President Emil Constantinescu was a keynote invited speaker at the Third Edition of the World Youth Summit, held over Zoom by the International Commission for Human Rights in Pakistan.
The event brought together former heads of state and members of diplomatic corps from across the globe to a discussion centred around the topic of “today’s youth, tomorrow’s leaders”. The debates focused on the role youth can play in contemporary society, as well as elaborating several strategies by which they might be empowered to take on ever more significant roles on the world’s stage.
During the event, president Constantinescu was greatly interested in the perspectives of the youth themselves on these matters, while offering a framework by which to interpret their future through the lens of a culture of peace, handed down from one generation to the next.
Emil Constantinescu: We have the duty to help the young discover for themselves the values of humanity, and to make them their own in order to build themselves ideals that can converge towards the Greater Good
Had the pandemic not prevented us from meeting, my interest in this summit with such a generous topic - the role of youth in peace making, would have been not entirely in being a key-note speaker, but in listening to the opinions of the young participants. That is because the world they will be building, will also be the world in which my own children and grandchildren will be living.
In over the four decades I spent as a University professor, as I grew older and as times changed, I struggled to understand what my students were thinking, all of them of the same age: 18-19 years old.
I do not know how much today's youth would be interested in an experience such as mine - a man who as a child witnessed the death and mutilation of people during the Second World War, whose youth was spent under a criminal dictatorship that could, at any time, sent you to prison, forced labour camps or outright deport you for political reasons, and who, in maturity, took part in a peaceful revolt that was bloodily repressed by the armed forces, in Romania, in December 1989. And, ultimately, one who dedicated his life to promoting peace and understanding worldwide. All these events of contemporary history might seem to today's youngsters a story of long ago, not interesting for today's world which is confronted with other challenges.
The pandemic affected young and old people alike and brought to the fore 2 fundamental values - life and freedom, which we tend to remember once lost. It is the same with healthcare.
I appreciate the programmatic documents promoted by the United Nations Organization, such as the Agenda 2030, but I am not sure how convincing they can be for today's youth, as they are elaborated by experts who were not faced with the horrors of war, hunger, refuge or with the inferno of prisons and concentration camps. In order to reach a consensus to qualify war as a crime against humanity, which annuls one's right to life, one needs a profound change in societal conscience regarding violence in inter-human relations.
The dominance of violence is deeply rooted in collective psychology. The history of mankind from the earliest times glorified ”war heroes” instead of ”peace heroes”. In these conditions it is hard to believe that my plea for a ”culture of peace” can be successful. I think that the isolation imposed by the pandemic provided an unhoped for ocassion to revisit literary masterpieces that address, in the manner of the artistic genius mind, both sense and reason. And I say this because I am convinced that the power of books is greater than that of political speech. It was during this time that I reread two novels that have influenced my youth - ”War and peace” and ”The magic mountain”. Tolstoy sends the reader to the times of the Napoleonic wars which involved the whole of Europe in the beginning of the 19th century, while Thomas Mann focuses on the First World War at the beginning of the 20th. Throughout the history of mankind, the first victims of wars - be they world wars, European wars, regional, interstate or civil wars caused by the rulers desire for power, are the young.
It is not easy to forget the harrowing scene in War and Peace when Napoleon was inspecting the sinister post-battle landscape of the Pratzen hills strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded, with the young and moribund prince Bolkonski hoping someone might bring him back to the life which, having now understood it differently, seemed so wonderful in comparison.
Just as harrowing are the final chapters of the Magic Mountain, where a regiment of student volunteers „must decide the fate of the attack on the trenches and burning villages”. „Three thousand strong”, Mann writes, „so that only 2000, after heavy losses, be left standing to salute victory through a heartfelt 'Hooray!', without sparing a thought for those who, in falling, will have been left behind”.
I believe these scenes should be ingrained into the memory of all those who plan for war, suffering and bloodshed.
In 1943, in the midst of World War II, the most terrible military confrontation in history, the German writer Hermann Hesse published a book that describes a peaceful world in which armed confrontations are a mere memory. “The Glass Bead Game”, for which, Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature at the end of the war in 1946, proposes the model of a society founded on culture and not on violence and glorifies the valences of cultural dialogue, in which, the author argues, ”the differences in culture, education, talent and individuality are not a reason to give up from understanding one another”.
Unlike the political utopias of Thomas More or Campanella, Hesse's novel does not suggest an isolation from, but on the contrary, rather an involvement in the life of the world, beyond the peaceful borders of the imaginary Castalia, with the danger of self-sufficiency lurking from behind.
We might ask ourselves why after the spectacular development of intercultural dialogue during the last decades, humankind is presently facing so many challenges, freezing adversities and a spiral of violence.
In my opinion, the culture of peace is something more than mere intercultural dialogue, and its construction requires more time and more perseverance. It is about a lifelong learning process - from early childhood until old age. We cannot neglect the fact that a “culture of peace” cannot be separated from a new “culture of democracy” and even from a new “culture of the market economy”.
The culture of peace is also difficult to build because in the late 20th and early 21st century, the need for “education” was replaced by the need for “entertainment”, as entertainment brings money, while education does not. Mass killings, genocide, rape, destruction are “breaking news”, while humanitarian actions never are. If this reality will not change, it might be that some of the children now raised and educated in the spirit of violence will migrate, even without any ideological or religious motivations, to those spaces that have become a kind of “reservation” where “manhunts” and “killing and torturing people” are allowed, encouraged, praised and made popular. The “traders in violent images” are just as responsible as the “weapons traders”, because both their motivations are the same: profit and money.
I think that when we blame religions for the current open conflicts or for older frozen conflicts, we should remember, before condemning them for the evils committed in their name, that they, too, preach Peace and not War. The path they point to is to love your neighbour and not kill or oppress them. Even if in the long history of mankind, one marked by extreme violence, this has remained merely a dream, one must not lose hope. Maybe a new generation will turn it into reality.
In order for this to happen, we, the elders, as representatives of the academic milieu or as experienced professionals in any field of activity, must perform an exercise in self-knowledge in order to identify those values that helped us in fighting Evil and discovering Good. We have the duty to help the young discover for themselves the values of humanity, and to make them their own in order to build themselves ideals that can converge towards the Greater Good.