On 16 May 2016, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, started her visit to the Czech Republic by delivering a lecture on the role of education in the prevention of violent extremism at Charles University, one of the oldest and most prestigious tertiary institutions in the world.
The lecture coincided with celebrations across Prague to mark the 700th anniversary of the birth of the Holy Roman Emperor and King Charles IV, who nurtured the flourishing of scholarship, culture and the arts. The Director-General toured the University’s main vaulted 14th-century building in the centre of the Old Town of Prague with the Rector, Mr Tomáš Zima.
« Every new generation is faced with a unique challenge – today’s is to promote the values of inclusion, dialogue and peace, to build new forms of solidarity based on human rights, global citizenship, trust and tolerance, » said the Director-General during the lecture.
In the face of attacks against cultural heritage and diversity, deepening inequalities and conflicts that are tearing societies apart, she called for a change in narrative to counter hatred and exlusion with the defense of humanity as a single community. « Education has an immensely important role to play to disarm the processes that can lead to violent extremism, by undermining prejudice, by fighting ignorance and indifference, » she said, outlining UNESCO’s actions to fight radicalization, advance global citizenship education and empower youth to build peace.
Referring to the 12 world heritage sites in the Czech Republic that bear witness to a richly diverse spiritual and artistic legacy, she affirmed « that this is a force for inclusion and dialogue that we must build upon. »
She explored closer intellectual cooperation with Czech universities in a meeting with presidents and faculty from a range of tertiary institutions in the country, noting their key role in supporting UNESCO’s mandate across the 2030 sustainable development agenda and bridging the gap between scientific research and policy-making.
In recognition of her contirbution to the development of sciences, culture and education, the Director-General received on behalf of UNESCO the University’s honorary gold medal from the Rector, Mr Zima.
Prior to the lecture, Ms Bokova held bilateral meetings with the Minister of Culture, Mr Martin Tomášek, the Deputy Director General of the National Heritage and the Vice Minister for Education, Youth and Sports, Professor Stanislav Štech and Vice-Minister Štech cited inclusive education, lifelong learning policies and new models for teacher training as major areas of concern. He affirmed the universality of the 2030 Agenda and expressed appreciation for UNESCO’s comprehensive vision of education that seeks to enhance the well-being of all society. The Director-General affirmed that the new agenda provides fresh opportunities for collaboration and experience-sharing.
The Director-General mentioned also that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes clear references to culture as an enabler of sustainable development, and in particular to cultural diversity and the safeguarding of cultural and natural heritage, and that UNESCO will implement the culture components of the Agenda based on its Culture Conventions. The Director-General also commended the minister for putting protection of cultural heritage as the priority of his ministry.
The Director-General later visited the Průhonice Park, a component of the World Heritage property “Historic Centre of Prague," where she met with Prof Jiří Drahoš, President of the prestigious Czech Academy of Sciences. Accompanied by the Park’s Director Mr Ivan Stana, she toured the vast lanscape set amidst the Botič Stream valley and harbouring an alpine flower garden, exotic tree species, forests, meadows and a famed collection of rhododendrums that attracts large numbers of visitors in blooming season. Park authorities briefed her about the use of emergency funds provided by UNESCO in the aftermath of the 2013 floods to stabilize the river banks, restore damaged paths and plant new trees, and their bid for funding from the European Union to further enhance the site.
The Director-General will meet today with the President of the Czech Republic, H.E. Mr Miloš Zeman and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Lubomír Zaorálek.