Education and knowledge are powerful weapons to counter youth radicalisation and to build longlasting bridges across cultures

On 15 February, on the occasion of her visit to Italy, and in the presence of the Italian Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, received the distinction of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Foreigners in Perugia, Italy, in recognition of her efforts to promote international relations and cooperation development.

The event took place in the presence of Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mario Giro, Undersecretary of the Minister of Cultural Heritage, Ms Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, the Rector of the University, Professor Paciullo, the Mayor of the city, Mr. Andrea Romizi, as well as students and a number of diplomatic and academic personalities.  

Highlighting the central role universities play in "fostering quality education, excellence and critical-thinking", Minister Giannini stressed the importance of internationalizing policies in the academic world to better embrace today's challenges, posed by growing inter-connectedness and the diversity of cultures in a globalized world. 

She praised the University for Foreigners of Perugia for serving as a "powerful bridge across cultures and languages for one century".  

The University for Foreigners in Perugia was founded in 1921 to offer language courses to foreign students, but it also provides master degrees in different fields, from culture to water management.‎ 

"Languages and cultures are fundamental to preserve unity and identity but also a powerful tool for enabling dialogue among cultures and peoples," pursued Minister of Education Giannini. 

The University of Perugia pioneers inclusive‎ education through a number of initiatives reaching out to universities in the Mediterranean Peninsula, in the Middle East as well as on the African continent --most recently, from Garissa University College in Kenya, welcoming a number of students following the devastating terrorist attack in April 2015‎. 

"Knowledge and culture provide spaces for consciousness and critical thinking," added Minister Giannini. 

Thanking the University for its confidence in UNESCO, the Director-General stressed that “Perugia is open to the world, at the cutting edge of research, nurturing the energy of knowledge and culture of young women and men, for the benefit of all. This resonates with the core mandate of UNESCO.” 

The Director-General expressed her gratitude for the lead role that Italy plays in safeguarding heritage under threat in conflict areas from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya, by sharing its experience and unique expertise with the world.  

“We need this commitment more than ever today, in a world that is increasingly turbulent, where conflicts are changing shape, when we see the rise of violent extremism”.  

Referring to the growing conflicts across the world, Minister Giannini made a passionate plea, claiming that "what the world needs today is an increasing flow of culture and education" -- paying tribute here to the memory of the two Italian PhD students who lost their lives respectively in Egypt and in the terrorist attack of the Bataclan in Paris in the recent weeks. 

Ms Bokova made reference to the unprecedented scale of cultural cleansing through the destruction of cultural heritage and the deliberate prosecution of people on the basis of their cultural, ethnic and religious grounds. Referring to the Christian minorities in Iraq, reduced from 1,3 million in 2000 to 300,000 today, the Director-General emphasized that ‘cultural cleansing’ is not limited to a specific region or community, and that violence recognizes no borders. 

In this respect, the Director-General expressed her deep gratitude to Italy for taking the lead in promoting, within UNESCO, a new and more effective strategy to safeguard cultural heritage under attack and she informed the audience that, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gentiloni, she will sign an agreement in Rome to establish a Task Force that will be devoted to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property, under UNESCO’s Unite4Heritage Initiative.