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Theme of 9 July: the Second and the Third Generation – Finding the Meaning in the Story
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sincerely delighted to have this opportunity to be here with you today, all the more so since it has been my wish for some time to visit Yad Vashem. Throughout my career, work on Remembrance has held a special place in my heart and my involvement in this field has brought me into contact with many remarkable persons and outstanding partners in this endeavour.
Now I am here as Deputy Secretary General and I am all the more aware of the honour and duty of representing the Council of Europe in opening this plenary session.
The core values of the CoE
I was struck by the title of your Conference, “Through our own lens”. Because
I very much believe that cultural heritage is something like a prism, with many facets through which our perspectives of the world today - and of our place in it - can be viewed. The Holocaust is a sombre and tragic facet of European and world heritage. Certainly, it is part of our heritage that we would wish had never existed, but we cannot and must not believe that it can be polished away.
Remembrance of the Holocaust is our duty, and remembrance can also be our saving, since only by accepting to look clearly at our world through this facet can we be confident in our fight to prevent any slipping backwards or any normalization of warning signs of future atrocities.
The COE and its link to the Remembrance of the Holocaust
For the Council of Europe, Holocaust Remembrance is a particularly resonant part of our own heritage. Our Organisation was founded in 1949, in Strasbourg, on the boundary between a Germany and a France smarting from the wounds of the Second World War, and very close, in fact, to one of the Nazi death camps in the beautiful and peaceful Vosges mountains. Indeed, today, we are the only international organisation with a Holocaust memorial on our premises, before which we gather every year to remember and honour the victims.
The “raison d’être” of the Council of Europe was clear: to avoid any recurrence of the unspeakable horrors of the wars which had ravaged Europe and the world, and to continue to fight against the totalitarian ideologies of the first half of the 20th century and their corollaries of intolerance, division, exclusion, hatred and discrimination.
Our dream was to build up new European societies built on the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, in which every human being is accorded equal value and equal dignity.
Today, 65 years later, we are proud of the solid and unique pan-European legal basis on which our action resides, namely the European Convention on Human Rights. Imagine: 800 million Europeans can apply directly to the Court in Strasbourg to ask for their human rights to be upheld – I am sure you will agree with me that this is an enormous achievement. And this Convention is supported by a rich array of legal instruments and standards in related fields, which are backed up by monitoring and increasingly by assistance on the ground to our member States and beyond.
Let me say a few words about how the theme of Holocaust Remembrance has been channelled into our standards and into our activities, particularly as a starting point for our body of work on prevention and education.
Since 1954, the European Cultural Convention has emphasised the importance of teaching the history of all its member countries from the starting point of the European dimension, rather than strictly national, so as to foster mutual understanding. Fifty States have now signed the Convention, and they are involved, from policy-makers in the Ministries of Education to teachers on the ground, in the programme on “Passing on the remembrance of the Holocaust and prevention of crimes against humanity”.
Since 2011, the programme has become cross-cutting in its nature, as it incorporates the dimensions of culture, heritage, youth, and the combating of racism and intolerance. Education is key: at the primary, secondary, and university level. The work on cultural heritage allows, on the one hand, for a better grasp of the extent of the Holocaust tragedy, by exposing the cultural richness of European Jewish life before 1942, but also constitutes a tool for passing on this knowledge from one generation to the next.
HUMAN RIGHTS values
Buildings constructed on solid foundations can resist earthquakes and other shocks, as well as the insidious damage caused by smaller shifts in the ground over time.
Europe has chosen as the foundation of its building human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These are its guiding principles for legislation, policy-making and every other action of the State. These principles are also valid for civil society and are applied in international co-operation. The freedom of thought, conscience and religion, together with the freedom of expression, laid down in Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are cornerstones of our freedom.
But despite these solid foundations, we cannot be complacent. The Holocaust taught us that it not only morally-wrong, but wrong disastrous, to close our eyes to the warning signs or to minimize their extent or seriousness. The threats of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance remain present on the European continent; they re-emerge in political discourse and find new expressions through electronic means of communication and social networks. These are hairline cracks in our building, which cannot be left untreated.
Today, the Council of Europe observes with growing concern the reappearance of racial and religious hatred, often directed against the Jewish communities but also against other minorities living in Europe.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance recently published a report on the rise of hate speech and anti-Semitism. ECRI, the watch-dog of the Council of Europe monitoring the various forms of intolerance, forcefully reminded us in this report that hate speech continues to be a major problem in Europe. On this basis, ECRI has taken the decision to focus its forthcoming monitoring activities on the close scrutiny of measures taken by member States to deal with hate speech targeting vulnerable groups, including Jewish communities.
We must never forget that the use of degrading words can be the first step towards hate crimes. Hate speech is a clear indicator that a culture of hate still exists, and that the danger is always present that hate may escalate into violence and massive discrimination. It is an early indicator that cultural and religious diversity, which has always marked all European societies, is still not universally accepted. It shows us that Europe still has not yet fully-developed the competence to live in a diverse environment, benefiting fully from diversity and with respect for the rights of all individuals.
Condemning, sanctioning and preventing hate speech and hate crimes is an important aspect of the current priorities of the Secretary General, and one which I fully share.
We can rely upon our rich acquis of binding and non-binding legal instruments, plus the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.
But I am convinced that equally – perhaps even more important - is prevention. Because unless the attitudes and beliefs of individuals are changed, legislation can only fight against the results.
We must strike at the roots of hate. We must adopt a comprehensive, long-term and inclusive approach to foster diversity and tolerance:
Comprehensive, because we need to heed the lessons of the early Nazi era: that discriminatory words can quickly lead to violent action, often with terrible consequences.
Long-term, because it takes time to educate ourselves and our children on how to practice human rights, democracy and the rule of law in everyday life; long-term also because education is never quite completed: each successive generation must be educated anew;
And inclusive, because we can and must reduce confrontational politics and the banalisation of racist and anti-Semitic discourse, which breed hate. We must ensure that politicians seeking votes, young people communicating via the internet, the media, the men and women in the street – we must ensure that all members of society accept as given the principles of human rights for all without discrimination, of social cohesion, and of dialogue.
Can we make it? I believe that we can, working together across countries and continents, across political parties, across religions, beliefs and ethnic groups. Your conference is a part of that process, and I wish you every success.
Thank you for your attention.
I give now the floor to Professor Daniel Goldhagen.