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The European Wergeland Centre

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at The European Wergeland Centre´s 10th Anniversary Conference in Oslo, 14 November 2018.

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Good afternoon everyone,

Or perhaps I should say: Happy Birthday!

You are marking your 10th anniversary today.

That calls for a celebration. And an opportunity to take stock. 

Children and young people today have possibilities my generation could only dream of.

They have almost unlimited access to education and information.

They can work and study more or less wherever they want.

At the same time, new technology is posing new dilemmas.

Dilemmas that are often linked to democracy itself:

How can young people tell truth from lies? How can they separate reported facts from half-truths, downright lies and hate speech? How can they tell a news outlet from a social media platform?

Respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the core principles of the Council of Europe.

These principles are essential if coming generations are to be able to control and shape their own destiny.

By giving them a proper education and the ability to think critically, we give them a future.

Schools have a key role to play in promoting democratic values.

In schools where students are safe to learn and free to speak, they will build democratic competence.

They will become citizens who take part in a democratic society.

It is schools like these that the European Wergeland Centre is helping to create.

EWC works with schools to teach pupils about their democratic rights.

To give them democratic competence through participation. To enable them to use these rights in everyday life.

This is no small task - and it fits perfectly with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


EWC is helping us reach SDG 4 on quality education.

EWC is helping us reach SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions.

Quality education for all means ensuring equal opportunities for all.

Education is as important for equality as universal suffrage is for democracy.

The SDGs are political commitments.

International human rights are legal obligations.

If we succeed in implementing them together, we will be much better placed to deliver real results.

Both at home and abroad.

The central commitment and cross-cutting principle of the SDGs is to leave no one behind.

This principle is also founded on the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.

My Government is firmly committed to both human rights and the SDGs.

We are determined to leave no one behind.


This means we must start at home.

Our aim is to establish an inclusive learning environment.

The school’s main social mission is to uphold and develop democracy, inclusion and equality.

Standing up for freedom of expression can be challenging.

It can mean standing up for the right to make statements that are controversial, offensive or shocking.

We must tolerate being provoked and insulted in a democratic society, but not being threatened or intimidated.

We must teach our children that peaceful dialogue is what gives results.

Hate speech against individuals or groups does not fall under freedom of expression.

States and politicians are obliged to take action against hatred and intolerance.

In Norway, we have launched a strategy against hate speech with a view to raising awareness of the consequences.

We have made it easier to identify and investigate hate speech.

The Government has a policy of zero tolerance for bullying and hate speech among all children and young people.

Again, we are determined to leave no one behind.

And to always look for ways to get better.

Sometimes the world changes so fast that schoolbooks get outdated.

We need to get the latest knowledge out to schools, through programmes such as ‘Dembra’, if we are to prepare the younger generation for democratic citizenship.


In these times, more than ever, one of the most important things we as a government can do is support institutions that promote democracy and human rights.

This is where you come in.

The Council of Europe’s work on global citizenship education and on competences for democratic culture is crucial.

The Council of Europe is the most competent organisation in this area, and Norway is proud to host the Wergeland Centre.

Your work to promote implementation of the Council of Europe’s education policy in Member States is invaluable.


The new Council campaign ‘Free to Speak, Safe to Learn’ is one example of this.

Schools are on the frontline when it comes to dealing with threats to inclusive democratic societies.

All children and young people should feel safe at school.

I understand that one of the ideas behind the campaign is to ensure that the voices of practitioners are heard.

It highlights the important work done in schools across Europe every day.

How they promote democratic values and help to build safe and inclusive societies for the future.

I have to say, I like that idea.

We have a lot to learn from each other.

Too often in European history, schools have been misused for the purpose of indoctrination or the promotion of divisive national policies.

The campaign will run for four years at national, regional and European level.

It involves 50 states across Europe.

This should mean that the mass choir of practitioners’ voices will be a powerful force for change.

Later today, you will hear one of the voices.

Global Teacher of 2018, Ms Andria Zafirakou, will share her thoughts and experiences.

There is always more for us to learn.

Norway fully supports the ‘Free to Speak, Safe to Learn’ campaign.

The Government will play an active part to make it a success.

And we will of course consider how best practices can be used in our national plans and strategies.

I am sure you will succeed.

The Wergeland Centre already has many success stories:

Your programme that took the terror attacks in Norway on 22 July 2011 as its starting point has taught young people and educators alike to stand up against discrimination, hate speech and extremism.


In Greece, you have established a programme to ensure that refugee children are integrated into schools that are safe and inclusive for all.

Ukraine is another great example.

Norway has supported educational reform in Ukraine through the European Wergeland Centre since 2014, and EWC was doing groundbreaking work in Ukraine even before the ‘Maidan’ events.

I know that Ukraine’s Minister of Education, Ms Liliya Hrynevych, is in the audience today.

The Government of Ukraine has ambitious plans to reform the whole educational system.

This is something we support, as the aim is to create free and informed citizens.

The overarching goal of Norway’s support package for Ukraine is to promote the country’s European integration and reform process.

We are pleased to include support for educational reform in Ukraine.

The importance of defending people’s right to live in truth and to make their own choices is one of the main reasons why we support Ukraine.

If I am not mistaken, this is also to a large extent what the 2014 ‘revolution of dignity’ in Ukraine was about.

The comprehensive approach taken by the European Wergeland Centre includes contributing to a new national curriculum in Ukraine to promote the development of democratic competences across all subjects.

The curriculum will help to build national ownership and responsibility, while supporting local and national capacity-building.

Now that is what I call sustainable development.


Institutions matter. And the individuals who carry out the work matter.

Ultimately, it is individual people who will ensure that we leave no one behind. I would like to congratulate all of you today.

Not only the European Wergeland Centre, but also the many dedicated people, particularly teachers, who are doing the vital work on the ground, shaping and educating the next generation of young Europeans.

The importance of your work cannot be overstated.

Thank you.