Reclaim Our Civic Space! at Human Forum 2022


The main purpose of the Human Forum event since its begning has been to find answers to the question of whether democracy in Slovakia and Europe is under threat. As in the last 2 years, the conference was held in cooperation with the Ekopolis Foundation within the project Reclaim Our Civic Space!

The main purpose of the Human Forum event since its begning has been to find answers to the question of whether democracy in Slovakia and Europe is under threat. The development of democracy is influenced by various factors, and every year we pay attention to those that resonate the most in society. This year followed the previous one in emphasizing the need to build and develop democracy from below, from local communities. At the same time, however, we, like the whole world, were affected by the conflict beyond our borders, in Ukraine. These topics also resonated in the panel discussions during the 3 days of the conference. This year was also exceptional, as the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic joined the organizers, which included the 2nd year of its human rights conference in the program. As in the last 2 years, the conference was held in cooperation with the Ekopolis Foundation within the project Reclaim Our Civic Space!, supported by the EEA&Norway Grants for Regional Cooperation. An international project that focused on supporting local cultural and community centers in Slovakia enabled the development of the Human Forum platform, which connects democratic actors at the local level with the state administration, municipalities and experts from Slovakia and abroad.

The 9th year of the international conference on democracy and human rights - Human Forum 2022 was held on November 21-23, 2022 in Banská Bystrica, under the auspices of the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová and the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic Rastislav Káčer.


At the very beginning, the guests of the event were welcomed by the organizer of the Human Forum Csilla Droppová and Peter Burian, the ambassador with a special mission for human rights of the MOFA. The introduction of the event was in the spirit of speeches, but this time Minister Káčer made a speech on the topic "Protection and support of human rights and democracy - the cornerstone of Slovakia's valuable foreign policy and our duty", Vice-President of European Commission Věra Jourová "The European Union - defense of the rule of law and democratic values at home and abroad - today's imperative" and Uzra Zeya, US Deputy Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights on the topic "Democracy Summit - defense against authoritarianism, fight against corruption and joint promotion of respect for human rights rights and democracy". This was followed by an interview with Minister Káčer, hosted by Pavol Demeš.

The second block of the program was in the form of a panel discussion on the topic "Strengthening the protection of human rights to support the general values of democracy". In the discussion hosted by Peter Burian, the following spoke: Andrej Stančík - State Secretary of the MOFA, Kateryna Ryabiko - Deputy Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Andrea Cairola - Senior Specialist of the Department of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Journalists, UNESCO, Annika Markovic - Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden, Darius Čekoulis – Ambassador with a special mission for human rights and gender equality of Lithuania. The discussants addressed the state of the international and regional human rights architecture and agenda in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine, which violates all basic norms of international humanitarian law. The impact of the growing global polarization of the international human rights system and rules-based order was also debated.

The program continued with a speech by the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, and smoothly transitioned into the next panel discussion - Practical experiences and possibilities of promoting human rights and democracy in Slovakia. The discussion was not only about practical experience, lessons learned, but also about the possibilities of more effective enforcement of human rights, democracy and transparency at the local and regional level. The panelists sought answers to the questions of how to build inclusive partnerships for the promotion of human rights - the role of civil society (especially women and youth), the private sector, what are the innovative tools that enable more effective policies to support human rights and democracy at home and in the world, or what role education and independent media play a role in this. In the discussion hosted by Mr. Demeš, the following spoke: Mária Patakyová - former ombudsman, Filip Vagač - government representative for the development of civil society, Zuzana Petková - director of the Stop corruption Foundation, Katarína Batková - Platform of Civil Organizations for Democracy. After the discussion, the participants of the event, primarily representatives of the non-governmental and academic spheres, had the opportunity to have a short meeting with President Čaputová.


The final part of the first day of the program of the Human Forum 2022 conference was dedicated to the ceremonial speeches and awarding of the Human Forum award winners. Ján Lunter, Banská Bystrica Self-Governing Region, Ján Nosko, mayor of Banská Bystrica, Vladimír Hiadlovský, rector of Matej Bel University, Branislav Kováčik, dean of Faculty of Political Science and International Relations, Maroš Chmelík, executive director of CKO and Peter Medved, director of the Ekopolis Foundation made speeches. Speeches by representatives of the city, the self-governing region, the academic community and the non-governmental sector were complemented by a performance by opera soloist Andrej Vancel with piano accompaniment by Martina Svitková from the State Opera in Banská Bystrica. One of the organizers of the event - the Institute for Democracy at UMB - was given a space to present the achieved results. It was at Human Fore 2021 that the institute was ceremoniously founded, and already a year later, Róbert Vancel, executive director, was able to present many achievements, including the BRRIDGE project supported by the Horizon Europe scheme. The project is the result of the work of members of the Institute for Democracy at UMB, especially Jozef M. Mintal and Kamila Borseková.

The Human Forum award, which is given as a sign of recognition for the performance of a socially significant act or long-term action in favor of the protection of human rights and the development of democracy, was received this year by the former ombudsman Mária Patakyová, who served in the position from 2017-2022. She received the award from the organizers Csilla Droppová and Alexandra Bitušíková. The final word after the presentation of the award was given to Ingrid Brocková, State Secretary of the MOFA of the Slovak Republic.

The program of the second day of the conference began at the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations of Matej Bel University. Peter Terem, vice-rector of the Matej Bel University for Science and Research, Ingrid Brocková, state secretary of the MOFA and Laura Dittel, director of the Carpathian Foundation, spoke in the panel discussion "Regional cooperation in the promotion of human rights and democracy". The panel discussion was moderated by Martin Klus, a member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic.

The next block of the program was divided into several parallel discussions. The panel discussion "30 years of Slovak statehood and the state of human rights compliance" was moderated by Martina Bolečeková from Matej Bel University, and the speakers were Michal Vašečka - Bratislava Policy Institute, Janka Debrecéniová - Citizen, democracy and responsibility, together with representatives of the state administration. They debated the topics of the development of human rights in Slovakia, evaluated progress so far, as well as reserves, even in comparison with neighboring countries. The second of the parallel discussions was "Crisis in Ukraine - reception and integration of emigrants from Ukraine in the EU member states". The aim of this discussion block was to reflect Slovakia's reaction to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine at various levels, to name well-managed aspects of this process, but also problems and reserves that persist in this area, as well as challenges for the future. State administration representatives Ingrid Brocková and Ján Orlovský - Migration Office of the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic commented on the topic. The non-governmental sector was represented by Laura Dittel from the Carpathian Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Jarmila Androvičová from the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations.

The most significant representation of foreign guests was in the panel discussion on the topic "Supporters of democracy at the local level in Slovakia, Europe and the USA". The starting point for the discussion was the premise that the support of democracy at the regional, national and international level is based on trust in democratic institutions, but also on the culture of relationships and on the values we live by in our communities. All these factors are currently going through a deep crisis, but at the local level there are still people who have not lost their value compass. Who are these people and what should they do in their communities in times of crisis? How are they organized? Where to look for allies and support outside their own communities? Are there examples of communities and regions that have not deviated from democracy in crises? The speakers were Dag A. Fedøy - Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Andre Stoner - Faith organization, USA, Veronika Móra - Ökotárs Alapítvány Budapest, Beata Hirt - Community Foundation Zdravé mesto v Banská Bystrica and Peter Burian. The discussion was moderated by Peter Medved, director of the Ekopolis Foundation.


Adrienne Evans - United Action for Idaho, USA, Lukáš Zorád - PDCS, Maroš Chmelík - Center for Community Organization, Andrej Stančík - State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Slovak Republic, together with Tina Gažovičová, addressed the topic of existing tools and possibilities for preventing radicalization in Slovakia.

The last of the parallel discussions was devoted to the issue of investigative journalists, their safety and the legislative framework for their protection. Discussed by: Gabriella Sancisi - Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Andrea Cairola - UNESCO, Katarína Králiková, Director of the Communication Department, MOFA, Soňa Danová - Director of the Human Rights Department, MOFA.

The program at the Faculty of Political Sciences and International Relations concluded a round table with civil society organizations on fulfilling the obligations of the Slovak Republic for the 2nd Summit for Democracy of representatives of key ministries and institutions. The topic of the discussion was "Regional cooperation in the promotion of human rights and democracy". The discussion was hosted by Juraj Rizman.

The afternoon part of the program of the second day of Human Forum 2022 took place in Záhrada, the center of independent culture. In the first discussion of the evening, organized in cooperation with the civil association Bystriny, the speakers reflected on the growing dividing lines in society, the growing mistrust between individual groups, which also affects non-governmental organizations and civil society. At the same time, inspiring stories and procedures were presented, as well as deep insights into the causes of the current situation. In the discussion moderated by Zuzana Wienk, Ondrej Lunter - (at the time) newly elected chairman of the Banská Bystrica self-governing region, Pavel Laczko - Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic, support for innovation in the regions, Elena Gallová Kriglerová - director, senior researcher - CVEK, Magdaléna Dobišová - Vice-president of the board and director Department of Corporate Administration, D&I - SKANSKA, Peter Irikovský - Founder of Exponea and Diana Jacková - Expert worker of the youth work center Revúca.

At the end of the day's program, there was a discussion with the participation of analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, sociologist Michal Vašečka and Not in our City coordinator Martina Strmeňová, moderated by Ivan Chorvát, from the Faculty of Arts. The topic was a reflection on the municipal elections with the subtitle "What did the election results show us about the state of democracy in the regions of Slovakia?".

The third day of the Human Forum 2022 was carried out in the spirit of education and, specifically, extracurricular value education, which is key to the positive development of Slovakia in the areas of human rights, democracy and building the rule of law. Representatives of the state administration, especially the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport of the Slovak Republic, various educational agencies, the academic community, but especially representatives of primary and secondary schools - teachers, discussed topics such as "What is the importance of informal educational programs for schools?" To what extent do we use them in education?", "Implementation of extracurricular value education into practice", "How are the newly opened Regional Teacher Support Centers doing?", or "Integration of child war refugees into schools".

The evening program of the final day was concluded by a debate from the Spojensko series: "How to find a way to ourrselfs?". The guests, supporters of various faiths and philosophers, together with the moderator Zuzana Kovačič Hanzelová, thought about ways to unite a society divided by opinion and values. The program then ended with a traditional ecumenical service with the participation of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, the Greek Catholic Church, the Church of the Brethren, the Fraternal Unity of Baptists, the Jewish community, the Islamic community and others.