This year’s European Conference on Democracy and Human Rights will take on the theme of how European cooperation can be sustained and defended against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
By Kamachi Ruthramurthi
Its key task will also be to define the status and the way forward for European cooperation in the region without Russia.
The conference, which is in its fourth year, will convene in Kristiansand on 5th May and is the main event in the annual Democracy Week which runs from 2-8 May.
Several high-level speakers and panelists from the Council of Europe, the EU and the parliamentary assemblies will be participating in the conference, including those from Nordic countries.
They include Norway’s former Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland; Jan Oddvar Skisland, Mayor of Kristiansand and chairman of the Steering Committee of the European Conference of Democracy and Human Rights; the former Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Løfven; Bjørn Berge, the Deputy Secretary General for the Council of Europe; Erik Møse, the chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, amongst others.
Leaders from across Europe will also hold bilateral and multilateral talks on the side lines of the conference to tackle issues relating to democracy, human rights and freedom of expression.
Another important theme at the conference this year is freedom of expression. Pussy Riot artist and activist, Lusine Djayan, will perform and participate in a panel debate on artistic freedom of expression.
Other international organisations such as Reporters sans Frontières, the Association of European Journalists, PEN and Historians without borders will also be represented.
UiA’s rector Sunniva Whittaker, who will be chairing the European Conference, says that the conference is significant in light of what is happening in Ukraine.
“All activities that highlight the consequences of democratic backsliding, threats to freedom of speech and the rule of law are important. This conference gathers important players from all parts of Europe and the discussions are very fruitful (and) the situation in Ukraine makes the conference even more topical and relevant,” she says.
The importance that a gathering of political leaders on such a public stage for UiA and the region can also not be ignored.
“We have also taken the initiative to invite European ambassadors to Norway for the European Conference and to introduce them to our university and to our region. This is strategically important as international delegations tend to visit Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø. Our region is in many ways a well-kept secret and we would like to contribute to increasing knowledge about our region,” says Sunniva.
UiA is organising and playing host to several events as part of Democracy Week and the events are free to attend.