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Time to Say “NO” Campaign

PEN Austria, 06.03.2013

Concordia Press Club, Vienna

Intervention by Mariela Baeva


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This is stipulated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It embodies common values originating in the world’s social, philosophical, political, cultural traditions.

Despite the international agreements and objectives, at the turn of the 21st century, hundreds of millions of young people worldwide are left outside the education systems. The international expertise indicates that 60 % of that overall number are girls and the majority belongs to South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In some of these contexts there are strong political obstacles to girls’ and women’s access to education.

At the time when Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl, was shot in the head for expressing her concern about the restrictions of the Taliban regime for girls to attend school in the Swat Valley, I was compiling the Anthology “In the Hug of Arms” and I received from Henna Babar Ali, the chairwoman of Pakistani PEN club, a poem dedicated to Malala. Among the lines Henna says:

The bullet pierced my heart

Malala your courage rebounds in 7 billion hearts

You are the light and we follow you

You are an education. And we cannot fail you for in it we fail humanity

Building the bridge to Malala’s lifestory that makes her the light for young people striving for better life all over the world, I’ll share with you the memoir of one of the brightest minds of my nation, a poet and a distinguished translator of Shakespeare in Bulgarian. In an article of his, written more than six decades ago, he remembered going every morning to the train station to wait for the train bringing the newspapers, eager to know about the world, about people’s lives and their endeavours. He was reflecting in the article on the nature of any rigid political system limiting freedom, as having in its fabric the fibres of suspicion, hostility and aggression to young people, young minds, and fresh concepts. At the time he lived – in a regime supporting Nazi Germany – allowing access to education would have led to a lost control over young people, over their future and would have created an environment “benign” for informal talks, information exchange, protest or uncensored decisions.

Today he says that there is no system, no regime, no doctrine that could prevail over dreams, audacity, great courage…

Today we say that education is curiosity; it is creativity; imagination; autonomy; freedom.  It is the worth, the value of the individual.

We say “No” to any system, any regime depriving anyone of that value.

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