Young Europeans discussed the topics of hate speech and freedom of speech

At the end of October, we organised a comprehensive and captivating seminar on hate speech in Tallinn. Over 30 young people from Latvia, Lithuania, the UK, and different parts of Estonia participated in the event. Despite the pandemic, we were able to host the seminar in person by following all the safety requirements. The participants were trained by Kelly Grossthal, an expert at the Estonian Human Rights Centre, and Heili Griffith, an experienced trainer in human rights education.

It was planned for the seminar to be interactive by using a variety of non-formal learning methods. However, we did briefly go over the main theoretical points of hate speech and freedom of speech. The participants were actively thinking along, asking questions, and taking part in the conversation.

It came as a positive surprise to many of the young people that incitement to hatred is against the law in Estonia and most European countries. Several participants found that the phenomenon of hate speech is mainly a matter of education and being good-hearted, but if the laws do exist, they must be implemented. The participants acknowledged that there is a lot of hatred and malice on social media, and, unfortunately, politicians, in particular, are the ones setting a negative example.

In the future, we will organise a similar youth seminar in Tartu as well. However, because of the pandemic, the exact time of its occurrence is yet to be determined.

Feedback from the participants:

  • “I received so much new information in a day at the seminar. I now have a better understanding of where freedom of speech ends and what the definition of hate speech is.”
  • “I have a feeling that young people understand the fact that freedoms and words come with responsibility pretty well. This seminar delivered a lot of important information playfully, and I got to meet awesome people. Thank you for an intensive but joyous day!”
  • “Before the seminar, I was certain that malice and bullying should just be endured. However, now I know that there are many practical solutions to protect yourself and others around you.”
  • “I have been a victim of constant bullying because I am a young gay person. I liked your seminar very much because it gave me faith that the world could be a better and less hateful place. Also, it was incredible meeting other young people that want to live in a friendly Estonia. I no longer feel like I am alone with my dream of Estonia that’s open-minded and free of bullying. Thank you for giving me hope!”
  • “Please organise more events like this. They are much needed because hate speech has consequences, and people need to think about them. The hate is against our people, and that’s wrong.”

The event is part of the international project Active European Citizens against Hate Speech, and it is co-funded by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union.

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It is important to protect everyone’s human rights, because it helps to keep stability and peace in the society. There are many challenges for protection of human rights in Estonia: intolerance has really come out of the closet. Bad things happen when good people are too passive, but together we can make a change.

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