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For the 2020 Hearings the following key themes were selected:

1.    A Healthy Information Eco-System (linking the digital world and fundamental freedoms)

2.    A Fair Climate Policy & civic activism

3.    Equality and Identity (Inclusive societies - remote or achievable goals)

These themes are arguably central for the future of the world, and initiatives are clearly required in our region. Each of the themes arises from one of the three Helsinki Accord 'Baskets', which correspond to the title of Sakharov's 1975 Nobel Prize lecture, "Peace, Progress and Human Rights".

At the same time, all three are mutually intertwined and have in turn impact on the other two themes. They have been chosen also because they are areas in which concerned citizens, by getting organized, can play a direct and concrete role themselves in shaping the future. So the perspectives that will be constructed at the 2020 Hearings for the development of the remainder of the 2020-2025 program will not be one of just 'thinking and debating' but, beyond that, of 'designing and implementing'.

On all three themes, a strong argument can be made for coordinated international approaches; the threats are cross-border and the responses should therefore be as well

1. A Healthy Information Ecosystem

While the first 'dimension' of the Helsinki Accords, originally aimed at diffusing the threat of nuclear or conventional military conflict, remains relevant, the 'information space' has become a new arena for confrontation. Infrastructure in today's societies does not just consists of buildings, roads etc. that can be destroyed or occupied, but also of data systems and information highways. An area that requires urgent attention in the intergovernmental arena.

The new reality that develops also affects citizens directly. There is a battle for the capacity to influence the minds of people. On the one hand, enormous commercial interests are involved, on the other hand states are striving in a variety of ways to dominate and shape the opinions, attitudes and behavior of their citizens, and in different ways also of people abroad. An urgent need exists to better understand this development and to explore steps to organize journalism and the distribution and exchange of information on an ethical basis.

While categorized here as a 'first dimension' issue ('hybrid warfare'), there clearly are strong links with third dimension matters (the development of human contacts unfiltered by commercial or state influencing).

2. Fair Climate Policy

Increasingly, the climate crisis is unfolding as a key issue that influences our economic future. Traditional economic thinking and policies, based on the need to 'grow' statistics such as Gross National Product, do not suffice any longer; indeed they are part of the problem. Changes in climate increasingly disrupt agriculture and the living conditions of large number of citizens. They are starting to become an important driver for migration.

While this affects all of us, the rights of younger generations are most affected. Addressing the issue in the realm of traditional politics, whether based on varieties of free-market or of more state-directed economics, seems not to lead to the drastic steps that are needed to avoid climate disaster. Calls for the announcement of an 'emergency situation' are being made.

While currently this is mostly interpreted as a symbolic measure, in the political sense an 'emergency' can also justify setting aside democratic governance and civil rights. This may well suit governments who already exercise an authoritarian form of state control and it may also suit commercial interests that are tied to fossil energy, but it should be of concern to ordinary citizens.

A multitude of initiatives exist to address this situation, from overarching economic-political reforms to concrete grass roots do-it-yourself projects. In particular the category of do-it-together projects needs to be further analyzed, discussed and developed: what can an organized civil society initiative accomplish in this matter?

3. Equality and Identity

The unequal enjoyment of resources continues to be a major issue at world-scale. Human rights implications of poverty and the importance of social-economic rights continue to be neglected or even suppressed in mainstream politics, which is dominated by economic thinking and practice.

The fact that women and minorities are increasingly taking an equal and independent role in society results in a growing reactionary strand in politics. In its more extreme manifestations it provides justification for violent 'resistance', in less extreme forms white male violence is condoned or steps are not or insufficiently taken to prevent such violence.

Organizing against these developments should be cross-sectional, with the nefarious consequences of exclusionist thinking being clearly exposed.

Reviving the Helsinki Spirit
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Andrei Sakharov Research Center for Democratic Development

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