President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in memory of the victims of the Holocaust
(Auschwitz, 1st February 2011, 5.00 pm)
No words can describe the despicable horror that happened here 70 years ago, in the same way as no deeds can repair the destruction of human life and dignity.
And yet both words and deeds are necessary to build strong democratic safeguards in our societies; safeguards which can make sure that the Holocaust remains a fact of history, and never a prospect for the future.
This was the main drive of European integration, doing everything possible to ensure that the horrors of the war will “never again” be repeated.
In 1949 one had to be a visionary, almost a dreamer, to believe that a day would come when all nations and peoples in Europe would be able to unite around shared values and build their common future on the basis of peace, dialogue, tolerance and understanding. Yet the Council of Europe, which I represent here, unites today practically all the European countries, with one single exception, that of Belarus.
All the diversity of political ideas, cultures, languages and religions are represented in it. What used to be the basis of division and conflict has become the source of strength. Symbolically, the headquarters of our Organisation is in Strasbourg, a city on the border between France and Germany and a symbol of reconciliation between two war enemies.
Over the last six decades, we have been able to prove that long-lasting peace and stability are only possible on the basis of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These are the three solid pillars on which the Council of Europe has been built; they are at the core of the European Convention on Human Rights. They are equally the basis of an impressive corpus of legal instruments, standards, monitoring mechanisms, good practices and means of international cooperation which have been put in place in order to allow European countries to face challenges together, in concertation and dialogue, rather than in conflict.
However, the safeguards I am referring to should not only be in legal texts; first and foremost they should be in our minds.
The starting-point for building such safeguards is education. Let me give you just a few examples of what we have tried to achieve in this respect, mostly through the European Cultural Convention:
- we have developed programmes for the teaching of history;
- we have initiated a “Day of Holocaust remembrance and of prevention of crimes against humanity” in schools;
- we have issued a book, in cooperation with the Polish Ministry of Education and the memorial museum of Auschwitz Birkenau, with guidelines for teachers and educators on visiting Auschwitz.
The sittings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I chair, make a priceless contribution towards a hate-free and phobia-free Europe, as it is a place where we can discuss peacefully and freely any matters that unite us or where we differ. Next April we are going to have a major debate on the religious dimension of inter-cultural dialogue, which would also be a way of commemorating all the victims of intolerance.
Dear friends, If the horrors of the past have given Europe the determination to make the strongest political progress ever in its history, the dark sides have nevertheless not really disappeared. All forms of intolerance towards those considered “different” are on the rise again – be it anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism and xenophobia in general. Ethnic, religious or cultural differences between people are being artificially exacerbated and manipulated in the political discourse, to divert attention from the real problems and real solutions. Politicians and parties reverting to such discourse have now been democratically elected in many national parliaments.
We should realise that when human hatred and the concept that “might is right” start setting the rules of the game, nobody is really safe. Anyone can become a victim at any time. This is why it is so important that we all unite, as we are doing here. Let us continue together.
Thank you for your attention.
Video: 2011 International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust
Theme: Europe And Remembrance