On July 22, 2011 Anders Behring Breivik committed two terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya in Norway, claiming a total of 77 lives.

Photo: Theodosia Gkournelou


by Theodosia Gkournelou

The attacks inspired the creation of the “No Hate Speech Movement” campaign and the mobilisation of activists and partners against hate speech. Activists and supporters of the Council of the movement initiated a petition towards the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in order to establish the 22th of July as European Day for Victims of Hate Crime.

On the occasion of this day we talked with Ms. Irini Karamitsa, project manager and human rights trainer at the Greek Center for the Protection of Human Rights, about hate speech and the ways we can deal with it.

Q: What do we mean when we are talking about hate speech?

A: The definition of hate speech can be differentiated from country to country. It depends from the national legislature. Whatever provokes, spreads or justifies behaviors against a group of people could work as a wide definitions of hate speech. It’s a dynamic and diverse phenomenon. At any time, we are potential perpetrators and victims.  It is related to the intimidation and our own fears. Fear is very much connected to hate speech. Very often we are afraid of something or someone that/who is unfamiliar to us and which/who we don’t give any try to know. We keep distance and that makes things harder.

Q: Is fear a characteristic of victims too?

A: Yes it is. Very often the victim feels fear, isolation, and weakness. Often loses control of himself/herself because he/she cannot handle an outer situation and often feels that there is nobody he/she could talk to or ask for help.

Q: Where is the line among freedom of speech and hate speech?

A: I could say that this line is somehow vague. As every country has its own system, it depends on whether it has signed the European Convention on Human Rights and to what extend they implement it. It is a very thin line, which we can easily over cross without realizing how much we have disturbed other people.

Ms. Irini Karamitsa, project manager and human rights trainer at the Greek Center for the Protection of Human Rights Photo: Theodosia Gkournelou

Q: How much connected is hate speech with violation of human rights?

A: Actually the education against hate speech and therefore against hate crimes should have human rights as starting point. If we don’t teach children to respect every single human being how can we expect them to move on and be part of a healthy society? Accordingly, Hate speech to its content could be a violation to our right to life, liberty and freedom of expression and security of person.

Q: What our societies can do to fight hate speech?

A: Through our educational system but also as individuals, we need to develop the ability of empathy in order to understand how much hurt we can provoke with our sayings and acts. It’s of high significance to educate primary students as they are the ones who can make the change. At primary school we can find the age group when the character is molded. University students have already formed their opinions and it’s difficult to make interventions. But pupils are more open to accept new ideas. I am delighted every time I meet children in the last class of elementary school, with whom we have worked in the past and who already show maturity and respect when it comes to diversity. We should bear in mind that all we need is an incentive.

Q: But how easy it is to educate children on fighting hate speech?

A: To a certain extent they can understand why it’s not good to talk disparagingly for other people. Usually they understand that should not express in a bad way for people they don’t know because in the future they could be their friends. Family plays an important role here. You can tell when parents are asking their child to keep distance from children with different background for example.

About the author: Theodosia Gkournelou is Menac’s blog coordinator. She is a Greek journalist based in Frankfurt. Theodosia holds a MA in Journalism, specialised in reporting on conflict, from the Complutense sissyUniversity of Madrid. She has worked as Editor-in Chief for Greek news websites, former employers are the National Greek News Agency and the Spanish magazine “El Periódico de la Publicidad”. Currently she works as a freelance journalist.


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