Estonia, and 1 from UK - representing different human rights organisations, NGOs working with vulnerable groups (minorities, migrants, refugees etc.), youth organisations and youth workers, experts, policy makers, and civil activists.

During the first session of the seminar two experts gave keynote speeches. First keynote speaker – Anhelita Kamenska, director of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights (also representative of ECRI in respect of Latvia) – spoke  on “Trends of hate speech - international context and policies.” Ms. Kamenska exemplified the dangerous link between hate speech and hate crimes in their most egregious form – genocide (Holocaust, Rwanda, Rohingya in Myanmar) and outlined the causes and consequences of hate speech and groups most affected by hate speech. She spoke about the definition of hate speech, and provided an overview about the policies and mechanisms to sanction online and offline hate speech at global,  European and national level. She detailed the work of the Council of Europe Committee against Racism and Intolerance, including ECRI monitoring reports on countries involved the EUact project. Ms. Kamenska stressed the importance of combating online hate speech through monitoring activities and alternative and positive narratives mentioning examples of some initiatives. One such example includes EU Code of Conduct which was signed by some the largest IT companies and the European Commission in 2016 (facebook, twitter, youtbe, Microsoft), and the results of the monitoring work in EU Member States. She also highlighted some of the recent initiatives by the European Commission in combatting hate speech, including EU Anti-Racism Action Plan 2021-2025.

Second keynote speaker – Nicholas Startin - Head of Department for Politics, Languages and International Studies (PoLIS) at the University of Bath, UK, co-founder of the UACES research network on Euroscepticism – gave a speech on “Euroscepticism and far-right populism - how it affects the society and its effect on young people.'' Mr. Startin explained the notion of Euroscepticism, its origins and definitions, and gave an overview about the far-right movements in relation to different manifestations of Euroscepticism. He also explained how Euroscepticism and far-right narratives are interrelated and  their impact. Mr. Startin illustrated it with an example of Brexit and how these narratives fuelled xenophobia and hate crimes in the UK.

During the second session “Realities of hate speech in participant countries'' the participants worked in four parallel groups. The participants were divided by regions they represent – two groups included participants from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, two from Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. Each group was facilitated by project partner organisations. During the working groups the participants discussed groups affected by hate speech in their countries, to which factors it is connected, outlined measures needed to be taken to combat hate speech and shared their experience.

The group on Baltic countries concluded that groups most targeted by hate speech are migrants, including refugees, dark-skinned people, LGBTQ+, Muslims, Roma, and Jews. Interethnic hate speech between the ethnic majority of the population and Russian speakers is prevalent in all the three countries. Hate speech in all the three countries is widespread online, as well as in public places in the form of slurs by different people. Nationalist or far-right parties often fuel hate speech towards different groups through political discourse and different policy initiatives.

The group on Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria concluded that most affected groups are migrants and refugees, LGBTQ+, Roma, Jews and other ethnic groups, such as Serbs, Bosnians and Albanian minorities in Croatia. Women are also targeted by misogynist hate speech. The main factors that incite hate speech are connected with the lack of information or direct contact with minorities, political discourse, promotion of ideas for the protection of traditional national values, and media biased narratives.

The following measures were outlined for combating hate speech and intolerance:

  • educational activities for young people and youth workers on how to recognise hate speech, its impact and how to respond to it;
  • educational activities for teachers in schools and the development of curriculum;
  • developing training materials and training sessions for different target groups on hate speech;
  • training of journalists and promotion of critical thinking;
  • promoting community journalism that focuses on vulnerable groups and is a tool for raising public awareness and breaking stereotypes;
  • organising common awareness raising events with the participation of local people and migrants would be beneficial for the promotion of tolerance and closer interaction between both groups;
  • development of counter narrative campaigns;
  • activities on combating hate speech developed and implemented through intersectional cooperation between NGOs, policy makers, journalists and private sector, e.g.  IT companies;
  • civic projects implemented jointly by the representatives of different groups targeted by hate speech;
  • mobilising youth for different activities aimed at policy changes regarding hate speech and hate crimes;
  • preventing hate speech by encouraging reporting;
  • cooperation between NGOs and law enforcement authorities in order to strengthen their capacity in investigating and prosecuting illegal hate speech and hate crimes
  • activities on empowering and informing victims of hate crimes how to report incidents to police;
  • improving  data collection by law enforcement and judicial authorities on hate crimes and hate speech.

During the third session of the seminar “Sharing good practices” participants worked in two parallel workshops.

Workshop “Youth work approaches in combating hate speech” was facilitated by the Latvian NGO “Participation for all”. The aim of the workshop was to provide an opportunity to learn practical approaches in combating hate speech. Participants reflected on youth work potential for working with the topic of hate speech and intolerance and explored different methods and tools of non-formal education working with young people.

Workshop “Civil participation of migrants and minorities in prevention of hate speech and promotion of tolerance” was facilitated by Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR). The workshop focused on psharing and learning from ownexperiences – in participant communities and countries – on practices when migrants and minorities actively participate in activities and initiatives aimed at preventing hate speech and promotion of tolerance. Participants discussed practical experience in tackling hate speech and promoting tolerance, approaches and methods used programmes and initiatives implemented, type of impact achieved, and challenges faced. Participants also shared their success stories and ‘good examples’ of projects, approaches or initiatives.

On 6 October 2020 project partners continued with kick-off meeting to plan further project activities based on outcomes and conclusions of the seminar.

The seminar was organised in the framework of the project “Active European Citizens Against Hate Speech”. The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the new generation of European citizens about the impact of hate speech on democratic participation and European values. The project is implemented by the “Latvian Centre for Human Rights” (project coordinator), “Participation for All” (Latvia), “Estonian Human Rights Centre”, “Human Rights Monitoring Institute” (Lithuania), “Multi Kulti Collective” (Bulgaria), “Human Rights House Zagreb” (Croatia), “Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania - PATRIR”. The project is co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia.

Published: 2020-10-30