Past Events

Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008

Address by Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress and the Russian Jewish Congress at the Special Event Promoting Tolerance Throughout the European Continent

Kantor05.jpg

Dear President Pottering,
Dear President De Puig,
Dear Minister Jouyet,
Dear President Kwasniewski, Chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation,
Dear President Moisiu,
Dear President Vike-Freiberga,
Dear rabbi Lau,
Dear Mr. Pisar,
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
Dear Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Representatives of the Council of Europe,
Your Excellencies,
Dear distinguished Guests,

I am standing today in front of you as a Jew who wants to commemorate the horrible crimes that took place 70 years ago in the Nazi Pogromnacht and as a European who is concerned with our future.

The human memory is short. The learning process is long, extremely hard, and routine. The lessons learnt by one generation are almost lost by the next. Commemoration is therefore important, but insufficient.

At the heart of die Kristallnacht events of 70 years ago, at the heart of the Holocaust and at the heart of the fires in European cities in recent years lies intolerance – the inability to accept the other, the inability to accept as your neighbours people of a different race, of a different religion, of a different culture.

Europe today is a cause for pride. It has walked a long way from die Kristallnacht. But as Europe becomes more diverse, so increases the danger of ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts.

Tolerance can be both medicine and poison. How to find the border line between them?

In 1938, just after die Kristallnacht Adolf Hitler, after testing the criminal tolerance of Nazi Germans, put the whole Europe and the world to the second test – he put about 1,000 Jews on a vessel named St. Louis and sent them to the American continent.

Several months later, the vessel returned to Europe. Some of them were left in Belgium, Great Britain, France, Holland, and the rest had to return to Germany for death.

Today we see six thousand companies collaborating with problematic countries, like Iran, which work to create nuclear weapon disregarding international agreements and treaties. The world community and national governments tolerate such collaboration.

We must remember that for these lessons of criminal intolerance and criminal tolerance the mankind paid the price of 50 million lives, among them - 6 million Jews and more than 9 million Germans. It means that the observers paid the highest price. So-called good people paid the highest price.

But what is the formula? Where does the border between tolerance and intolerance lie? How to strike the right balance between tolerance and intolerance?

Nobel Prize winner Leo Landau once noticed: if you see a complicated problem, try to find at least one clear thing in this chaos and deal with it.

The clear thing in the chaos is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the border line between tolerance and intolerance and we can make this difference visible and substantial.

I know that there are several international conventions. But they are not enough. What we need is to translate these general ideas into a clear roadmap and action plan. In my view, the action plan has to deal with two fundamental issues – legislation and education.

Legislation is needed as a preventive tool to deal with intolerance and make it punishable.

We witness the awakening of Nazi parties in Europe, the skinheads, the burning of cars. We must remember that neo-Nazis in every country of Europe today outnumber any ethnical minority. Politically neo-Nazis are much more influential than any ethnical minority in European countries. So the question is: who is making the national politics today - tolerant minorities or somebody else? It is happening both in countries of former anti-Hitler coalition, as well as in Germany and Austria.

It is clear that legislation is needed and enforcement of such legislation is required.

We know that legislation on these issues is still the domain of the national parliaments but I call upon you, dear President Pottering, President de Puig and your colleagues, to lead the way and become legislative beacons in acting against intolerance.

Equally important, if not more important, is tolerance education. Education is the only way to create a new generation without genetically engineering it, a generation that is raised from birth on the value of tolerance.

This will not happen overnight. It is not a pill providing instant relief. We need to create a generation of educators at all levels, from kindergarten to university.

Once again, we know that education is still the domain of the individual member state. But I call upon the EU Commission to lead the way. If I may, I suggest creating special EU infrastructure for implementing tolerance on a systematic basis and to take proactive measures in this area.

Tolerance education should be the business of governments, non-governmental organisations, the business community, the media and civil society.

We all need to understand that tolerance is one of the most complicated sciences known to mankind. Tolerance is not just the intention to be better. It is closer to nuclear physics. Nuclear physics can produce both atomic weapons to destroy people and alternative sources of energy to sustain human lives in the epoch after oil and gas.

But we have to ask a question: how long does it take to educate a top-class specialist in nuclear physics? The answer is – at least twenty years. Training a professional in teaching tolerance takes just as long.

Teaching tolerance is a complicated and routine process. It can only be successful if it is based on high tech.

Tolerance must be promoted in all spheres of political and social life. Practical and efficient measures are to be taken in the sphere of national and international legislation and policy, international cooperation, education, science, mass media. The most important is the Internet.

Another crucial point and sphere of this activity is culture.

We all know that Schindler’s List and the Pianist had more powerful effect than governmental or non-governmental organisations. Europe should encourage the development of cultural projects promoting tolerance.

Tolerance is the main driving force for innovations in all spheres of human activity – technological, humanitarian, economic, political, and others. This is just the soil. Even if it is fertilized with understanding and reconciliation, we have to sow the seeds of progress ourselves.

What we are discussing today is important. But what is more important is how we start our day tomorrow when we wake up at our homes. Are we able to ensure the continuity of our initiatives?

We should realize that it can take us years to build a tolerant society – just like it took Chinese two thousands years to build the great Chinese wall. But the great wall united the great nation; similarly, our program of tolerance can be the foundation of the truly united Europe.

Thank you, dear President Pottering, for holding this event. It would not have taken place here, in the European Parliament, without your leadership, moral strength and determination. I would also like to thank all members of the European Parliament present here.

I wish to express my appreciation to the EU Commission. The European Jewish Congress maintains very strong ties with the commission, and the commission’s support for the initiatives that were discussed here today will be crucial.

I also appreciate very much the support given to the creation of the Draft Convention on Tolerance by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr. De Puig. In many respects the Council of Europe was the pioneer European institution dealing with many issues related to tolerance.

President Alexander Kwaśniewski, our dear friend, who has been a beacon of humanism in Europe and has agreed to lead the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, deserves our gratitude and appreciation for that and for having taken upon himself the promotion of the idea of the Convention on Tolerance. He and his colleagues – members of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation - have taken on a formidable task.

And the last idea:

The most well known Talmudic expression is – do not do to your fellow that which you hate yourself.

In light of important elections and really revolutionary changes we witnessed recently in the U.S. a few days ago, this idea should sound like this: tolerance is a two-way road with no place for any domination, but open for reconciliation.

Thank you all.