Clessidra Ribelle | di Silvia Crupano |
In a world always faster, complex and technology oriented, for some mysterious reason people and Governments seem to pay little attention to the Humanities, sure as they are that science only is – and can be – the author of History and Progress. Thus, it happens that Maths or Astronomy Olympiads catch all the attention (and their candidates are spoken of with adjectives like “brilliant”, “gifted”, “diligent”) while, for example, Latin or Greek certamen tournaments are regarded as somehow useless, “stuff for swots”. Funny enough, this general consideration can be mostly found in Italy, the Country which holds two thirds of the world’s cultural and historical heritage, with something like the Renaissance in its past and whose Tour has been a fundamental step in the education of humanists, writers, artists and noble men for almost two centuries.
A similar destiny of oblivion is shared by the International Philosophy Olympiads (IPO), a competition for high school students organized under the auspices of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie (FISP) and supported by UNESCO. Founded in 1993 by philosophy teachers from Bulgaria (Prof. Ivan Kolev), Romania (Prof. Elena Florina Otet), Poland (Prof. Władysław Krajewski), Turkey (Prof. Nuran Direk) and Germany (Prof. Gerd Gerhardt), it started with three participating Countries and now counts about 40 Nations competing every year.
The athletes are given four hours to write a philosophical essay on one of four given topics, provided in the four official languages of the IPO – English, Spanish, French and German – among which the students must choose to write in one different from their own (that is, a native English speaker would not be allowed to write in English). The selection and training process varies from Country to Country but it usually consists in 3 levels: school selection, regional selection and national selection, each one with a unique winner accessing the following step (except for the national contest, which selects two candidates to represent the Country in the International Final, and the hosting Country which can present up to 10 athletes).
Just like any other Olympiad, the Final takes place every year in a different city: the 22nd International Philosophy Olympiad final competition was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from 15th to 18th of May. It was the edition with the highest number of participants so far: 41 Countries and 89 students, with delegations from Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Greece, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Republic of Korea, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, USA and, of course, Lithuania.
Every edition of the IPOs is centered on a specific theme, around which the topics given and the conferences offered to the delegations are conceived. Considering the complicated political situation that Lithuania and Europe are facing today, the Committee decided to dedicate this Olympiad to one of the famous philosophers of dialogue: Emmanuel Levinas.
Unfortunately, I was not there to share the emotions and fears and dreams of the boys and girls from all over the world that gathered in Vilnius, united by the passion for philosophy. But I lived the very same experience 12 years ago, when in 2002 I reached and won (first time for Italy) the final competition of the 10th IPO, in Tokyo. Back then, the theme was revealed just a few days before the final and there were only one gold, one silver and one bronze medal, with a single honorable mention – whereas nowadays the candidates know what the theme is well in advance and there are many ex aequo medals and mentions. This means the competition was really hard and agonistic, with the consequent tension one can imagine in 17 or 18-years-old students. I’m not at all saying it’s much different or easier today – but still, it is somehow different.
I remember the enthusiasm we all had and the awful jetlag which almost killed the European athletes, with the essay writing scheduled for the morning after arrival! And, oh my!, what a morning that was! It started with a disastrous breakfast: a smelly fish soup with no sight of coffee and biscuits for miles! Had it not been for the Turkish girl who disappeared without notice (in the general panic!) only to come back with Starbuck’s coffees and muffins for everybody (being thus elected our heroine and savior), there would have been no final essay for any of us Europeans! In the end, she won the honorable mention, Romania and Finland got the 2nd and 3rd place and, to my great surprise and joy, I won the gold medal: an emotion which will live in my heart forever.
This is why I have been following every edition of the Philosophy Olympiad, curious to see the different cities chosen for the finals and to keep track of Italian standings: we have done pretty well so far, with ex aequo silver or bronze medals or honorable mentions in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 – although the top of the podium still dates back to 2002… (see the collection of medals)
Perhaps this should prompt us to invest more in Humanities and get rid of the silly image of Philosophy as an abstruse and flimsy, clumsy discipline, after all inessential and boring.
Well differently, Philosophy is the heart of cultural progress and it teaches the precious arts of thinking, analysis and problem-solving. The boys and girls who every year take part in the IPOs are the living testimony of the commitment, courage and wonderful experiences that philosophy can inspire.
It takes a considerable amount of bravery and self-confidence to travel sometimes to the other side of the world and put your skills on the line, taking up the challenge of writing a philosophical essay in a language different from your own, in competition with the best students from dozens of other Countries and being judged by foreign teachers, with different mentalities, competences and standards.
The reward goes, of course, far beyond the symbolic medals you can win: the real prize is meeting boys and girls with whom you initially think to share age only, but that after a few hours you discover indeed similar to yourself, no matter their Country, religion, education or traditions. The Planet suddenly looks smaller, the foreigners more familiar, the differences less frightening, the future achievements unlimited!
Not everybody in life is given the chance to travel and see the world, but thanks to initiatives like the International Philosophy Olympiads, in one single trip a school boy or girl can live a few days with representatives of that world wide web that for once is not the internet but the real life, in person. You go back home with a treasure of experience, amazement, enthusiasm and new friends that will be part of you until your last breath.
That’s why yesterday I spent hours searching on the internet for the complete list of 2014 winners: I couldn’t wait to discover the results, well knowing the emotions they come with. In the end I wrote to Miglė Petronytė, Chairwoman of the Organizing Committee and Chief specialist of the Department of Philosophy of Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences. She was so kind as to give me the good news I was looking for, so thank you very much Miglė (and thanks to the Lithuanian Committee for hosting so nicely this competition) and here are the final results of the 22nd International Philosophy Olympiad, Vilnius 2014. Congratulations to you all!
Federico Aguilar – Guatemala
Chan Park – The Republic of Korea
Sophus Svarre Rosendahl – Denmark
Viviana de Santis – Italy
Yuki Kanai – Japan
Martin Molan – Slovenia
Marta-Liisa Talvet – Estonia
Rūta Karpauskaitė – Lithuania
Vraciu Cosmin Petru – Romania
Benedikt Zöchling – Austria
Rafail Zoulis – Greece
Maša Marić – Croatia
Justinas Mickus – Lithuania
Janko Zeković – Montenegro
Francisco Ríos Viñuela – Spain
Bernt Johan Damslora – Norway
Jani Patrakka – Finland
Jacob Karlsson Lagerros – Sweden
Beatriz Santos – Portugal
Iván György Merker – Hungary
Abhishek Dedhe – India
João Madeira – Portugal
Tadas Temčinas – Lithuania
Radosław Jurczak – Poland
Chagajeg Soloukey Tbalvandany – Netherlands
Vulpe dan Cristian – Romania
Elina Karastie – Finland
Jakob Gomolka – Germany
Lukas Jonuška -Lithuania