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International Spring School on Human Rights Debates Issues of Religion, Identity and Freedom of Conscience

In May, the HSE Voronovo Learning Centre hosted the International Spring School on Human Rights, a five-day educational retreat organized jointly by the HSE Department of Public Policy, the University of Bologna and the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In her welcome address, Professor Nina Belyaeva, Head of the Public Policy Department at HSE, spoke vividly on the lasting cooperation between the partner institutions and on how such learning endeavors serve to enhance awareness and consolidate the newly initiated and experts alike. She further argued that such international learning opportunities are of increasing importance when it comes to developing a multifaceted understanding and appreciation of the School’s theme.

This year’s Spring School on Human Rights was devoted to ‘Religion, Identity and Freedom of Conscience’, a subject of great importance in an increasingly globalized world which at the same time continues to grow increasingly fractious in the social and cultural space and in which social cohesiveness faces serious threats.

The School’s inaugural lecture was delivered by Professor Marco Balboni, who addressed the idea of the laicity and religion in the European Union. He discussed the subject by referencing different case laws where the symbols and expression of religions are being legally challenged as a way to keep the public sphere, especially the learning space, free from influences that may be harmful to minors.

The subject of Professor Balboni’s discussion was elaborated on further by Professor Belyaeva during her lecture on belief-based organizations, freedom of association and freedom of conscience in cases regulated by the European Court of Human Rights. Her lecture elicited numerous questions and generated considerable discussion among students.

Professor Carmelo Danisi of the University of Bologna, the third speaker at the School, expanded the discussion by addressing gender and the Islamic veil as a major issue in Europe’s educational and social environment. Professor Yuri Fogelson of HSE’s Public Policy Department deconstructed the large and elaborate international mechanisms on human rights protection, including the religious rights of minorities and immigrants. 

On the following day, strategies to protect the rights of religious minorities were discussed at length by Professor Dmitry Zaytsev, an expert on the subject of minority rights who teaches in the Master’s programme in Public Policy. Professor Zaytsev’s extensive knowledge on this subject in the context of the European social and political space encouraged discussion among students during the coffee break and over lunch. Artem Uldanov, a PhD student at HSE and University of Bologna as well as a teaching member of the Public Policy Department, delivered an informative and topical lecture on the subject of extremism and human rights, emphasizing the fact that the social structure is fraught with the perennial dilemma of creating balance between regulations and freedom of the social information space.

On the third day, Professor Mahama Tawat was another notable speaker who touched upon how the issue of minorities in Europe is currently being exacerbated by the massive migration crisis. Professor Tawat’s lecture helped students dispel the conceptual ambiguity on the subject of minorities and to understand the subject in the larger perspective. The other speakers of the School were Professor Anita Soboleva, Professor Dmitry Savkin and Professor Sergey Parkhomenko.

The daily schedule included four lectures by leading experts that were preceded and followed by discussion, which allowed participants to discuss the material delivered by the lecturers during the day. The discussion format was moderated by Professor Sanjay K. Rajhans, with the topics addressing such issues as tolerance, limitations to belief, and inclusion of religious institutions in the social and political discourse.

Students enjoyed animated and engaging discussions, and were quite visible in demonstrating what they had learned. In addition to serving as the moderator of the morning and evening session, Professor Rajhans delivered two lectures entitled ‘Challenging the concept of tolerance: cohabitation and convergence of religious plurality’ and ‘Limitation on ‘manifestation’ of religion or belief’. In his lectures, he discussed the possibility of increasing plurality, including with respect to religious institutions and actors in the social and political sphere.

The certificate award ceremony marked the end to a successful and intensive School experience. Professor Balboni conveyed his satisfaction with the results and wished the students great success in their future educational endeavours.

The School’s successful completion was made possible by Maria Diukareva, a first-year Master’s student in the Public Policy programme who served as the School’s programme manager; she remained engaged behind the scenes during the entire preparation and its successful execution while at the same time handling her own academic responsibilities.

The quality learning environment, warm hospitality and caring attitude of the HSE family towards students from far off places like Belgium and Italy generated considerable satisfaction among students.

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