A “Mediterranean Conference on Lifelong Learning” was held in Malta by the IIZ/DVV from 13 to 15 September 2003. This followed an earlier initiative in Cyprus in May 2002, which was restricted to the Eastern Mediterranean. The circle of attendance was larger this time, with representatives also from North Africa and the Middle East. It became clear how little people knew about each other and how important it was to find out more in order to expand mutual understanding. There was a need to develop adult education from a Mediterranean perspective that reflected Mediterranean circumstances. There was discussion of whether to set up a Mediterranean Adult Education Association. In response to a suggestion by Moroccan colleagues, it is planned to hold a further meeting. At the end of the Malta conference, a “Final Declaration” was drawn up in which the states taking part set out their views, plans and aims. The opening address of the conference was given by Dr Michael Samlowski, Deputy Director of the IIZ/DVV. Both texts are reproduced here.
I am very happy that we have been able to come together for this Mediterranean Conference on Lifelong Learning and Adult Education. Thank you for following our invitation, especially considering that some of you received it so late or during your summer holidays, and that quite a few of you had only a very vague notion about who was convening the conference, for what purpose, and who else would be here.
Some of us, however, have known each other for quite some time as good friends and colleagues, although not necessarily in our present capacity as Mediterranean adult educators. Some of us only just met less than a year ago on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus where we had our first opportunity together to explore the education situation in one another’s countries. On that occasion our focus was the Eastern Mediterranean region. There were many drawbacks to hamper the progress of our first mutual endeavour. We were a rather small group with practically no representation from Arab countries. Broader participation was hindered by political strife. Only two colleagues from smaller private Egyptian AE organizations were present, but none from any of Egypt’s mainstream AE institutions. Some Arab contacts elected not to come to a conference whose participants might include colleagues from Israel. Turkey was not represented because of difficulty with the venue, Greek Cyprus. Participation in the first conference was not restricted to “Mediterranean” countries in the strict geographical sense of the word. Bulgaria, which does not border the Mediterranean Sea but nevertheless shares a good measure of Mediterranean culture and history, was present.
We were searching for evidence of things in common: common history, common experience, common problems and challenges that make the Mediterranean region stand out as different from Central and Northern Europe, and we found it in abundance. We may want to investigate some aspects of this theme at a later point during the present conference. Much of what we found is contained in a little brochure “Perspectives on Adult Education in the Mediterranean and Beyond” that we put together to document our findings and our thinking. Copies of the brochure are available for everyone here as long as stock lasts.
But we also found that there is very little information available in the various countries about the situation in the field of adult education in the other countries, and that there is even less cooperation among our respective educational systems on a national scale, but also on the level of individual institutions or persons. It is true: there is involvement on the part of organisations from European Mediterranean countries in European projects sponsored by the European Commission and its Socrates or Leonardo Programmes with their Grundtvig, Comenius or Erasmus actions. But this involvement is not up to par with the participation of Central and Northern European countries, and it does little to strengthen a Mediterranean approach to Mediterranean issues.
This has many reasons, only some of which I want to mention at this point. Others may be explored by us in the course of these few days that we will be together here in Malta.
It is not possible to engage in cross-border cooperation without adequate funds. But most of the countries in the Mediterranean area only have very limited funding for their adult education and lifelong learning programmes and provision. Any activities that go beyond the basic requirements are considered a luxury and consequently do not take place, as a rule, unless some outside funding can be secured. At best, they occur haphazardly and cannot provide any solid basis for sustainable cross-border cooperation practice.
One of the possible sources for funding international cooperation that includes Mediterranean countries is the European Union. But there are limitations involved: EU programmes and actions are highly prescriptive by nature. Normally they do not leave room for participants to develop their own priorities and activities but require them instead to follow topics or methods defined by the EU. These programmes and actions normally require the involvement of partners from various regions of Europe rather than from one region alone. Language is a barrier since most activities within the framework of international co- operation rely on English as the common language, and in the Mediterranean area English is not as widely used as a foreign language as in other parts of Europe. In addition, it is unfortunately the case that funding opportunities within the framework of most European programmes are mainly available to the countries within the European Union, and only to a much more limited degree to those outside the EU. It is true that for some time accession countries have been eligible for funding from a wide range of European programmes, but only to the extent that their governments have invested in these programmes.
And it is also true that most of the European countries not yet eligible for accession are located in the Mediterranean area: Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, and Turkey. What is more, these programmes do not come into consideration at all for the African Mediterranean countries or those from the Middle East. Later on we will hear more details about European programmes that may be available to those countries, and whether or not they provide an adequate response to cooperation needs in the field of adult learning and further education.
So when analyzing the issue of a Mediterranean identity and common Mediterranean problems and interests, we felt very strongly that we needed a wider perspective – one that goes far beyond a European approach. Historically, a Mediterranean identity is unthinkable without the countries of Northern Africa and those of the Near East. But there are precious few ties and connections here, and a great need to get to know one other, to obtain better understanding not only of our countries’ characteristics, assets, and strengths, but also of their weaknesses, deficits, and problems. In addition, much of the little we do know about one another has come to us through a filter of ideological and propagandistic bias that shrouds the real people and their real issues, needs, worries, and concerns. This is a notorious obstacle of our times. Islam is seen by some as the only salvation to every issue, and by others as a looming threat. In most countries we have not been able to form an impartial view of Islam as a religion adhered to by millions of people through tradition as well as conviction, just as the various Christian beliefs are by millions in other countries, Judaism elsewhere, Buddhism yet in others, and other faiths as well. Outside Islamic countries few people have taken the time or trouble to learn about what Islam stands for, and this is part of the reason why so many people are so easily influenced to believe that Muslims are a threat to peace, stability, and democracy. There’s no denying that prejudices against Islam are part of the reason why so many people in Western Europe are so sceptical about whether or not Turkey should have a chance to join the European Union!
One of the characteristics of the Mediterranean region is that it is be- set by a higher measure of conflicts than most other regions, conflicts that frequently erupt in violence. I am sure we are all painfully aware that we cannot evade the issue of the unresolved Israel-Palestine conflict that continues to escalate in a never-ending spiral of assault and suicide bombings, rockets, tanks, destruction, premeditated killings, daily degradation of people, fear and terror, making a normal life impossible for both Palestinians and Israelis, and implicating not only the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Syria but others as well.
And while this may be the most painful focus of conflict and violence at the moment, neither can we close our eyes to the situation in Iraq where a dictatorship has been toppled with a questionable international mandate at the cost of thousands of lives, both military and civilian, the destruction of civil structures, and the damage to the dignity of an entire people. Although Iraq does not border the Mediterranean, what is happening there concerns everyone in the region, and indeed everyone in the entire world.
We cannot overlook the civil war that wrought havoc throughout the Balkans. A semblance of normalcy has been returned to the region, but the conflicts remain unsettled as witnessed by recent flare-ups of fighting in Northern Macedonia and the continued need for peacekeeping troops from abroad. Enough war crimes have been committed to poison relations for generations. Millions of people were forced to resettle, and although the famous bridge of Mostar has been restored, the relations between people on opposite sides of the river Neretva have not.
Fortunately no bloodshed has occurred on the Island of Cyprus for quite some time. And yet the conflict there has led to the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands Greek and Turkish Cypriots who once, before the invasion, shared life in their villages and towns. It is difficult to imagine how ill feelings may someday be reconciled on the part of all those who have had to give up their homes, their land, and their very existence.
We cannot forget the killings of tourists in Egypt and Tunisia, nor the abductions that took place in Algeria – acts of terrorist violence, although one may argue that Germans or Austrians have no business crossing the Sahara on motorbikes as if the mightiest desert on earth were their personal playground and training field. Worse still are the many deaths in Algeria at the hands of fundamentalist groups intending to transform that country into an Islamic state.
Libya, in the eyes of Europe, is associated with acts of terrorism such as the destruction of the civilian jetliner over Lockerbie that cost 270 innocent lives, a deed for which the Libyan government now seems to assume responsibility through its offer of compensation to the families of the victims.
And let us not forget that only two short generations ago there was a civil war raging in Spain, and that the dictatorships in Portugal and Spain were not terminated until 1970 and 1975. Let us bear in mind that ETA is still fighting for an independent Basque country.
I fear we are still a long way from being able to witness the development of normal neighbourly relations among our countries in the region. So living with conflict, analysing its causes, understanding its implications and detrimental influence is probably one of the most important issues in the entire Mediterranean region. I am certain that it can prove to be enormously beneficial to share the experiences of this nature that we have accumulated in our various countries. One of the primary tasks of adult education is to help people overcome prejudice and hate. I am convinced of the truth of a conviction often expressed by an Israeli friend and adult educator, Rifka Pinnes: “Adult education can succeed where politics fail.” It is up to us to design strategies and find ways to make this happen, and hopefully help one another in our efforts. And we can only do so with any measure of success if we are acquainted with one another, if we are prepared to learn about each other and to get to know each other. Nothing sounds easier but is harder to do when it comes to reality.
I am confident that our mutual interest to promote adult learning will extend to other issues, just as it has in other parts in the world: remedial schooling, vocational training, business skills, ICTs, culture, all the issues which are in demand by people in the exercise of one of their inalienable fundamental human rights, the right to continue learning throughout life. Quite a few of these issues are of particular interest for the Mediterranean area. One example that comes to mind is that all your countries to a higher or lesser degree are attractive for international tourism. I have heard that more than 70 % of the population of Malta is involved in one way or another in the tourist trade. Consequently, there is an enormous potential for gainful employment and training in this field, and certainly a lot of experience to share. I am sure that you will be able to identify other themes of common interest in our professional field.
But there are also common political concerns relating to our profession where you may want to explore possibilities of concerted action. Strengthening the position of lifelong learning is a tremendously important political issue, and I feel sure that in this region, as almost anywhere else, there is a great deal of territory that needs to be recovered for this field which is so crucial for any kind of economic, social, political, and cultural development. The Lifelong Learning concept of the European Union, the CONFINTEA V goals of the UNESCO Institute for Education, and the “Education for All” campaign of UNESCO and the World Bank all point to the need for strengthening learning opportunities and provision of adult education. Governments everywhere have demonstrated their agreement by signing corresponding declarations. But in most countries there is a huge gap between official declarations and actual government commitment to finance the sector. This, then, is an area for political action on our part. It is an issue that we must bring before the European Union, which excludes so many countries from funding opportunities that would promote Mediterranean cooperation. The major funding programme of the EU for the Mediterranean region, MEDA, concentrates to date on infrastructural and economic aspects, and does not consider educational issues or cross-country activities that would enhance learning opportunities for adults. Economic development, however, can never acquire sustainability without the involvement of the people through learning and training. We will go into this aspect in greater detail in the course of our conference.
There are few places in the Mediterranean where the characteristics of the region are so apparent as in Malta: the people are descendants of Phoenicians, Normans, Arabs, and Italians, who all came here as conquerors. The language is based on Arabic, the phonetics of which have been influenced by Latin and Greek, with an alphabet and grammatical structures derived from Latin.
Malta has a long colonial history, dating back to Phoenician times, pointing to origins in the Middle East, Canaan, and Lebanon. Contacts flourished between the Phoenician colony and the Greek cities and islands and the Orient. Already in 736 BC it was taken by the Greeks, who called it Melita. Subsequently it fell under the rule of Carthage, modern-day Tunis, and Rome, and, after the division of the Roman Empire, Byzantium, today’s Istanbul. In 870 the islands were occupied by the Arabs, and in 1090 by the Romans. It then became a Sicilian dominion, ultimately forming part of the realm of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation which had its culmination of power and extent under Charles V of the house of Habsburg. Charles V graciously donated the islands to the order of Saint John, who maintained their influence in spite of the interests of the Ottoman Empire, but ultimately had to succumb to the power of the British, who maintained colonial rule over Malta until the sixties of the last century, in other words barely more than 40 years ago.
So I feel that we all can find something in Malta that relates to ourselves and our history and culture. For a Mediterranean conference, it is the perfect venue. I am very grateful for the support extended to us by our Maltese colleagues, in particular David Caruana and Peter Mayo from the University of Malta, which, by the way, is a venerable institution that dates back to the late 16th century. Let us hope for a few days of fruitful work, constructive dialogue, pleasant and valuable contacts, and new and enjoyable impressions.
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