28 February 2022 We are gearing up to kick off the most important regional event on hate speech and defamation in many years. 43 distinguished speakers and more than 80 participants, between them politicians, community leaders, journalists, experts, civil society activists, etc. will be in Tirana to discuss in seven different panels for three days, from 1-3 March. All of this could not have been achieved without the kind support of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who provided the financial support to the FIRE Conference. In the eve of the Conference, the Western Balkans Fund had the opportunity to meet with the Ambassador of Japan to Tirana, Mr. Takada Mitsuyuki, who spoke at great length about his country commitment to peace, including combatting hate speech on all its forms.
Your Excellency, Ambassador Takada. Thank you for accepting this interview in the first place. The FIRE Japan-funded Conference, which aims to promote freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and introduce legal mechanisms on hate speech and defamation in both regions of Western Balkans and Visegrad, is approaching. How much is the conference related to Japan’s international role? Is the fight against hate speech a priority for Japan in its international relations?
The European Union and European countries share with Japan a strategic partnership based on longstanding collaboration, shared values, and principles such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, multilateralism, and open market economies. This is the reason why cooperation with European countries including Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia is important to Japan. Moreover, this is also the reason why Japan pays special attention to those countries that are aspiring to join the European Union, as is the case with the Western Balkan’s countries. For this reason, Japan has been promoting political and economic cooperation with both the Visegrad Group and the Western Balkan’s for many years now.
The protection and promotion of human rights, including freedom of speech is a fundamental aspect of Japan’s foreign policy. In this regard, efforts to address root causes and drivers of hate speech is important. Only by respecting human rights can we lay a solid foundation for regional cooperation and for long-lasting peace and stability in the international arena.
The Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, gave a keynote policy speech in January (17 January 2022), when he addressed many things, like Climate Change, the role of Japan in the International Sphere, the Omicron threat, the proposal for a new form of capitalism, etc. Among others, he underlined the importance of building a society in which all people can feel their purpose in life. I quote: “What will become the foundation supporting a new form of capitalism is a society that values diversity, in which all people can feel their purpose in life, whether old or young, male or female, or having a disability”. Do you agree that fighting much more against hate speech and its implications is paramount to achieving that?
Yes, I agree that fighting against hate speech and its implications will allow us to move towards a more diverse, respectful and fair society. We must keep in mind that hate speech has a more serious impact on the most vulnerable groups of our societies such as young people, women, children, and minorities. These groups can suffer from all sorts of harassment including discrimination, intimidation, abuse, bullying, violence, xenophobia or racism. So creating a culture of tolerance, fairness and respect will help mitigating the negative impact of these phenomena for the most vulnerable parts of our societies. Therefore, with the aims of creating better relations with our partners and protecting the socially vulnerable people, Japan puts constant efforts into improving the global human rights situation not only through projects similar to the FIRE conference but also through bilateral dialogues, and proactive participation in multilateral forums such as the United Nations.
This is not the first time the Western Balkans Fund and Japan have joined forces together. The Civil Society Summit of 2019-20 was a big success. Are you looking forward to this new joint action?
Yes, of course I am looking forwards to this. In this regards, I wanted to mention that cooperation between Japan and the Western Balkans Fund dates back to 2018, as it is based in the framework of the Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative, launched by former Prime Minister Abe. In the framework of this Initiative we have been cooperating not only with the Western Balkans Fund, but also with the Western Balkan countries and other regional institutions operating in the area such as the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). Our aim was to support these countries in different areas where they might need our support such as disaster prevention or healthcare but also to increase youth and economic exchanges, and promote sports, culture, science, technology, and human rights.
The focus of this conference is the WB6 and V4. How important are for the official Tokyo those two distant regions? How can we cope with the geographic distance that separates us?
As I previously mentioned, strengthening the relations with the European Union member countries is a fundamental pillar of Japan’s foreign policy. This is why Japan has been promoting political and economic cooperation with European Union countries and with other countries aspiring to join the EU. In this context, Japan is implementing a multi-layered diplomacy in Visegrad and the Western Balkans regions aiming to promote mutual understanding and strengthen relations in a wide range of fields such as politics, security, economy, business, science and technology, education, culture and art.
Japan is conducting many activities in these regions, such as dispatching experts, cooperating with European think tanks and supporting the people-to-people exchange through the “MIRAI” programs allowing intellectual and young people from Europe to visit Japan. We had to conduct some of these activities online due to the Covid-19 restrictions but we will resume them as soon as the pandemic influence is smaller.
Another important thing I want to note is that this year, the International Visegrad Fund (IVF) has agreed to join efforts with the Government of Japan to support financially the project in the Western Balkans. This is the first time that the IVF and Japan find common ground for cooperation within the Western Balkan’s region and an excellent example of Japan’s cooperation with the V4 in the Western Balkan’s.
What is your personal experience and impressions from your stay in Albania and visits to the region? What do we have in common, and what is the difference with Japan?
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions I have not had the opportunity yet to visit the other Western Balkan Countries. I hope that very soon I will get this chance. From my experience, so far Albania is a beautiful country; the people are friendly, the neighbourhood is safe, the weather is fine, and the food is delicious. I noticed that Japanese and Albanian citizens share several similar traits, they are both hard working people, respect the family values and traditions. Both countries have similar climate, mountains, coastlines and rivers. In addition, we have a very similar approach towards hospitality. We have an expression in Japanese language “omotenashi” it means to wholeheartedly look after our guests, and I found a similar mentality here in Albania.
In preparation for this interview, I found a Japanese famous saying. 井の中の蛙大海を知らず. English Translation: “A frog in a well knows nothing of the sea.” This famous Japanese saying means someone sees the world through their limited perspective. They’re quick to judge and think very big of themselves. Would you agree that events like this conference are crucial to promoting exchanges between ourselves and tolerance and to forge a deeper understanding of each other? And that finally, through such events, we can bring the frog from the well, to the unlimited horizon of cooperation and opportunities of the sea?
Yes of course, promoting exchanges, tolerance and better understanding of each other is one of the main aims of such activities. It is also very important to understand that negative phenomena such as hate speech and defamation are not limited to one country or one region, and as such, the protection of human rights, which is a universal value, is the basic responsibility of all countries, regardless of differences among nations, cultures, religions, races or ethnicities. In addition, because, such negative phenomena are gaining prominence across the globe and jeopardizing social cohesion and human rights, it becomes more and more important to promote a culture of tolerance and mutual respect not just within the Western Balkans and the Visegrad but also across the globe. This is necessary to create an environment where interactions with others are fair and respectful.