StAi??phane Hessel has devoted his life to the fight for human rights. Now 93 years old, he is still politically active through the International Ethical, Scientific and Political Collegium, which he co-founded in 2002. YO! met Mr Hessel to find out his opinion on the situation of youth rights and challenges in Europe for now and for the future.
According to you, what are the challenges that todayai??i??s youth faces?
The world that todayai??i??s youth will face is a World filled with many risks. Todayai??i??s challenges are more difficult to detect than when I was young myself, during war time, as we had to find the most effective ways to defeat a visible enemy. The following generation also had relatively clear challenges: decolonisation, totalitarianism, Apartheid… Today, we have a world in which violence is still very present. But one must also take into account the threat of capitalism as it is working today. It is essential for young people to understand the necessity to fight against poverty, exploitation, against the contempt of employees by those who possess the power of money. Finally there is another challenge that we see more clearly today, that is the deterioration of our planet. If we donai??i??t do anything major, in 50 years, men may not be able to live properly on this planet.
What are the consequences of these problems for youth?
Governments risk imposing attitudes on young people that are contrary to the fundamental values set out in the Human Rights Declarations and Conventions. In particular, there is the danger of seeing minorities who are in a difficult position for reasons of religion, skin colour, or poverty, being rejected by governments which claim they want to ensure national security. This situation is unaceptable for the youth that has been educated within a framework of human rights. It is essential to understand the sometimes dangerous direction that governments may take to stay in power, or to be on good terms with key financial forces.
It is essential for young people to understand the necessity to fight against poverty, exploitation.
Would you deem necessary to have a Convention on youth rights, at the European level for example?
There already exists a Convention on the rights of the child, since 1989, but there isnai??i??t one for the youth, that is to say those who will soon access responsibilities. Their protection must be privileged by states and international organisations, but which form should this protection take? This period of life, when a young person studies ai??i?? which takes longer and longer nowadays ai??i?? is crucial. Those who have the responsibility of providing their education must know that this does not only involve passing on knowledge, but also passing on ethics and an awareness of social values. The training of teachers is thus essential. Besides, we could develop, within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights, a reflection on these youth education issues, and perhaps impose an increase in exchange programmes, such as Erasmus.
To which end?
The enlargement of the European Union has been done somewhat abruptly. Exchanges between the different nations need to be facilitated to encourage an open-mindedness and to work with countries that have recently entered the Union, such as the Eastern or Southern countries. The European youth carries a responsibility to hold a privileged position in tomorrowai??i??s world. Therefore, this youth must know it is no longer alone to decide on the fate of the world, as it was in the case in past centuries; it must now work with China, India, Brazil, and with different civilisations, such as Islam.
In Europe, is it necessary to ensure the possibility for young people to live an autonomous life?
We certainly have a political responsibility to create the economic and social conditions that youth needs to access a real material independence. In this respect, there are important social laws in all the European countries, yet with the lengthening of the studying period and the difficulty to find a job, todayai??i??s youth is often facing new difficulties for its own development. And students unions, interns associations, social youth organisations, are elements which a clever government must be able to take into account and support.
mail online wellbutrin. The first thing you should understand is to know ai??i?? What revolts you?
Do you think that todayai??i??s youth is sufficiently involved both in the decision-making process at the national, european and international levels, and in the democratic process, for example through its participation in the elections?
The depoliticisation of youth would be something very grave. Young people must not let themselves be convinced by arguments claiming that politics are useless. As soon as it is possible to vote, whether in students unions or in political parties, youthai??i??s political involvement must be very thought-through and, mostly, it must avoid to become part of a youth who would only care about its immediate material interests, and would give up its aspiration to be an active element for the future of its society. Periods of History that have been the most exciting are those where important responsibilities were held by young men and women, sometimes too young… But only the youth is able to carry a strong ambition. Young people who get involved early in these fights will be the best elements of tomorrowai??i??s society.
Why should young people get involved?
In my generation we learnt the meaning of a word, because of foreign occupation, the word Ai?? to resist Ai??. I consider that this word still holds all its meaning today, and that for young people, learning to struggle against things they find unacceptable, and organising resistance to it, might be the most stimulating task they can undertake. To this end, they must be able to tell the difference between what is legal and what is legitimate. Sometimes, legality hides economic or political interests, and one may consider as legitimate a possible disobedience to these laws, without this leading to serious public disorder. Moreover young generations have a chance we did not have: the possibility to intercommunicate has been tremendously facilitated by new technologies. Thus it is easier to constitute national, European or international networks, and this way to exert pressure.
Could you draw a general comparison between the participation of youth in todayai??i??s political life to the situation when you were yourself young and demonstrating alongside the Front Populaire?
My generation did not take part in a political action other than street fights between left-wing and right-wing youngsters until its 20s. The understanding of political problems comes earlier nowadays and thatai??i??s something we should be happy about, because the earlier the awareness of fights to come sets in young peopleai??i??s spirits, the more chances it has to bloom. When I go to colleges and sixth forms, I generally tell the pupils: Ai?? The first thing you should understand is to know ai??i?? What revolts you? What in your or your friendsai??i?? situation, your family or other familiesai??i?? situation, your country or other countriesai??i?? situation, do you find unbearable? Ai??. This is where they are going to find the first resources for their citizenai??i??s awareness. There is a legal age for voting, but the civic feeling is something which needs to be developed as early as possible in someoneai??i??s life.
What are your biggest fears for the future?
The challenge I find the most serious is the ecological challenge. But I also do not underestimate the necessity to have several culturally different communities living together. Young people must learn to live in an open multiplicity of cultures.
And your biggest hopes?
I believe that there is hope due to the fact that we have today more knowledge than ever on what man is, how his ideas are passed on… Thus we are able to make of this vast humanity of seven billion people something more harmonious than what is still the case today. This search for harmony in the world can find its foundations in a youth that is attentive to these challenges.
Do you have particular message for young people?
I tell them: Young People, RISE! REVOLT! (laughs)
StAi??phane Hessel was born on 20 October 1917 in Berlin. Having moved to France in 1925, he started his political activities alongside the left-wing Front Populaire, then joined the GAi??nAi??ral de Gaulle in London in 1941. Sent to a concentration camp during the war, he managed to escape twice and, at the end of the war in 1947-8, took part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York. He spent the following fourty years of his life as a diplomat for France and became an Ambassador for France in 1981. He has also been active in the defence of illegal immigrants in France and involved in the defence of Palestine.