Tolerence and Dialogue for a Peaceful Future, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 26 January 2010


“Special Symposium: 2. The Post Holocaust World”, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 26 January 2010


Ladies and Gentlemen,

            It is an honour and privilege for me to be here with such a distinguished gathering on the occasion of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps.

We are here to remember and commemorate a tragic page of human history, maybe the most tragic of all times. The Holocaust constitutes a catastrophe for its victims and for the entire Jewish people. Furthermore it shows the extent of hatred that human beings may nourish for other human beings.  Millions of people were systematically exterminated simply because of their ethnic origin.

            The Holocaust was not an isolated incident in the annals of history. In fact, Anti-Semitism as the most dreadful expression of racism and xenophobia has been present throughout centuries. Since early centuries of the Christian era, the Jewish people suffered all sorts of persecutions ranging from expulsion to confiscation of their properties and from massacres to being burned alive.

           The racism and xenophobia may start with a harmless socio-psychological behaviour which may look innocent at the beginning. Because, at the initial stage, it is simply to identify oneself as a different individual from others. Or to identify another individual as diff1erent from you. At this initial stage there is no harm done. However when it goes to the next stage, and when you persuade yourself that you are superior to the other individual or that the other individual is inferior to you, then you are at the threshold causing harm to others. History reveals that it has always been difficult to keep such behaviour in harmless limits. The policies that led ultimately to the Holocaust must have started with such harmless feelings. However this does not justify any of the atrocities committed in this context.

            Many people tend to consider the Holocaust as a chapter in the history that has to be to put aside and forgotten. There may be a logical explanation to put it aside. In fact this is what is aimed by the present event, since the title of this event is “Tolerance and Dialogue for a for a Peaceful Future”.  In the present event we will be “Remembering the Past to Foster a Peaceful Future: A United Europe against ante-Semitism, Racism and Xenophobia”. So, there is an effort to put the past events aside and to look forward to the future. We may put aside the past and look at the future. However, if we forget the causes that led to the emergence of such tragic incidents, we may not be able to prevent the reoccurrence of similar tragedies in the future. We have to keep in mind that Anti-Semitism was encouraged by religious and political elite and even so-called intellectuals. The role of the literature that misinforms the public and that tries to legitimize animosity should not be overlooked.

Sometimes the authorities or even the leaders do not show strong enough reaction to the cases of racism and xenophobia. The perpetrators of such acts of racism or xenophobia are of course encouraged by this dissimulated tolerance of the authorities. Sometimes the political leaders use racist or xenophobic rhetoric in order to obtain more public support for their political agenda. Racist rhetoric is one of the cheapest vehicles in the political campaign. Many politicians do not pay due attention to the possible consequence of such irresponsible statements in the long run.  It is a short-sighted attitude and a mistake to use such rhetoric without thinking of its negative consequences.

Recent reports indicate that the highest number of incidents of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia in Europe since the Second World War acts were committed in 2009. The role of statements made by the political or opinion leaders in the increase of such incidents cannot be denied. I hope all interested parts will draw a lesson from this increase and that they will refrain in the future from such statements.

In the case of Holocaust, the monstrous schemes of its planners and executers were further supported by the silence, if not the approval of a significant part of the population.

            If leaders and opinion makers were more sensible to promote tolerance and respect for plurality, the architects of the Holocaust would not be that comfortable when they were launching their defamation campaigns and sow hatred among people.

            Following the Second World War, the international law not only duly punished the perpetrators, but also established mechanisms to prevent repetition of genocide. Nevertheless, our experience after the Second World War attests to the insufficiency of the measures adopted. Not only Anti-Semitism, but racism and xenophobia as well persist. Discrimination in various forms and shapes continue at different levels, be it local-communal or national and international. Regretfully, we have to admit that post-Holocaust world is not free of intolerance. A widespread lack of empathy and lack of understanding still prevails after all the suffering that humanity has been through.

The era that followed the Second World War was characterized by a precarious balance of power between the East and West. This balance helped keep in check the manifestations of other tensions including racism and xenophobia. However, as soon as the Cold War came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, disagreements and quarrels other than ideological ones started to surface; and most of them were unfortunately based on racism as we witnessed in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda. There were other cases as well such as Kashmir, Tamils and Dharfur.

            Then we started to feel the effects of globalization. It is worth underlining that in the age of globalization our need for broad-mindedness and understanding has grown to previously unknown dimensions. The simple reason for this is that once the ideological divide lost most of its meaning, the individual gained ascendancy. The need for tolerance, empathy and compassion is perhaps more pronounced than ever. In the globalised community, we have to be more open to accept our differences; we have to regard variety as a source of richness rather than a cause of weakness.

Furthermore, the challenges that we are faced with and the problems we have to solve necessitate our collaboration. It is imperative that we should join forces to establish global peace and to cope with poverty, with the drug or human trafficking, with organized crime, with terrorism, with phobias of all kinds, with environmental issues etc.

            Let me conclude on a more optimistic tone. The lessons we were taught in the course of the twentieth century with special emphasis on the holocaust should and will serve us in our efforts to tackle with the complex issues and problems of the 21st Century and to avoid the repetition of the previous mistakes.

            Thank you.

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